This is the second part in my multi-part series on the second coming of wearables. The first wave of wearables (read watches and simple fitness trackers) were focused more on the experience and less on social interaction. The second wave of wearables spearheaded by Android Wear and the long rumored iWatch will bring more muscle and volume to the game. This will trigger a fresh wave of apps that will engage the user and his/her social circles. This post discusses the potential impact of the next generation of wearables on social networks.
The Wearable Ecosystem
The wearables ecosystem is still in its infancy and currently composed of a bunch of small to medium players. The largest selling smartwatch is arguable the simplest- Pebble. It has a non-touch screen with a long battery life. Pebble claims to have sold over 400,000 units which probably makes it the leader in the segment. Sony and Samsung’s efforts have been middling to say the least.
Google Android Wear products will start arriving in Fall as will the rumored iWatch. This will shake things up big time, especially iWatch. Any Apple wearable product will move millions in days and completely disrupt the ecosystem.
On a completely different segment, Google Glass is getting better and more popular (or unpopular however you see it). There will be a commercial launch of Glass in the coming year which will definitely make things very interesting.
Fitness trackers will evolve to doing more from what they are today and smart watches will start doing more of what fitness trackers are doing today. The Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike Up market will either be swallowed by smart watches of they will be nimble and pivot to making watches themselves in addition to the simpler trackers. Either ways, change is coming.
The Big Social Networks
From the social networks standpoint, there are 4 major players – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. There are also a sizeable number of niche players like Secret, Pinterest and more. Each of these social networks will eventually need to evolve to offer social engagement across these wearable devices. And we are only starting on the wearables path. The ecosystem will evolve into more complex forms of engagement like Google Glass and virtual reality. And social networks will be compelled to keep pace. Just as mobile engagement for social networks has quickly surpassed desktop/PC use, it is not impossible to think that one or more forms of wearable technology will be ubiquitous in the future. And this technology will alter the way we engage on our social networks.
Initially, social engagement will be on a personal level meaning that Twitter, Facebook (Instagram and Facebook), and Google Plus will be the first movers. How and if LinkedIn or a Pinterest integrates with wearables remains to be seen. There may be use cases for Pinterest to have a place in wearables but even that remains to be seen in action.
The edge for Google Plus
Here is where Google has a big ace up its sleeve. At this point in time, Google happens to have two of the more promising use cases and ecosystems for wearables – Android Wear and Google Glass. And Google is well positioned to enhance its social engagement profile if and when one or both of these ecosystems take off.
Frictionless sharing and cloud sync will power the next generation of wearables. G+ will offer that experience for Android Wear and Google Glass users. Sharing and engaging on the Google Plus network will be as simple and as natural as possible on the Android wearables world. With Google Now, the services will be seamless as will the nature of engagement. Sharing and live streaming on Youtube from wearable devices and then engaging socially via the mandatory G+ account will boost the activity on G+. This will in turn enable Google to refine and target its ads and services far more than it has ever been able to.
The vision for G+ to be the base layer for all things and products Google will be furthered by the success of Android Wear, Google Glass and many more such wearable experiences from and driven by Google.
Impact of iWatch on the ecosystem
iWatch is the biggest unknown. The success of iWatch is a bygone conclusion. Even if 1% of the iOS audience across the world which would exceed 6 million soon decides to pick up an iWatch, it will completely alter the dynamics of wearables and the apps that power it. The sheer novelty factor of an Apple designed and iOS powered watch which integrates with the ubiquitous iPhones and iPads will alone warrant millions of sales. Everyone will want one. Apple will eventually sell tens of millions of iWatch.
iWatch will obviously offer social engagement and sharing through Apps. Instagram, a popular app on the AppStore will definitely be an early presence in the iWatch AppStore as will be Twitter. How Facebook integrates with iWatch and allow people to organically share photos and statuses will remain to be seen.
Google will offer G+ integration on iWatch like it does on all platforms. But the integration will not be as fluid as it is on Android Wear. Even today, iOS offers much better Facebook and Twitter integration than G+. This will play to Facebook’s advantage. It is thus in Google’s best advantage to make Android Wear a huge success as it did with Android itself.
Impact on Facebook
As the largest social network, Facebook has an interesting time ahead with the advent and proliferation of wearables. Facebook in itself is now three unique social networks – the original social network and the Facebook Messenger app which is quite popular and built on the base Facebook circle, Instagram for photos and videos and WhatsApp for instant messaging. All of these unique networks will be impacted by the success of wearables. Starting with Facebook photo sharing and Instagram, there be a change in how pictures and videos are captured and shared on the networks. Messaging will also change with wearables thereby requiring unique UIs tailored to the type unfriendly wearable technologies. This will offer interesting challenges for WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger not to mention Facebook itself.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp as unique apps will also be less favored than Google Plus when it comes to the Android Wear and Google Glass eco-system. While there will be APIs to implement for sharing and syncing, things would not be quite as frictionless like Google’s native social network. And based on the relative success of wearables in general and Android Wear and Glass in specific, this could mean a sizable shift in the use of the social networks themselves. How Facebook solves this puzzle will in itself be something to watch. Given the pervasive nature of the network and its users, it will find a way. And the final solution could be well worth the wait. Unless of course, Facebook decides to get into the business itself. You never know.
Impact on Twitter
Twitter has become the de facto social network to get live news and events as it happens. With wearables, people will be even closer to the action in ways never before seen and experienced. With the right set of tools and design choices, the Twitter wearable experience could offer the definitive validation of its place in our lives for tomorrow. There are challenges to this primarily with typing and the written word versus images and other interactive forms of sharing stuff as it happens. With Vine and its increased focus on photos, Twitter is positioning itself well for the coming wearable Twitter experience but it remains to be seen how it translates on the right devices.
Exciting times ahead
I cant imagine a more exciting time for wearable computing. It is finally going mainstream after years of false starts. The big players are in. The social experiences to engage and enthrall users are there. The bridge to connect the two is waiting to be made. A completely new kind of social interactions is and will be made possible by these new wearables. I cant wait to experience them.
Posts in the Wearables 2.0 Series