Apple Will Light the Wearable Tech Fire
I'm usually not a prediction sort of guy because it's cosmically silly -- we're tiny little humans on a tiny little rock spinning in a very large universe. Yet here I am, looking at 2014 and the latest batch of smartwatch efforts from Samsung, Google, Motorola and LG.
Here's what I see: All of these manufacturers and creators are charging forward into the smartwatch arena with some interesting and incremental improvements to the watch. However, none has created anything that will resurrect the watch for whole generations of people who have either abandoned it in favor of smartphone clocks -- or never wore one in the first place.
Earlier this week, Google announced its Android Wear program to help extend Android to wearable devices -- to smartwatches and beyond. Nice. It's a good start.
Motorola also revealed a sleek (and nearly sexy) round Moto 360 smartwatch.
Meanwhile, LG is getting in on the action, and Samsung has released pricing on its Gear 2 (US$295) and Gear Fit ($197) smartwatches, which will hit the market in April.
It's all good stuff -- just not insanely great.
It's the Marketing, First and Foremost
Here's what I see happening in 2014: The Android crowd will continue to release smartwatches and wearable jewelry, making progress, but even with the impressive Moto 360, none of it will hit any sort of true tipping point of mass adoption until Apple joins the party.
At that point, smartwatches will transition from becoming interesting gadgets to enter mainstream consciousness.
Apple's marketing machine will ensure that hundreds of millions of people will be aware of the space like never before. This alone will drive adoption of Android-based smartwatches because it will, ironically, help activate Android smartphone customers.
Of course, millions of Apple fans will buy an Apple device just because of their affinity for Apple -- even if the Apple "smartwatch" isn't a necessary product.
Am I Overstating Apple's Importance Here?
Not at all. Why? When you think through the elements, there's a lot of reasons why this space won't tip until Apple plays its hand.
The most obvious reason is that Apple has at least 100 million truly loyal customers who at the same time make up a demographic that would consider dropping hundreds of dollars on a glorified watch. This set of customers won't buy Android-based solutions in 2014, and a Moto 360 sure as heck isn't enough to make them switch from iOS to Android.
Personally, I'm impressed with the early teaser of the Moto 360 -- and pleased to see a company take on a major design challenge and create a sweet product, which incidentally plays well with the roundness of the Web these days, not to mention Google+.
But it's not enough.
Apple's iPhone-using population might be dwarfed by the overall Android-using population, but -- even when you count the tech-lovin' geeks who appreciate how well Android lets them tinker and play -- the iPhone population of gadget buyers who will spend $200-plus on a wrist gadget is larger.
At least, that's my opinion based on all the graphs and studies I've seen over the last two years that show how iOS users engage with the Web more frequently -- and actually buy things, apps and media included, time and time again.
Customer Activation Is Key
Even if you quibble over the numbers of potential buyers right now, what matters most is Apple's insane ability to activate its customer base. Along with creating its actual product -- which I'll get to shortly -- Apple will do two things extremely well:
- Create a Web page
- Create a marketing campaign
Each of these two little things will do two more things:
- Describe the product in clear, engaging detail
- Help "sell" iPhone users on why they really want and need the product
If you look at Apple's product Web pages, they are all big, glorious items that step through items that not only describe a product, but also illuminate (and manipulate) its value. Have you ever tried to find such a page on Google's site? On Motorola's? Samsung's? For mass consumers, Apple's site is far simpler to grok.
The same goes for TV ads. When everyday consumers see how Apple presents the value proposition around its "watch," they will be able to imagine themselves wearing and using such a watch. Right now, for most people, I fully believe that imagining a Samsung Gear 2 on their wrist is more a leap of faith. The visceral and cerebral connections simply haven't yet been made.
The point is, Apple is one of the few companies that can make both a visceral and cerebral connection to a so-called smartwatch -- and then also has the power to broadcast its vision around the world.
What If Apple Creates Something Better Than a Smartwatch?
This entire premise is also based on the notion that Apple simply releases a smartwatch that's just as good as, if not a little better than, the competition's. I don't actually believe Apple will do that. I believe that Apple will make a serious leap forward by combining the power of a smartwatch with the useful health-based features of an exercise band.
In doing so, Apple will avoid the difficult-to-win fashion element of creating a traditional timepiece and instead introduce some sort of hybrid wrist device, maybe even with a new name, that will cause all the tech pundits to have collective palm-to-forehead moments on announcement day. That's what I'm hoping for, at least.
The more important thing is that Apple won't create just a smartwatch or band -- Apple will create a ready-to-run ecosystem of health-oriented partners, which also will be open to independent developers. If all of this comes together -- insanely great design married to cerebral and visceral marketing -- the smartwatch/band developer ecosystem will collide head-on with Apple's massive, loyal customer base.
And boom. The entire smart wearable space will explode.