I’m usually not a prediction sort of guy because it’scosmically silly — we’re tiny little humans on a tiny littlerock spinning in a very large universe. Yet here I am, looking at2014 and the latest batch of smartwatch efforts from Samsung, Google,Motorola and LG.
Here’s what I see: All of these manufacturers and creators arecharging forward into the smartwatch arena with some interesting andincremental improvements to the watch. However, none has created anythingthat will resurrect the watch for whole generations of people who haveeither abandoned it in favor of smartphone clocks — or neverwore one in the first place.
Earlier this week, Google announced its AndroidWear program to help extend Android to wearable devices — tosmartwatches and beyond. Nice. It’s a good start.
Motorola also revealed a sleek (and nearly sexy) round Moto 360smartwatch.
Meanwhile, LG is getting in on the action, and Samsung has releasedpricing on its Gear 2 (US$295) and Gear Fit ($197) smartwatches, whichwill 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 continueto release smartwatches and wearable jewelry, making progress, buteven with the impressive Moto 360, none of it will hit any sort oftrue tipping point of mass adoption until Apple joins the party.
At that point, smartwatches will transition from becoming interestinggadgets to enter mainstream consciousness.
Apple’s marketing machine will ensure that hundreds of millions ofpeople will be aware of the space like never before. This alone willdrive 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 justbecause 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 ofreasons why this space won’t tip until Apple plays its hand.
The most obvious reason is that Apple has at least 100 million trulyloyal customers who at the same time make up a demographic thatwould consider dropping hundreds of dollars on a glorified watch. Thisset 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 — andpleased to see a company take on a major design challenge and create asweet product, which incidentally plays well with the roundness of theWeb these days, not to mention Google+.
But it’s not enough.
Apple’s iPhone-using population might be dwarfed by the overallAndroid-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 wristgadget 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 usersengage 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 itscustomer 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, gloriousitems that step through items that not only describe a product, but alsoilluminate (and manipulate) its value. Have you ever tried to findsuch 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 Applepresents the value proposition around its “watch,” they will be ableto imagine themselves wearing and using such a watch. Right now, formost people, I fully believe that imagining a Samsung Gear 2 on theirwrist is more a leap of faith. The visceral and cerebralconnections simply haven’t yet been made.
The point is, Apple is one of the few companies that can make both avisceral and cerebral connection to a so-called smartwatch — and thenalso 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 simplyreleases 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. Ibelieve that Apple will make a serious leap forward by combining thepower of a smartwatch with the useful health-based features of anexercise band.
In doing so, Apple will avoid the difficult-to-win fashion element ofcreating a traditional timepiece and instead introduce some sort ofhybrid wrist device, maybe even with a new name, that will cause allthe tech pundits to have collective palm-to-forehead moments onannouncement day. That’s what I’m hoping for, at least.
The more important thing is that Apple won’t create just a smartwatchor band — Apple will create a ready-to-run ecosystem ofhealth-oriented partners, which also will be open to independentdevelopers. If all of this comes together — insanely great designmarried to cerebral and visceral marketing — the smartwatch/banddeveloper ecosystem will collide head-on with Apple’s massive, loyalcustomer base.
And boom. The entire smart wearable space will explode.