Why I’m not buying a Smart Watch yet. Hint: Kickstarter has it all wrong
February 13, 2014 Editor 0
The first cars looked like steamboats on four wheels, mini-steam-powered trains or horseless carriages. It took several iterations (and decades) to leave the ‘old model’ behind. Today, another new product category is emerging: the Smart Watch. Don’t get confused by the rise of Kickstarter Smart Watches however, following the Pebble success story. Although the name ‘Smart Watch’ might imply differently, this market will not be defined by smart phones or watchmakers who will build their version of a steamboat and attract a limited crowd of tech enthusiasts. Real growth will come from new entrants, industry outsiders who aren’t restricted by the product heritage of the existing market players.
NOT: Clumsy downsized internet phones on your wrist
The endless variations of Smart Watches that scale down a smartphone all start from a major misassumption. People will not suddenly stop using their iPhone. Users may check their phone fewer than 150 times a day, but still… If you feel the key features of a smartphone should be copied to your wrist, I have to disappoint you. The ’80′s called and they want their Calculator Watch back. A generation or two have already decided that your fat fingers fiddling about on your wrist is only cool for a couple of minutes in the schoolyard. That’s all. Your iPhone will always be better for texting, mailing, browsing or calling (image: Neptune Pine Watch).
NOT: Circular clocks with integrated notification centres
Remember why many people started to hate and abandon Microsoft Windows? One of the key pains was the continuous stream of unnecessary interruptions. “Update now?”, “Are you sure?”, “Your power plug is connected. Ok?” All these menu icons sitting at the bottom of your screen, shooting notifications at users for whatever reason, were just plain productivity killers. Similarly, a watch that continuously notifies you about what’s changed in your online life will not create value at all. No, at best, it will be the one and only reason why you start shouting at your wrist (image: Cookoo Smart Watch).
The next-gen Smart Watch: New functions, but sold as a status symbol
Before I spend my money on a high-tech device strapped to my wrist, it needs to convince me that it adds new value to my gadgetry portfolio. A good starting point would be to look at the functions that a smartphone does badly.
New functions: ambient listening and monitoring
A microphone tucked away in my pocket will do a worse job than a microphone on my arm. When a watch continuously listens to my environment, the options become infinite. More importantly, this would open up new functions (read: new ways to monetise users!). Shazam is a killer app with a proven track record, but new experiments are on the rise. Imagine. You could automatically track the people you talk to on a daily basis. Ebay already eavesdrops (via your iPad) on what TV show you’re tuned in to. This way, Ebay is able to offer product info related to the exact scene that you’re watching. This offers value to both the viewer as advertiser (bypassing the TV channel, but that’s a different story). In the future, you don’t watch your wrist, but the device will listen to you and your context.
But a Smart Watch should ‘listen’ to a lot more than sound. Sensors attached to your arm are far better placed to monitor vital body metrics (the bulky Basis is a decent start). My phone often just lies on my desk, unattached to my body. So far, I don’t shower or sleep with my phone. Waterproof fitness wearables however are designed for this purpose. These are features that would become ‘default’ options for a Smart Watch. This brings me to the next wave of Smart Watches (image: Misfit Shine).
New functions: personal identifiers (death of the password)
Once settled in the market, additional features could be added. A device on your arm that already (and continuously) knows that you are the person you claim you are, could become the killer of the password. From a market perspective, there is a clear need to replace the old model of a username and password. Even the databases of big players like Adobe are being comprised. The way you type, your skin and many other biometrics could be used as a start. For me at least, this is an open domain for a Smart Watch to evolve in. A problem worth solving is the ultimate basis for any lucrative new business model (image: Toshiba Pulse Smart Watch).
Why Red Bull, Ray-Ban and Dr. Dre might launch a Smart Watch
Most watches today are not sold for their accurate representation of the current time, but for their looks or status. Watches reflect image and personal reputation. In my view, the big new entrants will be players who know how to sell a lifestyle to an audience. I’m looking forward to the first ‘Smart Watch’ by a brand of women’s accessories, fashion items (Ray-Ban?) or headsets (Beats by Dr. Dre?). If I would have to make a more risky prediction, I would go for a ‘Smart Watch’ experiment by Red Bull. They have a relevant audience to sell to and have proven themselves as being successful in tech-driven markets (Formula 1,…). Depending on their focus, a link with their existing event activity or media/content business might be explored.
Start with one relevant problem for a growing segment
Of course, all of the above can’t be integrated in one device. As in any industry, many variants of product categories will co-exist next to others. In my view, the exciting stuff will not come from Apple, Samsung or Google.
– Existing tech-driven players will be outpaced by new entrants who are able to hide the technology for a user. Companies that talk about Bluetooth connectivity, ePaper or other tech features will miss the mark.
– Those who just try to move functions from your smartphone to your wrist will struggle to grow beyond the tech-savvy crowd of early adopters. Only those who are able to offer new functions will survive.
If all goes well, we will all laugh in a few years about the first wearables that naïvely tried to look like watches or smartphones.
What do you think we’ll laugh about a decade from now?
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