I am a millennial. In my adult life, I’ve always had a cell phone in my pocket, so I’ve never needed or even wanted a watch. In a few days, Apple will announce a new product, which is rumored to be a smart watch. Will Apple finally convince me to wear something on my wrist?
The Crux of the Problem
Last year, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, said that he was enjoying his Nike FuelBand, but a more fully featured product of equal quality was yet to emerge.
I would say [wearables] that are doing more than one thing, that there’s nothing … There’s nothing that’s going to convince a kid who has never worn glasses, or a band, or a watch, or whatever, to wear one… or at least I haven’t seen it. So I think that there’s lots of things to solve in this space, but it’s an area where it’s ripe for exploration.
-Tim Cook, D11 Conference, May 2013
Tim also noted that watches are redundant in a world filled with smart phones.
I think for something to work [on the wrist], you first have to convince people it’s so incredible that they want to wear it, because … if we had a room full of ten to twenty year olds, and we said, ‘everybody stand up that has a watch on’, I’m not sure anybody would stand up. I don’t see it. And you look at what kids are wearing… their watch is this.
-Tim Cook (holding up his iPhone), D11 Conference, May 2013
These quotes demonstrate that Apple has been well aware of the problem for some time. Given the features of a phone, consumers don’t need a smart watch. As they exist now, they’re a fashion accessory. The only thing that would change this situation is an innovation that provides utility beyond of the capabilities of existing phones.
What Won’t Suffice
There are already several options on the market for smart watches. So far none of them are compelling because their features address problems that are better, or just as easily, solved with a smart phone:
- Telling the time
- Showing alerts
- Emailing / calling / texting
- Taking pictures
- Acting as a remote control for your phone or other devices
These features make for a hard sell when you’re talking about a device that costs $200-300. In addition, most wearables have issues regarding:
- Battery life
- Discomfort of wearing device
- Blocky / geeky appearance
- Inability to handle exposure to water / weather
- Navigating anything but the simplest user interfaces is cumbersome
Any smart watch which expects to have mass appeal needs to tackle these issues.
Viable Selling Points
I’ve scratched my head over this one for a while. The only hypothesized feature that could tip the scales is health tracking. However, a simple pedometer won’t cut it. There’s a powerful sales pitch to be made by improving one’s health and predicting illness more accurately for only a few hundred dollars, but this requires a very robust feature set. With the announcement of Apple’s Health app, these are the new features that seem overwhelmingly likely.
What remains to be seen are any other non-health features. Will there be any paradigm-shifting ideas in the new products revealed at Apple’s event on September 9th? We’ll have to wait and see.