Everyone is talking about wearables. With the upcoming launches of Android wear devices from Samsung, LG, Motorola and HTC and the long awaited iWatch from Apple, is there, if any, compelling reasons to buy one?

Wearables 2.0: Is there a compelling reason to buy one?

Over the past couple of months I have written about the second coming of Wearables – from Android Wear to iWatch [1][2][3]. I believe that the next big battle of the tech giants will be fought over wearables, starting with the smart watch.


State of the smartphone business

The greatest innovations in smartphone are mostly done. We have the best displays the eye can see. We have mobile processors that are blazingly fast. We have water proof phones. We have ultra-thin devices and we are starting to see curved displays (yet to see a meaningful use case for it, though). We have devices that can theoretically download at 150Mbps with 300Mbps soon to follow. The data plans will never catch up with how quickly and how much we can download on our smart devices. Most smartphones ship with atleast 16 GB of flash memory to store thousands of photos, videos and songs. Throw in the cloud and you have near infinite storage for a handful of dollars a year.

On the software side, the cloud is powering a lot these days. Instant and unlimited photo backup, document editing and live sharing over smartphones are but a tip of the iceberg. We can do rich media processing with excellent content creation tools that reside primarily on the web. Startups like Uber are using location based services to get you a taxi in a span of few minutes wherever you are. The restriction on the utilization of the cloud infrastructure is primarily that of data connectivity and subscribed data plans.

While this does not mean that smartphone innovation is done, it does mean that large scale disruptions are probably not going to happen as before. It then makes sense for all the big players to look for the next big thing to push to the consumer. There are two big areas to exploit here- the home entertainment ecosystem and the wearable technology space. Of these two, the living room ecosystem already has all the majors fighting over it- Apple, Google, Amazon, Sony, Samsung and Microsoft. The wearables space is very nascent and ripe for innovation. There is a lot of marketshare for grabs for the right product with the right set of features.

Why should I buy one?

The biggest question for any wearable maker to answer is simple and existential. Why does one need a wearable device?. In this specific context, why does one need a $199 or worse, $249 watch that has limited battery (compared to a traditional watch) and is potentially bigger? Here is a rundown of everything that is being talked about in the context of what a smartwatch can and should do and some perspective on what it could do to make our lives simpler.

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1. Notifications

By far the biggest feature smartwatches are touting is the ability  to deliver notifications. From your social networks to messaging (WhatsApp, Hangouts, SMS, iMessage) to specific tweets to missed calls, the biggest feature a smartwatch would offer is Notifications. When you step away from your phone, the watch would bring your notifications to you (assuming you are within a specific distance from the phone). An argument can be made, who today does not walk around without their smartphone?.

The other big challenge with Notifications is to be simple enough to configure yet granular enough to control. I mean who wants a buzz or vibrate on one’s wrists every time there is a retweet or an email or a Facebook notification?. Wouldn’t that be an overkill and a put off?

2. Health and Fitness Tracking

I have written extensively about fitness trackers and how I think it makes one more active. A smartwatch can theoretically replace all those devices with a single multipurpose device that measures and displays fitness information on your wrist. This would appeal to folks carrying Fitbit and Jawbone Up but that is a small audience.

This is also an area ripe for disruption. Most fitness trackers today don’t go well beyond measuring basic metrics like steps, rudimentary sleep patterns and well, calories. There are a plethora of unique single purpose medical and fitness wearables that do one task very well. From blood glucose monitoring to patient vital tracking for doctors, there is an emerging market for single purpose devices for such tasks. A solid smartwatch with sophisticated sensors could upend that and offer richer health data and monitoring for say kids and seniors that could make it more valuable.

The world of biometric sensors has huge potential with not just fitness data gathering ability but also the means to capture, track and monitor heart rate, blood pressure, allergic reactions, blood glucose levels, and so much more. A set of good sensors managed by smart apps could make a whole world of difference in this very nascent industry.

3. Payments

Payments is another key area that wearables could upend. Payments forms today are primarily credit cards, personal check or cash. With robust biometric authentication in place, secure transactions can be enabled by wearables- especially smart watches. This could be a game changer in the very near future. Imagine not having to deal with the hassle of carrying a wallet all the time? A combination of sensors monitoring one’s unique patterns can offer a robust authentication mechanism that would be the underpinning of a smart watch driven payment mechanism.

4. Authentication

As a precursor to payments, wearables can and should offer a form of authentication that makes any transaction very secure. This could be biometric or a combination of biometric and traditional cryptography based algorithms. But authentication, especially if it is universally adopted over time and accepted everywhere would make wearables very compelling.

5. Fashion Statement

Finally, the one reason why there will be an initial surge of sales for the iWatch is simply that it would be the latest and greatest fashion statement. When the iWatch is launched a few weeks from now, it will sell in the millions. One would expect Apple to make a compelling product if any. With the Beats acquisition and a surge of hires from the fashion industry, one can expect Apple to mix its device making expertise with a fashion ethic that is innovative and powerful. Soon after the initial hysteria, the real question is if it can convince non-watch wearers to commit to one for $249 or more for the long term.

A very good analysis on this topic is provided by Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research in an article for Techpinions. It is well worth a read if you are interested in smartwatches.

The cellular phone has reduced watch use over the past few years and people prefer to use their phone to know the time. Fashion aficionados, gadget lovers and Apple fans are low hanging fruit for wearables. The few that wear watches wear compelling and possibly unique and expensive timepieces. Will they switch?. And will a smartwatch make them go back to an era when watches were more common?. Time will tell.

Other Posts in the Wearables 2.0 series:

Wearables 2.0 – Introducing Android Wear

Wearables 2.0 – Impact on social networking

Wearables 2.0 – Impact of Android Wear

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