Much of the battleground of computing throughout tech history has been for our desks, our laps, and our pockets. In 2015, the battleground for our body will begin. It can be argued that battle had already begun but my firm belief is a true market for wearable computing has not yet emerged. Companies were playing in the space but the vast majority of consumers were not yet interested or, if they were, they were left disappointed. Apple’s smartwatch entrance will change this. Every company I spoke with who had already been in the market with a wearable of some type openly admitted to me that when Apple enters the space there will truly be a market. Even Apple’s hardware competitors acknowledge while Apple is not always early to a category they are pivotal in establishing those categories.
Any sound analysis of adoption cycles will reveal timing is the key to mass consumer adoption of a technology. Some companies get into product categories long before the surrounding technologies are ready and even before the market is ready. I recall several years at the Consumer Electronics Show going to the wearable technology pavilion. It always showed interesting stuff, but none of it was mass market ready. Microsoft is exceptional at being too early. They had a vision for the tablet but were too early. They seemed to know wearable technologies would be big and developed the Smart Personal Object Technology. Microsoft, with those two examples, were early and the technology along with the market was not ready for such products. I’ve heard executives say time and time again, being too early is just as bad as being too late. Timing is everything. Thanks to Moore’s Law, the timing is about right to enable a true wearable computing landscape.
Invasion of the Microchips
Ultimately, the continued advancement of Moore’s Law is enabling smaller, more powerful, and more battery efficient processors. Thanks to this advancement, we will be able to bring more computing power, with better battery efficiency, to extremely small objects. But wearable computing is unlikely to be advanced unless computing systems are designed specifically for wearable computing applications. This is what Intel is looking to accomplish with their Edison module and Qualcomm is doing with their Toq platform. Similarly, Apple built their own integrated system for the Apple Watch called the S1, which is essentially a full computer architecture on a single chip. Designing specific microprocessors, not just using off the shelf solutions geared at other applications, is the way to meaningfully move this category forward.
Interestingly to me, Apple is actually accelerating Moore’s Law for their own benefit. They have this luxury because they design processor architecture just for themselves. Moore’s Law states transistors roughly double every two years. Apple, with the A8 has nearly doubled the transistor count in one year. Apple has packed 2 billion transistors into the A8. Which begs the question, what can Apple do with the Apple Watch when they can pack 2 billion transistors into it? Which is inevitable at some point in the future.
Advancements like these are what set the stage for the battle for our body.
The idea of wearing a computer is still foreign to many consumers. Whether it is a smartwatch or a fitness, health, or activity tracker, most people have not adopted the practice of wearing a smart object on their person. This market is in the very early stages of development. There is no doubt wearable computers have problems to solve. However for many, those problems are not yet evident. Over the course of 2015, I believe we will take steps to identifying the problems for the masses wearable computers will solve.
Some of these solutions will be general purpose products which will do a range of things well and and possibly one or two things really well. Others will focus on just a few use cases, perhaps doing only several things really well and that is all. One thing I’ve concluded about this space is it will not be limited to just one approach. In a market of several billion and growing consumers who may be interested in wearable computing, there is enough market share to go around. Like many consumer tech markets, wearable computing is not a zero sum game.
Up to this point, I’ve been critical of both the current crop of health and fitness wearables and the current crop of smartwatches. That is not because I don’t believe in the category but because nothing on the market yet cracks the mainstream value proposition. But 2015 looks to be the year more focus across the board will be placed on solving tangible pain points for consumers.
As Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, once said. “The market is the ultimate arbiter.” I expect many companies to take their licks refining and pruning their offerings to bring something unique and useful to the mass market. There are more possibilities of where this market can ultimately go. But the market will be the ultimate arbiter in the battle for our body. And given the intimate nature of these products in our lives, there is no better judge and jury.
15 thoughts on “2015: The Battle For Our Body Begins”
Even more than in mobile non-wearables, battery capacity is going to be critical in determining the functionality of wearables. I don’t know what the physics are but we’ve all been waiting for that breakthrough in battery technology for several years now and that day just doesn’t seem any closer.
“Apple is actually accelerating Moore’s Law for their own benefit.”
No, they aren’t. Apple has been able to deliver dramatic annual improvements to their chips because they started out so far behind the curve — the 2007 iphone used a 90nm SOC, and 90nm was rolled out in 2004/2005. For most of the Iphone’s life to date, Apple was using older, fully amortized fabs (which give the highest yields and thus the cheapest chips). This year’s A8 is really the first time they’ve been using the latest available process (and it’s the latest only because 14nm has been so slow in coming).
The real question is whether they’ll be able to keep up this annual cadence in the future. Moore’s law may not be dead quite yet, but it’s showing increasing signs of ill health. The cost reductions that used to be associated with moving to a new smaller process have all but vanished. All of the new technologies that are supposed to make further shrinks easier (EUVL, etc) are very late in arriving, and the revolutionary breakthroughs (carbon nanotransistors, quantum computing, etc) that are supposed to enable computing to stay on an exponential curve are getting to be like fusion power — always 10 or 20 years in the future.
You misunderstand Moore’s Law. You are thinking about it from an x86 perspective which is a nm process ahead of ARM. Moore’s law is about transistor count, doubling with each new nm process, which they embraced but also did 1.2bn transistor on the previous nm process but in a year doubled it rather than the normal two years.
No, I don’t misunderstand it. Changing the fab process is what enables the transistor count to double without doubling the size of the chip. It’s the same thing in the end.
It doesn’t matter what metric we’re using, the fact remains that the only reason Apple is able to make such massive improvements to the chips every year is because they started out so far behind the curve. Which in turn means they will, in the next year or so, be on the same process node as Intel and the other cutting edge players, and at that point they will no longer be able to make such huge annual improvements because they will be all caught up.
We will see. 🙂 I’ve had several conversations with the semi companies on this, Intel included. What becomes clear is how far Apple can take this since they design their own chips and don’t have to worry about global qualification.
Ben, I can’t wait for whatever info you have about the S1 chip that got you so excited.
Per our discussion. See this article.
The article you mention references this:
Much of the same info but there is a fascinating bit towards the end:
“The question I have is: Why didn’t BK (Intel CEO) talk up Broxton which is the 14nm SoC targeted at the Apple A8 class of SoCs? The answer I believe is that Broxton is cancelled and Intel’s mobile strategy is being scaled back.”
This is huge news if it is true.
There is some indication that for the A8 Apple really did get an improvement over what Intel has been able to achieve for its latest die shrink. Apple is using a planar technology at 20nm while Intel is using a more advanced FinFET at 14nm yet Apple seems to have been able to get higher circuit density than what their technology predicts.
The problem with that analysis is that no one has been able to examine an A8 yet. But that is coming. Should be interesting.
Sensors, not software, will eat the earth.
Any thoughts on what new sensors need to be developed. I’m not seeing many new ones. We are getting deep into the realm of science fiction with the current crop. See Vinge’s localizers.
Nice ref. We are about to be deluged with nearables—sensors on and around us—hooked up to farables, servers that interpret that data. My hope is that Apple will create a path through this mess that allows us
* to monitor and govern sensors (wearware or nearware), and
* capture and protect data on our iPhones,
* allowing us control of the who, when, and where of our body data.
Surely a fond hope in a world where the state already has rights to our physical data, meaning that our flesh, fluids, and DNA can bear witness against us.
Personally, I wouldnt be wanting to buy a wearable because of the gazillion notifications and customizations it will probably try to push to me. Ding! Its Xx bday! notification in facebook. Swoosh! Artist Xx updates his twitter account. And I’ll be pained to see the notifications every now and then. Now I maybe able to enjoy good music thru the watch and somehow be able to pay using em watch too, but ding! ding! U-oh! what the bloody heck is it trying to tell me now. Now imagine it giving em notifications in your sleep…
Ever heard of ‘user-controlled custom settings’?
In a world where the state long ago secured rights to our physical data, where our flesh, fluids, down to our own DNA can give evidence against us … the battle for our body is long lost.