It seems silly to be excited by one of the most interesting news from the CES 2014: “Pebble comes in a metal case”. The silly part: level of appeal of the news is close to zero. The interesting part: everyone will have a smartwatch in 10 years from now. 10 years is a long time, as this wave seems will take longer than smartphones and tablets. But be sure: we will drop our watches for new devices… that will not be actual watches.
Smartphones are not phones, smartglasses are not glasses, nor smartphones and smartwatches are not wrist-mini-smartphones!
The fact that they will be anchored to your wrist is just misleading. The name is deceiving too, pointing to smart, as in smart-phone, and watch; we are in presence of another clueless name we give technology that we still cannot fully understand as we develop it.
Those devices will be a lot of things and they might even tell you the time (as smartphones can do calls, although it is the least used feature for most of us).
The Pebble is a very nice device, taking stocks of early adopters, and Samsung Gear was successful only in convincing us that a smartwatch should not be a mini-smartphone. A plethora of new products is getting ready to hit the stores, and there will be a market for most of them, but soon enough most of them look like the Nokia 7110 (released in 1999) or a Blackberry Pearl (2006) compared to an iPhone.
So how will this “iPhone” of smartwatches look like? Here are the three most promising areas, to me:
The obvious, has an incredible amount of good cases, huge markets, huge money. That is a serious, ready to explode market. A space that ranges from cheap, always on health tracking for patients to hi-performing athletes… and everyone in between!
The hottest in this space has been FitBit for a while, now it is likely the new Samsung Gear Fit, and a lot is going on already including the rumored iWatch from Apple. But I look forward to Google too (Google Wear), hoping that, in their vision, they will put health before all other use cases (see Why Google Has the Best Shot at Making the Killer Smartwatch).
The second most interesting area of development, apparently not yet in the main players plans is that of identity, and authentication. This is the case where our shiny device will allow us to enter the building where we we work, our home, unlock our phone and our computer, exchange contact information with an handshake, etc.). Maybe this could be the good response from Google to the iPhone fingerprint scanner authentication. Bionym, with their Nymi product seems to be already quite far in this game.
Isn’t payment the Holy Grail all the big names in tech are looking for? Can we continue to use credit/debit cards and RFID cards as we are using them now?
As soon as the previous Identity/Authentication area is mature, payments will follow. With cards we got rid of our wallet, with bracelets allowing for payments we can get rid of cards too, and we will (almost) never forget or lose them, since they are securely attached to our body.
From the experience perspective the possibility of paying for a coffee, a bus ride and a parking just by putting our wrist next to the payment sensor seems very appealing to me and actually the idea has been around for several years, but the recent progress in digital banking make me believe we are getting close. Let’s just hope the approach will be to build a pluggable system: nobody feels the need to carry N bracelets: one for the metro, one for the VISA, one for the parking, etc. Finally, in considering the experience, I hope the devices receiving the payment will also get a some love from designers.
Connecting the dots
Combine the features above a lot of possibilities open up: possibilities to dramatically improve our experience around our own health, identity and payments. At this point we also expect those devices to be highly pluggable and extendable with “apps”.
Looking at the characteristics of this device-we-have-around-our-wrist, what does it offers:
can be always with us
can be securely attached to our body
can detect movement, heart rate and more about our body
can be always on, day and night
can be used in almost any context: while doing almost any sport, dancing, in a meeting, …
can be used without looking to it, just but pointing, dropping it on a surface, shaking a hand, …
All in a really small device, offering space for a small screen or display. A device you do not want to recharge, because you do not want to remove it from your body. Ever.
Many manufacturers will try the right combination, there will be more failed experiments, more acquisitions, a lot more buzz, but its all coming our way and I really hope to see, very soon, a product with all four of the above: a single wristband (as you can see I am not using the “s word” anymore) that combines, with an app system, the following:
1) Health and fitness tracking
Will the iWatch get there first, or maybe, and hopefully, will we see a new player lead this market?