Smart wearables and killer apps

Why should I buy that?

Let’s go back a few years. Why did the smartphone succeed? How on earth was it able to uproot established businesses of Nokia, Blackberry and Palm in a mere span of a few years? How was it possible for Apple to make more money on the iPhone alone than the entirety of Microsoft? The answer is rather straightforward, when you think of the obvious – Apple and other companies weren’t required to make a case for why would we need a smartphone. We already carried phones, and they offered better phones. Carrying a smartphone around did not add any huge inconvenience, it just made everyone’s life better. One trade-off was made; battery life was not as good. But other benefits did outweigh this one disadvantage.

With watches, however, it is a bit different. Smartphones have replaced music players, GPS trackers, point and shoot cameras, etc etc. The list goes on. But for my generation, they have also replaced watches. People tend to disagree when anyone makes this argument. Maybe because watches are the least affected in the above list. But still an entire generation is growing up without ever needing to wear watches. And this is the generation which will never buy watches. For any company to sell a wrist wearable – or a watch- they will have to make a strong case as to why should anyone want to wear that. Even if the battery lasts a week, people won’t buy it if it doesn’t add anything substantial to their lives. Again, because of the added inconvenience to wear something on your wrist.

Putting a smartphone on your wrist is not a solution. Then what is? I can think of two killer apps which will go a long way in validating this category-

1. The internet. Specifically an internet hotspot. Imagine if your wearable had a SIM slot and that was your mobile internet solution. No more MiFi’s. No need of SIM cards in phones or tablets. No need of multiple data plans. Pay once for cellular internet and have that data pool to be shared by all devices. This device will also greatly benefit the tablet industry, which is still plummeting (at least on the high end) because paying extra for data on your tablet has been a tough ask. Of course the biggest problem in this dream scenario is the carriers. They will strangle this device with incredibly expensive data plans. Here is where Apple can come in and disrupt this market, the same thing they tried and were successful in with the iPhone. It is a hard problem to solve, but having this functionality alone will lead the smart wearable to incredible success.

2. Having your watch be your wallet. A single device which will hold all your credit cards. Something like the start-up Coin, but on your wrist. Apple is rumored to do the same, except using NFC instead of the regular magnetic plate on credit cards. I’m not sure if this is the right approach for a big hit in the consumer market, because NFC is not ubiquitous. The wearable should somehow be able to work with the existing infrastructure. In time, NFC will be everywhere but as of 2014, it is not. This will also allow the watch to function without a smartphone, which is another thing important for this category to succeed. The wearable device should not be a dead rock after the phone dies.

Smart wearables is the new frontier, and this time around companies have to not only boldly go where no man has gone before, but make a case as to why every man should go with them.

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