Smart watches won't go mass market
Smart watches are the supposed trend du jour these days, except I don’t see anyone wearing them. Okay, that’s not completely true—my fellow geeks are all over them. So I guess I should say that I don’t see any normals wearing them.
At work we are examining at the viability of wearables for enterprise use. We’re testing several different versions of Android watches and the Pebble Steel. Several people are using them, and I had a Pebble Steel for a week and a half. The feedback is both positive and negative, but no one is overwhelmed by their potential for the enterprise.
I’m skeptical of smart watches, but I’m careful not to form opinions about products I have no experience with, so I participated in our tests. Going into the week and a half I had the following objections:
- I don’t like to wear watches. This is the biggest problem I have, and it’s one that I share with some, but certainly not most people
- I don’t see a functionality gap between what my phone currently offers and what a smart watch does. I have no perceived need for the device
- I am not persuaded that checking a smart watch every time it buzzes is less rude than checking a phone. After all, before phones the body language for ‘I’m not that interested in what you are saying’ was checking a watch
With those three biases in place, I wore the Steel for about 10 days. I wasn’t convinced.
All three concerns I outlined above were confirmed. Admittedly, these biases set me against it from the start, but I genuinely did not get enough value out of the watch to even consider buying it. I don’t think I’m alone, which is why I don’t think smart watches will be successful as mass market devices. The main arguments are well-worn:
- The market for smart watches will never be as large as the market for phones
- For most people, even at the low end, watches are fashion products, not technology. And smart watches are ugly so far
- The balance between battery life and functionality seems to be too hard to solve right now. Who wants to charge their watch every night? Or, who wants an ugly, black and white screen?
The battery issue will be solved, but it’s not solved yet. I think the other two objections will probably always be valid. But those aren’t the real obstacle to adoption in my mind.
It comes down to one central question: what does a smart watch really offer in addition to what a phone does? Because all the major smart watches depend on phones, you will always have both with you to get the full value of the watch. So what does the watch bring to the table that is unique?
The thing that separates us geeks from the rest of the world is our love of the technology itself. Our fanboyism is rooted in a love for the devices themselves, and the tech inside. The rest of the world doesn’t look at technology this way. They look for utility, for specific added value. If a device does not fill a hole in their capabilities or create a new hole, by and large they are not interested.
A great example of this is how my father adopted the iPhone. When I bought one on launch day he was interested, he thought it was cool. He played with it a bit, but wasn’t compelled to get one. When his company started supporting email on it, he was more interested. Then when the app store launched, he pulled the trigger. The utility of the device finally matched his perceived needs.
Health and fitness trackers are the most successful wearables so far, because they offer functionality that is unique to their form factor and device type. A FitBit or Up has much greater utility than a smartphone app that measures the same things specifically because of the form factor. In real life a phone does not travel on your person every minute of the day, a wearable does. These products have a convincing answer to the question that matters.
Until these new watchmakers have their own compelling answer to that question, regular people will not adopt smart watches in large numbers.