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Motorola tackles smartwatch market’s woman problem

September 2, 2015, 7:00 PM UTC
All three Android Wear devices featured in this photo were designed specifically for women.
Courtesy of Motorola

Is the male-dominated wearable industry finally taking a closer look at what women want?

The company’s second-generation Moto 360 smartwatch is the first Android Wear device to come in separate versions for both men and women.

The market for women’s smartwatches is potentially huge, but up until this point all watches running Apple or Google’s operating system have been unisex, ostensibly. But look closely, and you’ll see that most of them were actually designed for men, sporting big lugs, masculine styling, and enormous faces.

According to the NPD Consumers and Wearables survey, which was taken in December 2014, 54% of fitness tracker owners in the United States were women, while women made up only 29% of smartwatch owners. The survey was taken before the Apple Watch generated increased consumer interest in the smartwatches and, as a result, the NPD Group expects the growing market to eventually overtake fitness trackers. Although smartwatches are not fitness bands, they do perform many of the same functions as fitness wearables.

Research firm Parks Associates estimates that during one point in 2014, as many as 68% of Fitbit owners were women. Of course, Fitbit (FIT) makes its own line of wearables and accessories directly geared towards women, which range from its collaborations with fashion designer Tory Burch to its tiny Fitbit Zip.

Part of the reason that it’s taken over a year for women-specific smartwatches to hit the market is surely tied to the fact that most Silicon Valley development teams are male-dominated. Although, another reason might also be simply physical—women generally like smaller watches than men, and you can’t shrink smartwatches much smaller with today’s technology. For example, there needs to be a substantial battery in order for the device to last a day without charging. If the screen is too small, it won’t be very usable.

“We’re making design choices that optimize for that display, which is really critical. You have to choose the right size for readability and in terms of fit and wearables and style,” said Jim Wicks, senior vice president of consumer design at Motorola.

There are a few differences between the men’s and women’s version of the Moto 360. The lugs—where you attach a band—on the women’s version take skinnier 18mm bands, whereas the men’s version comes in two sizes that both take 22 mm bands. (Motorola introduced 18mm bands in November for its Moto 360, but never called it a women’s version.)

The men’s and women’s versions come with different finishes and customization options. On the men’s, you can customize your bezel with a cool industrial knurled pattern. On the women’s, you have the option for a “micro-etched” texture. The standard bezels look slightly different, as well.

Motorola will offer a few band options exclusively for the ladies, including a leather double-wrap bracelet similar to designs sold by Tory Burch. “Our women’s collection is a set of designs, materials, and cases, that basically are customized for this product and this collection,” Wicks said. “We want to allow people that choice to go with that double wrap design and wear it with multiple things on their wrist, or go with the classic metal band.”

The functionality between the men’s and women’s versions will be identical. They’ll have the same components, the same general design, and run the same operating system, Android Wear. They both start at $299 and can go up to $430 based on add-ons and options. Dividing the lines into men’s and women’s make the watch a better match for retailers, such as Nordstrom, which already categorizes watches by gender and will also be carrying the Moto 360.

Apple, the market leader in smartwatches, doesn’t offer different Apple Watch models by gender, although it does come in two different sizes with a wide range of bands that could work for both men and women. It’s also notable that at launch, Apple devoted considerable marketing attention towards women, for example, purchasing a multi-page spread in Vogue.

In the past, there have been female-focused wearables sold on the market, but none of them have made significant headway in the nascent market. Many of them have been explicitly niche — like the Intel-funded fashion band MICA or the lovely Ringly. Others companies, such as Garmin, have simply taken their unisex devices and simply added color options, like pink.

Motorola’s smartwatch for the ladies doesn’t come in pink, but it does come in rose gold.

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