It has been well documented that the current crop of wearables, mostly those in the health and fitness category, suffer from a steep rate of abandon after a period of time. Reports last year said more than half of the wearables purchased by US consumers were not in use after 12 months. It seems consumers find the initial experience novel for counting steps, calories, and other features depending on the band, but after a period of time, they lose interest. One of my working theories is these devices also offer little value beyond basic step, counting, heart rate, etc., and don’t help the owner make sense of the data or even evolve in their goal setting. Whatever the case, there is overwhelming evidence the current crop of wearables are not compelling enough for the vast majority of their owners to continue using them. Here is an excellent chart from Morgan Stanley research of US wearable owners and how long they have used the device after a length of time. As you can see, less than 10% of owners still use the device after 12 months.
My initial thinking around what Apple should do in this category was to nail the health and fitness part since those devices are the ones selling in some volume, with estimates of approximately 20m in 2014 worldwide. So it seemed there was an opportunity and interest. My theory was Apple should release a wearable that was the best health and fitness device and not a general purpose smartwatch/wearable. However, after using the Apple Watch for more than two weeks, I’m convinced this initial thesis of mine was wrong.
I have to admit the health and fitness aspects of wearables have limited appeal to me. More specifically, there isn’t a product with a health and fitness angle that has given me good reason to care about it yet. I like the Workout application on the Apple Watch quite a bit. I do run and train for competition tennis so I do like being able to track set distance or time goals using the app. But the general activity tracking of the Apple Watch, while comprehensive, is not the feature I value the most. Yet I’m certain it will be to my wife.
The broader point in all of this is how the health and fitness aspects alone don’t seem to be a feature compelling enough for the mass market to continue using it. This is where I think the general purpose nature of the Apple Watch is what is going to help it break the current pattern of wearables. In my experience, it is the diversity in the value propositions the Apple Watch offers that makes it compelling enough to keep wearing. If all it did was health and fitness, I wouldn’t keep it on all the time. I’d likely wear it when I exercise but that is all. Because it offers a range of other value propositions from notifications to glances of useful information to health and fitness to apps to the fashion of it, I’m more willing to keep using it. The applications will also continue to expand the use cases making it even more compelling and sticky. It also happens to be extremely comfortable, more so in my opinion than any other wearable I’ve tried, which also makes it easy to keep it on.
When you think about the paradigm shift I mentioned in my Apple Watch review, that of the Watch being an interaction model measured in seconds rather than minutes or hours, it brings up an interesting observation. If i’m only interacting with this product for a few minutes every hour, then why should I keep it all on the time? Here again, it is the convenience of the additional use cases for glance-able information, but also the promise of the diverse value propositions.
On this point, I did notice an interesting new behavior with the Apple Watch I’ve never experienced before with any other wearable. If I take it off during the day to charge, or for any other reason, I miss it.