Monday, 19 August 2013

How Smart Watches Can Succeed: By Knowing What Not To Offer...

Growing up, I saw the movie 'Dick Tracy' and as most kids who saw his wrist watch phone, I really wanted one of my own. This was a case of  expectation and reality not quite meeting up, as the watch I ended up getting from the 90's Toys-R-Us was less the size of a time piece and more a full sized 'walkie-talkie' with a velcro bracelet attached to it. Incidentally, this was one of the last watches I owned, as mobile phones came in a few years later and fixed my need for a time piece, something I was quite happy to adopt. These two stories are quite coincidental currently, as discussion around major manufacturers getting into the 'smart watch' subsector of wearable technology stands ready to attempt to usher an updated type of 'Dick Tracy' watch to market and its all because of smart phones.

Before a few years ago, the term 'wearable technology' was a bit of a misnomer. Previous attempts at a smart watch, visor, shoe, etc. were clunky, expensive and above all normally technology you wouldn't actually want to wear. For every Nike+ enabled shoe we have now, there was the iteration of attempts starting with the RS computer shoe from Puma in the 1980s. Wearable technology previously tried to do it all in one device and simultaneously failed to deliver promised functionality, while also looking a bit like my 'walkie-talkie' bracelet.

The thing that has finally changed this is increasing connectivity between devices and the maturation and proliferation of smart phones. While this has been occurring for quite sometime, these trends also kick started the development of secondary devices, minimizing the form factor of possible 'wearable tech' by using connectivity to make a user's smart phone do the heavy lifting. Truly, device manufacturers realized that there was no need for two fully functional devices providing redundant functions, and instead made secondary devices that didn't reinvent the consumer's device ecosystem, but played within it. While this may have started with more sensor based products such as the Nike+ shoe, smartphone piggybacking has emerged into more developed experiences such as Google Glass, Pebble and the upcoming rumored watches from Samsung and Apple.

So while trends are moving towards a device like a smart watch, can it succeed, especially in the face of a growing 'wearable tech' market? Yes, but only if manufacturer's stick to the
device's strengths.

The smartphone ecosystem that has allowed for move viable wearable devices needs to be observed, meaning many of the uses of secondary devices are to enable consumers to do smart phone activities more easily over being stand alone. Glass, Pebble,Sony's SW2, and others all position the device as more of an 'accessory' to your smart phone, while alternatively Omate and GEAK take a more difficult tack in positioning their devices are more 'stand alone'. Sticking to what the device might do best (e.g. more lightweight activities vs. Omate's claim you can 'work from your phone') bodes well for the category and smart watches as a whole also benefit from being less noticeable than devices such as glass (a benefit in a category that has yet to establish a wide social cache around being noticed in them).

If the smart watch category can establish itself along this subtle accessory positioning, it has the chance to take on a variety of other emerging categories including health sensors such as jawbone and Nike Fuelband, GPS running watches and other phone remotes. Bundling similar functionality across all of these other related sectors through a user's smartphone allows a smart watch to rapidly prove its value, without having to create new behaviors like 'watch based working or video calling'. This means that while the success of the smart watch may finally bring something similar to the Dick Tracy watch into reality, the way consumers will use it will be very different.

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