Connected watches looking for compelling use cases

Connected watches are not really new but the launch of the Apple Watch is highlighting this market. The number of enthusiastic and skeptical voices show that the product is not uncontroversial. Will the smart watch be a major turn in the digitization of our lives or one of the first fails of the connected economy ?

The connected watch : nothing more than your phone’s second screen

If I had to share a quite brutal definition of the connected watch I’d say that it’s the smartphone’s second screen. Nothing more, nothing less.

The watch depends on the phone in many ways. First, it can’t work without a phone used as a gate to the internet. Second, there’s no watch application without a phone application to feed it. Last, but not least, the phone battery load determines how long the watch will be connected : once the phone runs out of battery the connected watch is nothing but a watch.

In short you won’t get more on a watch than what you can get on your phone. Not more, not less. What will change is the way the information is displayed, the experience and the ability to act upon a message that wall support the use cases that will (or won’t) make the watch deliver a higher added-value that the existing devices.

The connect watch is practical but not compelling

From this perspective we can’t say that the applications available today – and the Apple Watch is not different – are revolutionizing anything in terms of usage. I agree that the watch will more practical in some cases : no need to take one’s phone out of a pocket, the watch is always before our eyes. But it’s not enough to be compelling.  The first smartphones had uses cases that made the old phones obsolete but the watch is rather an incremental improvement : side improvements that don’t revolutionize anything. If your phone is out of order then you’re in trouble, if your watch is you can wait to have it repaired and even endlessly postpone the reparation.

The connected watch is a better sensor than receiver

A connected watch has two key functionalities : sensing and receiving. As a receiver it receives information it, then, displays. As a sensor it generates and share data with obvious use cases in the field of health and well being. We have to admit that its only differentiating use case lies in this second field.

As for receiving, in addition to the limits brought by phone pairing, there are issues related to information filtering and battery life. It’s obvious that getting two signals a minute on a watch is not livable. It works on a phone we check even every few minutes but not on something we always have before our eyes. Apple Watch users are warned not to send everything on their watch and filter to get only the signals that matter. So there’s a balance to find between the value proposition (information before our eyes) and the usability (information overload). I’ll add a third parameter : the more message the shorter battery life. What is a already a major issue today will become even more critical.

Remember we have two wrists

As for sensing, real time pairing is not mandatory provided syncing is done 2, 4 or 6 times a day, what is enough for anyone. And the added value in terms of service is obvious. Yes, but. This field is already crowded with dedicated devices that focus on this use case and do it pretty well, with less battery-related constraint. It implies people to have both a watch and a wristband ? Why not. We have two wrists after all.

My decision is made : a “real watch” and a wristband. If I have to put money on a watch I prefer something beautiful and authentic (and as someone told me this week, a watch is the only jewellery a man can wear, the wrist is the only available “slot”. So if you want to indulge yourself there is not a lot of room left…)

The connected watch will be a hit. But what kind of hit ?

However, I think that connected watches will be a hit. Because it’s new, because people are curious, because we know how Apple’s marketing is powerful, because brands and app makers will buzz a lot and make announcements in the very first day even if they don’t propose anything really new. Lots of watches will be sold. Enough to set the market in motion, hoping it to last until compelling use case emerge, until we can get rid of the phone. And then the market will take a second breath.

But it also makes ùe wonder what does being a “sales hit” means in this field ?

What’s the market size ? Watch owners as well as non owners. But if everybody needs to know what time is it, not everybody needs a watch (there’s the phone) and not all those who need a watch need a connected one. Globally speaking, regading to connected objects (except smartphones) we need to reconsider what we call a success. Except for phones it’s all about niches, large or small ones, and I don’t expect connected objects to be as widely adopted than PCs or smartphones. Maybe watches are the largest niche but, for example, scales are a much smaller one.

We can also wonder how fast the market will renew itself. Renewal is fast for phones, slower for PCs. We saw that tablets are more like PCs than like phones : sales numbers are decreasing but that does not mean the product is not a success, it only means people renew their tablet less often than their phones. How fast will connected watches will renewed ? It can be fast but not at $750. Either we’ll have to wait for prices to drop or we must admit that renewal will be slow. Maybe, one day, watch renewal will replace phone renewal. Why not.

Last, we should not forget the lesson learned with Google Glass. Many consider it as a failure but I think we were not looking at the right market. The value of Google Glass is higher for a professional use than for a personal one. Maybe the most interesting use cases, with the highest added value, will come from professional verticalized use cases.

Bottom line : the connected watch will be a hit at its launch, it’s a no brainer. The actual matter lies in two points :

– how long will it take to make it autonomous (in terms of battery life and phone pairing)

– how long will it take until compelling use case will durably establish the market and accelerate the speed of renewal.

Image credit : Smart Watch by chanpipat via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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