So it’s an interesting question. Whenever any kind of new “thing” comes along, consumer demand is a hard aspect to pinpoint. Will they love it? Hate it? Not know what to do with it? These are all valid questions that any competent product and marketing team need to answer if a product is to succeed. This particular question came to my mind from a variety of sources. There was some discussion at my day job, and some discussion last week on the Pocketnow Weekly.
At my day job, one co-worker commented that Android Wear didn’t really add anything except a slightly more convenient way of getting notifications that are already there on your phone. It’s a hard argument to refute. So I commented that maybe a smartwatch is like voice control on a phone – you think you’ll never use it when you don’t have it, but once you do, you can’t imagine life without it.
The new netbooks
On the weekly, the comparison came up between smartwatches and netbooks. Will smartwatches fade like netbooks have? The answer to that question is both simpler and more complicated at the same time. I’m not so sure netbooks faded because they were a “fad” so much as they faded because tablets and smartphones got a whole lot more powerful and capable to taking over the tasks that netbooks were designed to do. I don’t know, and this is a mobile site, not a netbook site (thank God) so we’re going to move on.
I like the comparison between smartwatches and voice control better though because smartwatches have the potential to become really addictive in the same way voice control is. “Oh, I can do THAT on my watch? Well, hell yeah!” could become a common realization among the smartwatch community. But the main difference between them is that voice control comes baked into an operating system for free – smartwatches do not. Which is when the light bulb went off – Smartwatches are the “new” wireless charging. Go with me on this.
Gonna take money, son
They both have the same obstacles – users have to buy in, and with smartwatches they have to buy in a big way. This ain’t no $50 charging plate here. This is $200+ of something no one has worn in almost two decades. That’s a big leap of faith for a consumer. Sure, there are some people who still wear watches, and some people who even spend more than $200 on a watch and God bless ‘em. But for the most part, this is a user-puts-his-money-where-his-mouth-is type of situation. But that’s not the only obstacle.
The other problem smartwatches face is the same that wireless charging is facing right now – standards. It’s VHS and Betamax all over again, but not exactly in the same way. Specifically, you have smartwatches that work with Samsung phones, smartwatches that don’t work with Samsung phones but work with everything else, smartwatches that only work with Android, no watches that work with Windows Phone. It’s getting ugly out there people, and we’re barely a year in. If this thing doesn’t sort itself out soon, the industry may bury smartwatches before they even gain traction.
That leads me back to Android wear and its consumer appeal. Android wear can and likely will do a lot to establish a standard for smartwatches – and Android phones. If Apple plans to release a watch this year, and all reports seem to indicate it does, then that will do a lot to stabilize the two industries – as long as you are only using one platform, Mr. Fisher.
But there will still be the question of the buy in and that is going to be a major obstacle for this platform. If it is to gain traction, OEMs may need to start bundling these devices together to make them work, and in that case, who is winning but Google? Realistically, if LG were to bundle a G3 with a smartwatch for, say $200 that’d be a good marketing move. Whether or not it’s a good fiscal move is another conversation. Plus the fact that it’d be running Android Wear and would presumably be compatible with any Android phone would be a value-add for those willing to test the industry, and make it easier to gain entry.
After all, the smartwatch concept really gained traction with the Pebble over a year ago, and less than 1,000,000 have been sold thus far. That is the very definition of a fledgling and struggling industry. It will take some big moves to gain significant ground.
The only way I see the smartwatch industry making significant strides is if a device comes out that is universal, and relatively inexpensive. When you are confronted by a GS5 and an LG smartwatch and both are priced at $199, that’s not a hard decision. Stop screaming about the two-year contract, I hear you. But most consumers don’t think that far in advance. They walk into a mobile phone store with two “hundos”, and they know what they’re walking out with. Spoiler alert: It’s in a pocket, not a wrist.
Bottom line, the smartwatch industry, despite being cool as heckfire and getting me drooling just thinking about it, has a long uphill battle to fight. It’s an uphill battle that wireless charging is still fighting, four years later. Will Android Wear be the one to end all debate and push this into the mainstream? Will the iWatch? That remains to be seen and it’ll be fun to watch. In the meantime, I still want one, so the industry has that going for it.