Many agree the emerging smartwatch market is one of the most intriguing growth areas in tech today. With the launch of the Apple Watch playing out as I write this, many hope 2015 will be the year the smartwatch expands from the realm of the early adopter and into the mainstream. As such, investors are understandably searching far and wide for investment opportunities to tap into this big-ticket trend. Here is my take on the three best stocks for investing in smartwatches today.
1) Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)
Tech giant Apple's appearance here should surprise exactly no one. Nonetheless, the Apple Watch is widely expected to become the dominant product in this device category in the years ahead.
The average of analysts' estimates forecasts Apple to sell 14.6 million Watches this year, which suggests roughly $7.3 billion in first-year sales assuming a $500 average selling price. By 2017, some analysts believe Apple could be selling between 40 and 50 million Watches annually based on capturing 8% to 10% of the massive iPhone installed base. Regardless of whether you love or hate Apple, investing in the smartwatch space starts, but certainly doesn't end, with the Apple Watch.
2) Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL)
Google touches the smartwatch boom on both the hardware and software side. Google's wholly owned Motorola subsidiary makes the Moto 360, which research firm Canalys said was the most popular Android Wear smartwatch in 2014 despite some supply chain issues late in the year. However, given a
recent round of price cuts ahead of the release of the Apple Watch, the Moto 360's overall profitability is far from clear. So while the device has garnered plenty of headlines, I believe Google's opportunity on the software side of the smartwatch market is far more compelling.
As we've already seen with Google's Android operating system in the smartphone and tablet markets, Google's wearable software platform Android Wear is likely to become the industry standard for smartwatches. Thanks to smartwatches' small screen sizes, they likely won't provide a great opportunity for Google's massively profitable ad engine. However, smartwatches should generate troves of user data, which Google can use to further augment its advertising business.
3) Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF)
Another name on this list that should not surprise is you Samsung. The company has already positioned itself to loom large in the smartwatch business. Samsung has done some serious bragging about its Galaxy Gear figures, although some have wondered if the company is touting device shipments rather than actual sales. Regardless, thanks to its integrated supply
chain, the South Korean electronics giant has released six different wearables in the past 16 months and switched the operating system running its Gear product portfolio from Google's Android Wear to its own proprietary Tizen OS. While the smartwatch space is in many ways still nascent, it's a safe bet that Samsung will remain at or near the epicenter of this budding billion-dollar market in the years ahead.
Also of note: Garmin and Pebble
The smartwatch space is so large that I felt compelled to briefly mention a few other names that for one reason or another couldn't quite break into the top spots. Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) is a large player in the fitness and running watch space today. However, I believe further software innovation by larger consumer tech companies such as Apple, Google, or Samsung will put Garmin's franchise in this space under pressure. So while Garmin might look like an appealing investment in smartwatch growth today, I'm not so sure that will be the case a year or two from now.
Alternately, Pebble would have certainly made this list as the fourth best smartwatch maker for investors, but it's not publicly traded. However, its devices have proven popular thus far, with some reports claiming it has already shipped over 1 million devices. As I mentioned with Samsung above, shipments and sales aren't necessarily the same thing. However, Pebble would provide an interesting and more concentrated alternative to the tech giants above had it been available for the average investor.