Friday, 18 December 2015

App discovery is mobile gaming’s biggest issue

mobilesyrup.com
prune
We’ve all been there: you’ve got some time to kill so you open up the app store, hoping to come across a game worth playing. You navigate to the top paid apps setion, on the hunt for that mobile gem. Instead you’re greeted by the same never-changing list: Candy Crush SagaClash of ClansBoom Beach and, the worst free-to-play offender, Game of War – Fire Age.
But the world of mobile gaming is more varied than some might realize, expanding far beyond the free-to-play titles you see in commercials during Monday Night Football. The really great ones are just difficult to find.
appstores
Poor game discovery is a major reason many of the iOS App Store’s and Google Play Store’s best video games don’t land on players’ radars.
Some developers describe finding success with a mobile title as akin to playing a game of roulette. They can include all the correct ingredients — an eye-catching name, impressive visuals, innovative gameplay, solid reviews from critics, and a small but dedicated group of fans — yet still find that no one spends any money on it.
iosappstorecharts
Discovery is one of the most serious issues surrounding mobile game and app development today. Most casual game players aren’t browsing websites like IGN and Touch Arcade to learn which ones are worth their time. Instead, they’re casually perusing Google and Apple’s mobile storefronts, selecting titles that catch their attention, determining whether to download based on the icon or, in most cases, price. Because of this, some of the industry’s top mobile titles are overlooked by their intended audience.
We talked to a number of game developers about what it’s like to release a game on iOS and Android, and discussed the challenges they have experienced when it came to their titles vying for app store attention.
So what does it take to release a successful mobile title in 2015?
According to Miles Tilmann, the head of PixelJam studios, the studio behind Last Horizon, revamped app store layouts won’t solve app discovery issues. He says the key to success lies in a game getting a featured position on an app store’s landing page, especially on the iOS App Store.
lasthorizon1
“For a game like Last Horizon that is paid with no in-app purchases, featuring is somewhat critical for commercial success. I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent necessary, but any developer would probably tell you that at least on iOS, featuring is one of the key ingredients,” says Tilmann.
He notes, at least in the case of Last Horizon, his studio experienced more success on Android, with the game’s popularity growing organically thanks to the Google Play Store’s less fluid ranking system. While Last Horizon only cracked the top paid apps list on Android for a brief period of time, the game remains in the number two position of the top new paid apps section.
“We had decent sales even before we were featured [on the Play Store]. Also as far as I know Google Play has recommendation engines that help with discoverability, as opposed to iOS which is still somewhat hand-curated,” he says.
Tilmann feels getting a title to the top of the Google Play Store yields a greater return than achieving a top ranking in the iOS App Store. The Google Play Store’s ranking system reportedly shifts around significantly more slowly and is only updated around once per day. In comparison, iOS app and game rankings move on an hourly basis, which means if your game makes it to the top of the charts, unless your studio or franchise has established brand recognition, like Minecraft: Pocket Edition or Terraria, it likely won’t hold that position for very long. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but they don’t happen very often.
Alto's Adventure
But even netting a coveted featured position on the convoluted Play Store or much-nicer iOS App Store’s front page doesn’t guarantee immediate success.
“From our experience, being at the top of the charts on iOS only helps if you got to the top of the charts organically — not by featuring alone.  If you got there by word of mouth, brand power or just having tons of social media activity, you are much more likely to stay there and make solid sales,” said Tilmann. “It’s not self-reinforcing; rather, the reasons you got there in the first place make much more of a difference.”
Ryan Cash, the head of Toronto-based Snowman, the team behind our game of the yearAlto’s Adventure, feels differently to Tilmann. Cash says most of the success his studio has obtained with Alto’s Adventure stems from being handpicked by Apple’s iTunes editorial team for featured placement.
“In terms of App Store search, I’m not so sure we really get much traffic from that. But app awareness in the App Store has definitely been quite helpful. What I mean by this is getting featured by Apple’s editorial team,” says Cash.

In the crowded Play Store and App Store marketplaces, Cash feels that above everything, creating a solid game, as well as marketing outside of the somewhat-confining nature of Apple and Google’s marketplace – Clash of Clans’ and Game of Wars’ massive marketing budgets are a good example of this – are the main factors that catch mobile players’ attention.
“I honestly think Alto’s Adventure has caught on because we did a good job marketing it, and we made a solid product. First and foremost you need a great product. Good may have worked in 2008 or 2009, but now you’re up against some heavy competition, and you’re fighting for people’s attention more than ever,” he concludes.
An Android version of Alto’s Adventure is currently in development with the help of an outside studio but hasn’t yet been released.
Prune’s developer, Joel McDonald, echoes Cash’s thoughts, saying he believes much of his game’s success comes from standing out from the pack on both the Android and iOS app stores.
Prune
“From the beginning of development I was very aware that I needed to position Prune so that it would stand out. For example, the art style was chosen not just because I found it aesthetically pleasing but also because not a lot of other apps look quite like it,” says McDonald. Prune’s dark visuals have more in common with a silhouette than the typical mobile title’s colourful assets.
However, he still says getting featured by Apple and Google played a significant role in Prune’s success. The game currently sits in the top 30 paid apps section in the Google Play Store but has fallen out of the top 150 in the App Store.
“Getting featured by Apple or Google is absolutely everything for a game like Prune. Without a feature it unfortunately makes it very, very difficult to gain any traction on mobile. It’s possible the game would have faded into oblivion were it not for the initial Apple Editors’ Choice feature,” said McDonald.
In terms of solving mobile gamings discoverability issue, Apple’s recently-launched @AppStoreGames Twitter account and editorial page, which features BuzzFeed style listicles of titles spanning various genres, helps highlight the App Store’s top video game offerings. Google will almost certainly be forced to follow suit with a similar editorial team at some point in the future. There’s a reason games often come to iOS first and are only later ported to Android.
gooleplaystore1
On the Play Store side, Google isn’t resting on its laurels. Its recently revamped user interface improves the discovery experience, highlighting featured content, but Google still emphasizes free-to-play titles over great paid games.
And then there’s the sheer number of categories. What should have resulted in a sleek and simple way to find apps and games worth downloading is bogged down by confusing horizontal, scrolling tabs. The store features no clear way to highlight individual titles and devolves into a continuous list of genres.
While Apple’s App Store is curated and features a variety of useful themed lists, it still shows bias towards the free-to-play genre that accounts for a majority of its revenue. There are bright spots, though: a section highlighting Canadian-developed apps and games is by far one of the App Store’s best features. In the end, there’s no clear solution to the two stores’ discoverability issues, although curated lists are definitely a step in the right direction in the mind of some developers.
“I think app stores could probably do a lot more to tailor content specifically towards your interests and tastes. For example, if you play a lot of puzzle games you’re going to take a lot more interest in that weird, delightful new puzzler that just came out. Also integrating more social and curated lists similar to what Steam has been doing would further help the discoverability problem,” said McDonald.
According to Cash, an enormous marketing budget and nabbing featured app store placement is in most cases trumped by accomplishing something that might seem obvious: creating an great game.
“I really think it’s quite simple – make something great, and then tell people about it. Too many people skip one of the two,” said Cash.

SEO Future Predictions for the Next Year: 2016

business2community.com
SEO has become probably the best methodology to drive your ROI. In 2016, it’ll aim to help you get more out of your conversions. So, let’s take a look at the SEO future predictions for the next year:
To begin with, take note of how Penguin 4.0 update has affected your website. Make use of the remaining days of 2015 to resolve all existing issues. Create a robust SEO strategy to fight Penguin and step in the new age of SEO as you welcome 2016.
Here are some other predictions to take note of:
  1. Mobile-friendly

mobile-friendly
mobile-friendly
As mobile devices are ruling the world, having surpassed laptop and desktop searches in terms of paid clicks and traffic generation, it has become imperative for businesses to develop mobile-friendly websites and make their business decisions attuned to this new wave of mobile savvy clientele. Every mobile related aspect, like mobile design, mobile marketing strategy, mobile search advertising and marketing, mobile CRM, mobile payment and mobile e-commerce, mobile coupons and integration of mobile with local and social, needs to be considered.
  1. Semantic searches

semantic search

Semantic search is an advanced data searching technique where the search query targets to determine the contextual meaning of the search words and intent of the searcher rather than focusing on finding just the keywords. Thus, it provides the user with more meaningful search results by understanding and assessing the search phrase and finding the most relevant results in a database, website or any other data repository. No wonder that semantic search is touted as the future of marketing. By applying the following tips, you can make the most of semantic search.
  • Create content that is understandable.
  • Try to identify the “companion” words that usually follow the keyword and insert them into your content. That way, you’ll be able to provide some clues related to the subject of your content to search engines.
  • Use variations and synonyms of words that are directly related to the subject matter of your content.
  • Use the keywords effectively to take complete advantage of semantic search.
  • Link to third-party websites related to some aspect of your business/domain/industry to provide your users with more value.
  • Mark up your content on specific social networking sites.
  • Use tools like schema.org, Yandex Checker, AlchemyAPI, Schema Creator, Gruff etc. to add more semantic value to your content.
  1. Outstanding quality

quality quotes

As SEO has become extremely content driven these days, you need to hire experienced people, even if the charges are steep, especially when you wish to get good results. After all, doing link audits, performing complete link clean-ups (if required, based on the results of link audits), driving organic traffic your way via quality content – all take effort and time, which explains why quality SEO services won’t be cheap. Company executives and CEOs too shouldn’t opt for SEO trial-and-error methods as they aren’t aware of the present SEO landscape and may end up doing more harm than good. So, it always pays to hire experienced SEO specialists for the task.
  1. Good user experience

Good UX

Search engines directly consider a restricted number of changeable factors like links, keywords and site structure. Linking patterns, machine learning and user engagement metrics jointly help search engines to make a significant number of hunches about a site. User experience and usability provide significant benefits to the external popularity of a site. This popularity is interpreted by search engines as an indication of higher quality. An empathetic and thoughtful user experience encourages users to bookmark, share, return visits etc. – all of which are signals of a quality site, which in turn helps in achieving higher rankings.
  1. Organic link

Organic Link

Links that don’t have a direct objective of influencing Google’s rankings are called organic links. When a site links back to another, the link is considered by Google as a vote. These “votes” normally help a site to get higher ranking in the search engine results. The only requirement here is to get such backlinks naturally or organically. Following are some useful tips to obtain organic links.
  • Create original information
  • Share your knowledge
  • Be an active participant on various social networking platforms
  • Provide valuable answers to questions online
  • Build community
  • Offer a service to your community for free
  1. Mobile optimization

Mobile traffic estimates

Earlier in 2015, mobile searches exceeded desktop searches. The trend will hold strong even in 2016 as mobile traffic is predicted to be of much more importance than desktop traffic in the coming 5 years. According to Google, a desktop-specific website isn’t required. Commitment of Google towards a “mobile” user experience across all devices reflects in their change to local three-pack.
  1. App store optimization

App Store Optimization

To sustain in this extremely competitive world, you have to find the right audience for your app. App store optimization or ASO is one of the most effective methods to execute mobile app marketing. Execution of ASO ensures showing up of the mobile app for appropriate search queries and thus getting organic installs and impressions. Finding the right keywords or topics is the most fundamental and significant part of app store optimization as that would describe the exact search items of your target audience.
  1. Local SEO (Customized Research Study)

Local SEO

With the advancement of local indexes of Google and arrival of wearable devices, local searches will provide more accurate results. When searching for a certain business, the results will consist of your neighborhood or street corner instead of showing the city or state region.
  1. Voice SEO

voice SEO

Voice SEO has shifted the entire mobile search interface to a different era. When a voice request is made, the results show up on map interface. Users can hear more information about a particular listing by touching the map icon. Audio files are worth adding to your website in order to make your presence felt in such search results.
  1. Indexing of Social Content

indexed twitter

In a mobile search for a particular news object, the results consist of a couple of tweets as Google has finalized deals with Twitter and Facebook. More social content platforms will become indexed in 2016 and be made available to search engines. Social media posts will carry a similar amount of value as independent web pages. From an SEO viewpoint, the difference between “social media” and “web” will begin to become indistinct.
  1. Conversion Optimization

conversion

Conversion optimization is the process of using customer feedback along with analytics to improve your website’s performance. A better conversion rate is equal to an improved ROI. Other than improving the ROI, conversion optimization also helps to protect the restricted attention span of visitors by providing them with exactly what they want. It’s important to keep in mind that optimization is all about acquiring the right type of customers for your business. In 2016, Less-is-more technique will be massively used for conversion optimization.
  1. Social Presence

Social Presence

In 2016, social presence is going to be more important for businesses. Google searches already show Facebook and Twitter results when you search for a news item these days, and in the forthcoming years, you are likely to see more of these social media pages in your mobile search results. Consequently, the boundary line between “social media” and “web” will get blurred further in 2016 from an SEO perspective.
  1. Page tagging

Page Tagging

2016 will experience more of mobile searches, which will surpass desktop searches. This change will give a boost to page tagging in a more frequent manner as businesses start rolling out tags to offer structure to mobile users’ results that require different browsers and devices to load pages differently.
  1. Bifurcation Buyer Journey

buyers journey

In 2016, SEO will be divided into these three stages:
  • Awareness: In this stage, you will have to work on a strategy that provides information. Create marketing materials that will make them aware of a problem and related information.
  • Consideration: Here you give them a set of solutions that work best to solve their problems. Giving them enough options will then help them select the best suitable one.
  • Decision: This is the stage where your audiences have made a decision and have agreed upon a point that they will move ahead with. You have to create material that will encourage them to move forward without hesitation.
  1. Call-only ads

Call Only Actions

Call-only ads are upgrades of existing call extensions. In call-only ads, phone number is the first visible thing normally created using larger font size and different text color. The second visible thing happens to be the call button that enables an instantaneous call to action.
  1. Alienation of keyword research

keyword research

In 2016, you would no longer be able to use a blanket SEO strategy for all platforms or the same list of keywords for every platform. Rather, you will have to use:
  • Voice SEO: The algorithmic rules that are applicable for any mobile optimization will work well for voice search too. You’ll also have to use Google’s Knowledge Graph and local SEO strategies as voice searches primarily occur on mobile devices and most have local intent.
  • Local SEO: You can leverage Google Trends for this.
  • Mobile SEO: You can get mobile-specific keywords using the Google Keyword Tool and Google Analytics (go to Audience, then click Mobile and then go to Overview in the R.H.S navigation to filter). Though it won’t be possible to ascertain mobile keywords using Bing Ads Intelligence, you can use a little trick and leverage Bing’s autocomplete feature in mobile to get the desired keywords.
  • App SEO: SEO for mobile apps or ASO (App Store Optimization) will be very important in 2016 to ensure that your app reaches the right audience. ASO would become an integral part of mobile app marketing, which would be the most efficient and cheapest way to attract organic impressions and installs.
  1. Search box optimization

Search-Box-Optimization

Search box optimization is the method of deceiving Google Algorithm to put your blog or brand name in Google Autosuggestions. As Google Autosuggestions affect 75% of search queries, a lot of internet marketers are using search box optimization to keep their brand in front of the users before they hit the search button. This is accomplished by searching the target term for numerous times in Google.
  1. Outgoing links

outbound link

Google identifies the nature of your article by using outgoing links. If you link to a trusted source, Google considers your site as a trusted one as well. However, if quality of the linked article is poor, it will affect your site’s reputation and search rankings adversely. To avoid this, you must provide outbound links to trusted sources.
  1. Link Building trends

Link Building

Link building was considered as one of the fundamental elements of SEO. In the present day media landscape, internet marketers incorporate significant links instead of gathering bunch of useless links. To sustain in today’s competitive world, marketers have to publish unique and fresh content and insert only those links that promote or support the main message provided by the content. Google always encourages a site that has the ability to provide answers for associated search queries and thus the site ranks high in SERPs. Incorporating links of these websites would greatly help you in 2016 to increase the quality of your website’s content.
  1. End of content farms

image: http://cdn.business2community.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/no-more-content-farms.jpg
content farm

It seems that there will be a dead end waiting for irrelevant content farms in 2016. Websites filled with robotic articles that are created by content farms will be highly targeted and penalized by Google in the coming year. The chances of ranking in SERPs are pretty less for these websites and some large scale content farms are likely to face a big penalty.
Conclusion
As these trends affect the SEO landscape in 2016, site owners and marketers have to think “mobile” and build robust mobile marketing strategy as mobile is the next version of digital marketing.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

40% Of Shopping Starts On One Device And Ends On Another

arc.applause.com
24/7 holiday shopping can happen on any device.
The feeding frenzy that marks the annual holiday shopping season is entering its final stages. With less than two weeks until Christmas, shoppers are steeling themselves for either one last visit to the mall or hoping that Amazon delivers all the gifts in time.
For retailers, it is a magical time of the year … and they don’t care how you shop or what you buy on as long as the cash is flowing and the shelves are emptying.
A recent survey of over 3,000 online retailers by performance marketing firm Criteo said that 40% of all transactions now take place on multiple devices, with smartphones and tablets leading the way. Cross-device shopping is increasingly popular among American consumers who might find an item on one device, research it on another and then buy it on a third, Criteo said.

Browse, Consider And Buy

According to Criteo’s State of Mobile Commerce Q3 2015 report, people who shop on multiple devices are 20% more likely to complete a purchase on a mobile device than the average shopper. The report said that 47% of consumers completed on a tablet while 43% paid with their smartphone. Desktop purchases accounted for 39% of final transactions in the multi-device model.
Mobile was the preferred option in 31% of all transactions in Q3, while 35% of purchases were cross-device based. Criteo said that shoppers were browsing on one device—a laptop or work PC, for example—and then buying the item on a mobile device later in the day.
cross_device
“The idea that the mobile is just a research device is simply wrong,” said Criteo. “We expect the fraction of cross-device transactions completed on mobile to grow fast as shoppers get more and more comfortable with completing purchases while on the go.”
Data collected by eCommerce marketing company myThings on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. and presented to ARC via email supports this prediction.
Smartphones and tablets were used in over 33% of all post-Thanksgiving sales, with tablets coming on strong in the early evening on both days. Desktop shopping was still the preferred option for a majority of bargain hunters, accounting for 64% of final purchases on Black Friday and 72% on Cyber Monday. Much like any app-based marketing company, myThings has its own agenda when it comes to pushing cross-device promotion, but the data does point to a shift in how we buy.

Multi-Device Transactions Are Not Just For Christmas

Being able to shop wherever and whenever you want is not limited to the holiday season. Far from it.
In fact, shopping is a 24/7 hobby for those that are happy to buy anything at any time. Impulse buying—while not normally a factor in choosing the perfect gift for a loved one—is ideally suited to mobile, especially if that transaction is being completed after a night out. It should be noted that there is no way to collate data on the number of people who may have bought stuff after a few beers, but the existence of online shopping experience drunkmall tells its own story.
Irrespective of when you choose to shop, having a computer in your pocket that gives you instant gratification is an accepted part of our mobile society. It should come as no surprise that retailers have increasingly moved their focus from bricks-and-mortar to digital and giving people a seamless shopping experience has become one of 2015’s marketing buzzwords.
Mobile is an ever-present device in the path to purchase. Around 33% of transactions have a mobile device involved in the initial research, with the final action occurring on a desktop.
The report said that apps generate around 58% of all revenue for retail companies that have adopted a mobile first attitude. Conversion rates are also higher through apps as compared to mobile browsers—3.7 times more transactions are conducted through a specific app, although desktops are still a significant driver of traffic.
desktop
Customer spend is also greater in an app. Criteo said that the average person will spend $116 using a dedicated retail app and only $91 and $100 in mobile browsers and desktop, respective. Around 14.4 products per potential shopper are viewed on an app and the consumer is 2.4 times more likely to add those items into their digital basket.

Smartphones: How We Buy Stuff

The mobile shopping experience is dominated by smartphones, with 56% of all transactions in Q3 coming from the palm of the hand. Criteo cites the fact that smartphone screen size has a lot to do with how we shop on mobile and says that retailers that have optimized the experience accordingly are reaping the benefits—64% of all mobile transactions are on smartphones.
In terms of how the United States is ranked against other nations, there is still some work to do, said the report. For example, mobile conversion rates in Japan are almost three times higher than the U.S., suggesting that Japanese consumers are more comfortable with using a device to shop then their American counterparts.
mobile_ecommerce
Source: State of Mobile Commerce Q3 2015
Mobile accounts for an average of 35% of all global eCommerce transactions—only Japan, the United Kingdom and South Korea breached that number in the last financial quarter. The U.S ranks 7th in the list and Critea says that this again allows for a significant amount of growth in the near future.
Cross-device purchasing is another area where the U.S. can improve. The global average for completed eCommerce transactions is 50% and the U.S. is 10th on the list behind South Korea, Brazil, Italy, France, Japan, the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany and Spain. Only the first four countries have broken through the 50% mark, which implies that multiple device transactions are still not the norm for the majority of shoppers.

Voice of Toptal: Slow Android Wear Adoption Is Stifling Development

www.toptal.com
BY NERMIN HAJDARBEGOVIC - TECHNICAL EDITOR @ TOPTAL
There is no diplomatic and professional way to put it: Android Wear is flopping; and it’s flopping quite badly. The smartwatch platform has been around for 18 months, yet the fact that it was introduced a few quarters before Apple rolled out its smartwatch does not appear to be helping.
So why is Android Wear performing poorly and what does this mean for developers?
Several factors conspired to stifle growth, ranging from lack of Google development, to inadequate hardware. Some of these problems have been addressed, some are being addressed, while others cannot be addressed with currently available technology.

Android Wear Shipments Aren’t Impressive

How bad is it? Android Wear was officially announced on March 18, 2014, but the first devices started shipping a quarter later. By the end of 2014, they were joined by more attractive products, such as the round Moto 360 and LG G Watch R, as well as rectangular models from heavyweights like Sony and Asus. It didn’t help, and 2014 sales were abysmal: an estimated 720,000 units. Apple managed to pull ahead of Google in a matter of months, selling an estimated 3.6 million Apple Watches by the end of the second quarter of 2015.
According to market research company IDC, Apple became the second biggest wearable vendor, commanding a 20 percent market share, only trailing Fitbit in overall sales for Q2. There was no Android Wear product on IDC’s list of the top five wearables vendors. Apple was trailed by Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, navigation and sports watch specialist Garmin, and Samsung in fifth place (with Tizen smartwatches rather than Android Wear watches).
Android Wear, WatchOS, Pebble, Tizen, Ubuntu, LinkIt: We got ‘em all, but why isn’t anyone buying these toys?
Android Wear, WatchOS, Pebble, Tizen, Ubuntu, LinkIt: We got ‘em all, but why isn’t anyone buying these toys?
Analysts remain divided on smartwatch shipments, but a number of research firms have already revised their overly optimistic forecasts to reflect softening demand. Most analysts now expect Apple Watch shipments for 2015 to end up in the nine to 14 million range, while Android Wear should do worse, with four to six million units. So, I went over to Google Play and checked the number of Android Wear app downloads, which is still in the one to five million range. With two more months before the end of the year, I’d go with the lowball estimate of four million units.
While Apple may be in the lead, I don’t think Apple Watch shipments are anything to brag about. Considering Apple’s huge user base, shipping just over ten million devices in the first year of sales does not sound impressive. Besides, some optimistic (and insufficiently unbiased) analysts claimed Apple would ship upwards of 40 million smartwatches in the first year of sales. At this rate, it make take years to get anywhere near 40 million units per year, but that doesn’t mean Apple won’t enjoy its Pyrrhic victory.

Will 2016 Be The Year Of Android Wear?

Given the soft demand for pricey Apple and Google smartwatches, should we expect any improvements next year? Yes. Analysts agree that sales will pick up in 2016 and beyond. IDC estimates Apple will ship about 40 million smartwatches in 2019, up from an estimated 13.9 million this year. Apple is expected to end 2015 with a 58.3 percent market share, while Android Wear will grab just 17.4 percent on sales of 4.1 million units.
IDC also covered alternative platforms such as Pebble OS, RTOS and Tizen. It expects Pebble OS and Tizen shipments to remain flat through the forecast period, so their market share should drop to 3.1 and 2.2 percent respectively.
IDC and other market research firms estimate Android Wear will pick up speed moving forward, eventually hitting 38.4 percent in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 67.5 percent. The estimated Apple Watch CAGR is 30.6 percent.
Apple is winning the smartwatch race, but Android Wear is expected to gain market share and overtake Apple by the end of the decade.
Apple is winning the smartwatch race, but Android Wear is expected to gain market share and overtake Apple by the end of the decade.
So, Android Wear will do well in the long run, and we didn’t really need market research to conclude that because we can track historical smartphone and tablet trends to see how Android gains market share over Apple platforms.
Overall, the smartwatch space will grow at a rapid pace and one particularly bullish market forecast puts combined worldwide shipments at a staggering 373 million units in 2020. I take this forecast with a grain of salt. I am no economist, but I believe the methodology is not right and the figure includes devices that don’t qualify as a true smartwatch.
However, 2019 and 2020 are a long way off, so what about 2016? There is not a lot of freely available market research dealing with Android Wear sales in 2016, but a few trends are have become apparent. Instead of taking the high-end Apple Watch head on, Android Wear vendors appear to be focusing on mainstream adoption, instead. In any case, we should not expect Android Wear to gain a lot of popularity next year, but things will pick up, and here is why.

Commoditised Android Wear

When it comes to tier-one vendors, much of the focus has been on premium Android Wear devices; beautifully crafted timepieces selling for $200 to $400. However, as sales figures indicate, they weren’t hot items. Sure, they look good, but they don’t sell.
Now we might be on the verge of a shift. Why bother with expensive devices when few people will buy them? Why not bring Android Wear to the masses instead, marketing these devices as inexpensive, yet useful, gadgets? After all, we’re not talking about mechanical watches that can stand the test of time and keep going for decades; smartwatches are essentially disposable, yet they cost as much as a good quartz watch from a reputable brand.
Entry-level Android Wear prices are going down fast, and so are the average selling prices. The market is commoditising.
Entry-level Android Wear prices are going down fast, and so are the average selling prices. The market is commoditising.
One example of this shift is the new Asus ZenWatch 2, which is available through Google Play for just $149, one third of the entry-level Apple Watch. Building a $149 smartwatch does not require many trade-offs, and initial reviews are positive. Basically, it does everything a $300 watch does, but it’s bigger and doesn’t feature the sleek design of the Moto 360 or LG Urbane.
However, big brands won’t be the only players in the Android Wear market for much longer. Taiwan-based chipmaker, MediaTek, is empowering small vendors in mainland China by offering Android Wear solutions of its own, based on the MT2601 system-on-chip (SoC). We are seeing the first product announcements and a couple of vendors have informed me that their MediaTek-based watches will start shipping by the end of the year. The hardware platform is nearly identical to big-brand designs, save for the new processor. These watches feature high-resolution displays identical to their big-brand counterparts. Some are all-metal designs with round displays, while others will ship with alternative market differentiators, such as additional sensors or ruggedized cases. Best of all, the first devices I had a chance to see are metal watches with round displays, but they cost $110 to $130, which is a fraction of similar watches from Motorola, LG and Huawei.
Here’s what I find interesting about these designs: Versatility and diversity. Who ever said a smartwatch has to be elegant and imitate traditional watches? Why not design sports watches with integrated thermometers, barometers and location sensors? What about inexpensive rubber watches for kids and teens?
Diversity, and the ability to enter new niches, creates opportunities for hardware makers and developers by taking advantage of additional sensors on board, and might range from apps for kids to professional apps for mountaineers and athletes. Sure, big brands will continue to lead the way, but I am looking forward to $100 and sub-$100 Android Wear watches because I am confident they will boost the ecosystem and bring the platform closer to new markets and audiences (cash strapped kids, hundreds of millions of consumers in emerging economies and so on).
Versatility, diversity and low pricing will give Android Wear devices a competitive edge over the next couple of years.
Versatility, diversity and low pricing will give Android Wear devices a competitive edge over the next couple of years.
Bear in mind that Google does not allow its hardware partners to tweak Android Wear with loads of custom skins and bloatware. In theory, this should guarantee a consistent user experience on all devices, ranging from flashy $500 watches to $100 designs churned out by Chinese white-box companies.

What Should Developers Do?

In a previous post we discussed whether or not developing for Android Wear, and indeed all smartwatch platforms, makes sense.
In the long run, the smartwatch space will continue to grow and evolve. However, developers should not lose sleep over Android Wear support yet. Yes, it’s always a good idea to master new skills and platforms, but realistically, Android Wear won’t be a big thing for at least a year or two.
This does not mean there is no development on the Android Wear front. Google keeps rolling out incremental updates, and numerous developers are creating new apps and use-cases for Google smartwatches. Designers are busy creating hundreds of different watch faces for round and rectangular watches.
Google is polishing the platform and enabling new features on a regular basis. For example, Google Play Services 8.1 enables developers to use always-on mode for the Google Maps Android API. This is done by granting WAKE_LOCK permissions in the app manifest and adding a couple of dependencies. All it takes is a few lines of code; you can check out the official guide here, complete with documentation and sample code.
Google continues to update Android Wear emulators on a regular basis, allowing developers to test their designs on a range of devices with different screen sizes, form factors, and pixel densities. Obviously, this will be crucial as we start to see more and more devices from small vendors. I know many developers are concerned that they will have to deal with dozens of new devices each month and tackle Android fragmentation yet again, so I will try to address this point in the hardware section of this post.
Although there is no x86-based Android Wear hardware yet, Google wants developers to future-proof their apps by adding support for the good old x86 instruction set. This is done by editing abiFilters in the build.gradle file to include abiFilters = ['armeabi-v7a','x86'] and recompiling the app.
One of Google’s Android Wear community moderators, Wayne Piekarski, has a GitHub project that allows you to see how it works in real life.
This brings me to the next point: Hardware.

Android Wear Hardware Evolution

While Android smartphones seem to get new chips every couple of quarters, the pace of wearable hardware development is much slower. In fact, the basic hardware platform hasn’t changed since Google and LG showcased the first Android Wear watches in early 2014. The recipe includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, a pinch of sensors and a high density display on top.
The biggest difference is the form factor; some vendors are all about round watches (LG), while others stick to rectangular displays (Asus). Display resolutions range from 320 by 320, to 360 by 360, to 400 by 400 pixels. Since there is really no point in adding higher density displays on such devices, I doubt the resolutions will go up anytime soon (higher resolution displays would increase the price and reduce battery life, but they wouldn’t add anything to user experience). Although resolution probably won’t go up over the next year or two, we should see more efficient OLED displays and Force Touch technology.
Display size will not change either; smartwatches are already relatively big, so there is no point in designing even bigger units. Smaller watches would be a welcome addition to the hardware landscape, as they could take the shape of thin and sleek watches for fashion savvy consumers, or smaller watch face designs for women. Unfortunately, the current state of mobile technology does not allow hardware makers to create such devices without making too many compromises, namely, using smaller batteries. Needless to say, this would be a terrible idea because battery life is the Achilles heel of smartwatches.
However, things will change for the better. The Snapdragon 400 and MediaTek’s MT2601 are 28nm processors, and as soon as manufacturing costs go down, we should see 14/16nm FinFET chips take their place. It might take a while, but these new chips should improve battery life.
What about Intel x86 chips? While Intel already employs superior manufacturing nodes for its latest mobile processors (22nm for Moorefield, 14nm for Cherry Trail), this alone does not guarantee superior battery life. I’ve had a chance to test Android hardware based on every Intel mobile processor going back two years, including the latest Cherry Trail chips, and I can report that they don’t offer a huge efficiency improvement compared to ARM processors manufactured in older, planar nodes like 28nm. Basically, x86 chips simply aren’t as efficient as their ARM counterparts, especially when it comes to low-end devices. Of course, Intel could set out to develop a killer chip for Android Wear and other wearables, but why should it? It would have to burn heaps of money to get a toehold in a tiny market, and Chipzilla usually doesn’t bother with peanuts.

Bottom Line: The Smartwatch User Base Will Remain Limited

I’ve outlined a number of serious challenges facing the smartwatch industry and I don’t believe the short-term outlook is good. This does not mean Android developers and designers should not get into the smartwatch space, but this emerging market segment will not be nearly as lucrative as some bullish analysts expected a year ago.
If you were planning to invest time and effort into smartwatch development, it might be a good idea to slow down and reconsider. Yes, every new niche offers opportunities, and some outfits are bound to make a small fortune on killer apps for next generation wearables, but as long as the user base remains limited, we won’t see a lot of investment.
Hardware needs to improve, especially in terms of efficiency and battery life. Software is maturing, but there is still a long way to go. These issues will be addressed sooner or later, but in my humble opinion, they are not the biggest problem facing smartwatch makers. The real question is whether or not people actually need such devices. Right now, most users can do without them.
For the time being, there aren’t that many use-cases for smartwatches and wearables in general, aside from fitness tracking and a few other niche applications. Buying a $250 Android Wear watch with poor battery life, and little in the way of functionality that’s already not available on your average smartphone, doesn’t appear to be an attractive proposition for most consumers. That won’t change anytime soon.