On June 27th, Tim Bajarin wrote an excellent article on wearables entitled “Understanding Apple’s Wearable Strategy“. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to take the time to read it, or re-read it, now.
Tim’s article got me thinking. We’ve been down the “new categories” road before but we always seem to get it wrong. I wondered why. So I took a step back and drew up an ad hoc list of lessons unlearned from the past in the hope that — as we peer into the future of the wearables category — we might avoid falling into the same traps as we have before.
Let’s start our examination of wearables with a joke:
Three tech pundits walk into a forest and soon find a pair of tracks.
— The first pundit says, ‘I think they’re deer tracks.’
— The second pundit says, ‘No, I think they’re bear tracks.’
— The third pundit says, You’re both wrong! They’re bird tracks!’
Then they got hit by a train.
Despite all of their bravado, most pundits haven’t got a clue as to what’s coming in wearables and they won’t know what’s coming until it figuratively hits them. I mean, did they get the iPod right? The iPhone? The iPad? No, no and no. I rest my case.
Lesson #1: Don’t Get Distracted By Pundit Predictions
We think the future will be a linear extension of the present. It won’t be.
Which reminds me of another joke.
No! Not that joke. This joke.
Q: What do you call a dog with no legs?
A: It doesn’t matter, it’s not going to come anyway.
Q: What do you call the current crop of smart-watches?
A: It doesn’t matter, they’ve got no “legs” either.
I’ve heard people say some really nice things about the recently released Android smart watches. Shame! Shame on them! Those smartwatches are not magic, they’re tragic! Today’s smartwatches will have as much in common with tomorrow’s smart solutions as Cro-Magnon man has in common with today’s Homo Sapiens. Today’s smartwatches are the tablets of 2001; the smartphones of 2006 — doomed to extinction the moment we’re shown how it’s properly done.
Lesson #2: The Future Will Look Nothing Like The Present
So how about yet another joke?
Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air. ~ Jack Benny
Sometimes less is more. Jack Benny was wise enough to know what was important and he discarded the rest. The same is true in wearables. Wearables will become essential when designers focus on the important and discard the rest.
Today’s wearables are trying to be everything to everyone. They’re a watch and a notification center and a camera and a voice communicator and a health monitor and a payment center, etc, etc, etc. I may not know what the future of wearables will be, but I know what it won’t be, and that is all things to all people. Further, wearables will not be both a floor wax and a dessert topping.
Today’s smartwatches are like yesterday’s failed netbooks. Just as PC manufacturers tried to cram the functionality of a full sized PC into a smaller, cheaper netbook, today’s smartphone manufacturers are trying to cram a full sized smartphone into a smaller, cheaper watch. They’re not creating new features, they’re duplicating the old features (notifications, picture taking, etc.) and implementing those features on a smaller and harder to use device. What’s the sense in that?
The key to the iPad wasn’t that it duplicated the functionality of the PC. It was that it did some things much, much better than the PC and it did other things well that the PC did poorly or did not do at all. What do today’s smartwatches do much, much better than a phone? And what do today’s smartwatches do that you couldn’t do just as well and just as easily on a phone? Absolutely nothing.
Technology is at its best and its most empowering when it simply disappears ~ Jony Ive
Exactly. The technology in today’s smartwatches is intrusive. The technology in the iPad disappeared. With a smartwatch, we have to learn how to use it. With an iPad, we already knew how to use it. A smartwatch seems more like a burden than a boon. An iPad feels more like a delight than a device.
Re-read Tim Bajarin’s article and look at the manner in which the Disney smart bracelet was used. It didn’t have to be learned. And it wasn’t intrusive. It was just there, present, almost invisible — patiently waiting to be utilized at exactly the moment when its utility was most useful. And then — like magic — it seemingly faded into the background and disappeared — until it was needed once again.
Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products. ~ Steve Jobs
The smart-watch — like the iPad — will do much less than we imagined. And it will, therefore, do much more than we could ever have imagined. As world-famous designer Braun Dieter put it:
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.
Lesson #3: Good design is as little design as possible
Which reminds me of one last joke:
A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR in Cork, Ireland, and asks the barman, ‘What’s the quickest way to get to Dublin?’
‘Are you walking or driving?’ asks the barman.
‘Driving,’ says the man.
‘That’s the quickest way,’ says the barman.
As Bertrand Russell put it:
The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
Most smartwatch companies are doing it backwards. They’re preserving the problems to which they are the solution. What they’re SUPPOSED to be doing is starting with the customer and working their way backwards. And even then, they have to be careful not to become so focused on the solution they overlook opportunities to reconsider the problem.
We’ll know they’ve cracked it when they come up with something we don’t need, but can’t live without.
Lesson #4: The Smartwatch Will Not Solve Today’s Problems, It Will, Instead, Present Tomorrow’s Solutions.