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Will wearable watches drive the cars of the future?

First it was central locking, then the transponder key. Will wearable watches be driving the cars of the future? As yet, the wearables market overall remains significantly untapped. Both industry leaders and smaller players have launched products onto the market in an attempt to capture consumers’ imaginations. According to our recent study into wearable technologies, the connected car may be one of the concepts where wearables could come to maturity.

A muted reception

In our survey of 5000 smartphone owners in UK, US, China, Germany and South Korea, 47% of consumers expressed interest in using a smartwatch to control their car, just slightly behind the number who would use it to control their home (49%). At almost one in two, it is clear that interest in the concept is growing significantly, and plausible to think that with the right investments, a tipping point could be reached. We noticed significant regional variations. Chinese respondents are significantly more receptive to car control at 64%, followed by Americans at 52% and South Koreans at 43%. Respondents in Europe were significantly more skeptical – just 33% of British and 32% of German respondents were interested in the concept. With such a stark gulf between territories, it is difficult to predict whether auto wearables are limited in their appeal to specific markets or whether appeal in Europe is likely to catch up.

Technology savvy consumers lead the way

We noticed more enthusiasm for car control amongst technology savvy consumers, although in general the results were not significantly amplified by this group. 55% of tech-friendly people are interested in car control, slightly ahead of the global average of 47%. However the results again reveal some significant differences by country – at 71%, tech-friendly consumers in China are significantly more likely to be interested in car control compared to 47% of average consumers. The difference is also more pronounced in the US where interest reaches 62% amongst tech-friendly consumers compared to 38% on average. In South Korea there is a minimal difference – a gap of just 4% (44% vs 40%). These results suggest that while in some markets (such as China) there is potentially a large number of early adopters who may make the concept viable, its reception in other markets is likely to be more muted, even amongst some of the more technology forward consumers. For this reason, it is essential that manufacturers continue to invest in understanding consumer attitudes both locally and globally towards this emerging technology.

The way ahead

The future of wearable technology in general, and car control in particular, is far from clear at this point. Car control does appear to have captured some consumers’ imaginations, up to a point, but the question still remains – is there a genuine market for this technology? While certain segments are able to see the appeal of auto wearables, there is a long way to go before it becomes a mass market reality.

About the study

Study conducted in August 2014 surveying 5,000 smartphone owners in China, Germany, South Korea, the UK and the US. Download the full report.

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Frank Haertl is Global Lead Automotive, GfK, based in Germany. Contact us to get the full report.

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