Mobile Digest: Demise of Pebble and Motorola smartwatches cast dark cloud over wearables

Remember when wearables were the next BIG THING? With the loss of trailblazer Pebble, the luster has fully worn off. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news
 
Pebble, a pioneer of the wearables market that kickstarted the smartwatch revolution in 2012, went belly up and abruptly shuttered all manufacturing and promotion. This followed on the heels of an announcement from Motorola that it had suspended new wearables production indefinitely. "Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year," the company said. Together, the two items paint a pretty grim picture of the long-term health of the wearables market. Apple has seen its Apple Watch sales tumble nearly 75% in 2016. Granted, that still amounted to 1.1 million sales. Likewise, even though Pebble is now gone, Fitbit announced that it had acquired the company's software and much of its workforce. This isn't, therefore, the death knell for the wearables market, but it is a clear sign that contraction, rather than interminable growth, is the future trend. 
 
In the money
 
Samsung is considering a major restructuring following its global Galaxy Note 7 recall, which cost the company an estimated $5 billion in lost short-term profit and wiped out $26 billion in stock value for shareholders. The restructure would create a holding company and an operating company; Samsung has brought in independent experts to consult on the matter. In the meantime, it has taken proactive steps, like the $8 billion acquisition of Harman to tap into the connected car market, estimated to be worth as much as $100 billion a year by 2025. 
 
In other news
 
Amazon has already upended traditional brick-and-mortar commerce with its e-commerce sales model. Now it wants to do it again with a new app called Amazon Go that eliminates the need for a physical point of sale in any store. You heard that right: no check out, no sales clerk ringing you up. The app uses a combination of sensors, machine learning and artificial intelligence to deduce what items the shopper has put in his or her bag. The cost of those items is then automatically deducted from the shopper's checking account. Amazon says the app will launch in early 2017 with big retailers like Walmart and Target as likely customers. This could be really good news in the battle against shoplifting and really bad news for human beings who make their living as checkout clerks. 
 
The top stars of the virtual reality market banded together to create the Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the responsible development and adoption of virtual reality globally. The group will develop and share best practices for industry and foster dialogue between public and private stakeholders around the world. Founding members include Acer Starbreeze, Google, HTC VIVE, Facebook’s Oculus, Samsung, and Sony Interactive Entertainment. 
 
The US Department of Transportation put forth a proposal to allow Wi-Fi phone calls on airplanes. The proposal would allow individual airlines to decide if Wi-Fi calling would be permitted on their airplanes. The proposal is open for a 60-day comment period, which is bound to be contentious. Many airlines vocally disapprove of the idea of in-flight calls given that they could lead to an increase in confrontations between passengers who don't want to listen to each other yap to business acquaintances or swoon to paramours. Southwest, Delta and Alaska Airlines are all already firmly in the no camp. 
 
Facebook moved to make its Messenger app even more of a time suck thanks to a new suite of 17 in-app games, including classics like Ms Pac-Man and Words with Friends. Instant Games, which now has launched in 30 countries, opens directly out of text threads and makes it easy for texters to challenge each other to high scores on a communal leaderboard. The free games are built on HTML 5 and work in both Android and iOS.
 
Nokia is back from the dead. The company confirmed last week that thanks to a new partnership with Finnish company Hmd Global Oy, Nokia will reenter the smartphone market with a series of Android phones in 2017. Nokia branded feature phones remain one of the most popular choices of mobile phone in many markets around the world today and HMD will continue to market them as part of an integrated portfolio, alongside a new range of smartphones and tablets to be announced soon. The company plans to fight its way back with purposeful, exciting phones in a market that is "fatigued and flooded with undifferentiated products." Good luck.
 
Finally, there are two points of interest on the connected car front from this past week:
 
First, Audi became the first carmaker to integrate vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication into street-ready vehicles. 2017 Audi A4s and Q7s will come standard with a feature called Traffic Light Information that displays the time before a red light turns green. It also informs the driver if they can make an upcoming green light while staying within the legal speed limit. The feature is only available in Las Vegas for now, but Audi plans to expand throughout the US and Europe in the coming years. V2I connectivity is seen as a vital step toward the safe operation of autonomous cars. 
 
Second, Apple Maps added tens of thousands of electric vehicle charging stations to its map database courtesy of a new partnership with ChargePoint, the largest network of EV charging stations in the world. Tapping on a location in the Apple Maps app now brings up current pricing and an option for payment via the ChargePoint app or Apple Pay. The news further stoked speculation that an all electric Apple car may be imminent.
 

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

 

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.