Our Wearable Future: Lessons Unlearned

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.

trap 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.

Pundits

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

Linear

We think the future will be a linear extension of the present. It won’t be.

Which reminds me of another joke.

android-wear-hero

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.

Follow-up question:

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.

steve-jobs-smartphones-2

Lesson #2: The Future Will Look Nothing Like The Present

Less

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

Time To Learn Concept

Problems

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.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

20 thoughts on “Our Wearable Future: Lessons Unlearned”

  1. “There are a thousand “no’s” for every “yes”.”

    I think this is why even Apple-haters are waiting to see what Apple comes up with. I very much hope that identity, which Tim covered in his excellent article, is part of whatever iWearable eventually surfaces.

    1. I very much like the identity element — which is passive until it requires double verification — and I’m very much wondering if Apple’s rumored iWatch will have a screen at all. As I mentioned in the comments of Ben Bajarin’s piece, the screen is duplicative, takes up valuable battery life, is awkward to interact with (both socially and physically) and may simply not be necessary to serve the iWatch’s purposes.

  2. this is one of you dumbest article yet John.

    Left aside that you just copied what Ben Thompson said about android wear on his last article, which i disagree with but you also contradict yourself like an amateur IFan.

    1- And what do today’s smart-watches do that you couldn’t do just as well and just as easily on a phone? Absolutely nothing. (John)

    2- 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 ( John)

    what can this IBracelet gimmick as you suggest which would rely on proximity sensor do that you couldn’t do just as well and just as easily with your phone in your pocket? nothing

    what make you think that the Moto 360 smart watch can not do all these things you mentioned above with your IBracelet gimmick and even more like fitness, identification, payment. proximity sensor and still be a notification center while still remain a nice elegant watch for those who love watches.

    where you and Ben Thompson are wrong is when you try to fool your reader into believing that android wear is just android in your watch, which it isn’t just as Iphone wasn’t os x in you phone despite the resemblance

    Android Wear is a specific software and user experience for things that can be more useful in a watch like notification, fitness, authentication, identification with proximity sensor as you suggest with your IBracelets gimmick.

    now the only smart watch worth talking about is the Moto 360 and it is also why all of a sudden a lot of IFan have a lot trouble warping their head on iWatch since you are not yet convinced that Apple can do better.

    1. First, I really like this article, Kenny.

      Second, it appears that you object to my criticism of the current wearables. Frankly, I don’t think they can be criticized enough. They’re just awful. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but I confidently predict that they’ll all be gone within a year. The parallels between the current day iwatches and yesterdays netbooks, pre-iPhone smartphones and pre-iPad tablets is palpable.

      “In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.” ~ Oscar Wilde

      1. I do not have a problem with your criticism of the current wearable that remind me a lot of your criticism of the Phablet category phone like the Galaxy Note as being a joke.

        my problem is with your idea of ​​IBracelets gimmick as a smart watch, after criticizing the Moto 360 as a joke

        1. “my problem is with your idea of ​​IBracelets gimmick” – Kenny

          “What labels me, negates me.” ~ Nietzsche

          You choose to label the bracelets as gimmicks. But that doesn’t make them gimmicks. The things I like about Disney’s bracelet’s are ID, no screen, minimal visibility, passive signaling yet open to pairing and two-step authentication. If you choose to label those as gimmicks, so be it. I think they are going to prove to be the foundations for the devices of the future.

          1. I’ll wait for the day when wearing an electronic Band for pairing and two-step authentication is a necessity worth paying a lot of money for when you can already do the same thing just as well and easily with your phone in your pocket.

          2. You may not have to wait long for that day. Personally, I’m surprised that Apple is moving into wearables this Fall, but it seems like the rumors are rock solid. So we’ll know at least a little by October.

            I’m surprised to hear you say that you can do two-step authentication now. Let me put it this way. It’s not whether it CAN be done, it’s whether it’s easy enough that people will readily do it. The former may be here today but the latter is a dream for tomorrow.

          3. I’m surprised to hear you say that you can do two-step authentication now(John)

            my point was unlike a watch something that many people are familiar with and already pay a lot of money for as an accessory, your IBracelet Idea with two-step authentication is not a necessity for the majority of customer worth paying a lot of money for.

            believe it or not, those who wear watches spend more time looking at the tiny screen than any other devices, including their phone or even their TV hence adding more functionality to it make sense.

            your IBracelet idea is more of an Idea for a small startup with low funding and not for a giant corporation with as much money as Apple.

            I expect a giant corporation like Apple to spend their money trying to solve big technical problem, as Google is doing to advance technology, and not play it safe, trying to fool people with marketing hype into buying some shining gimmick stuffs just to make more money.

            It’s not that these smart watches are nascent and need to grow, it’s that they make no sense. They duplicate the functionality of the phone without making it better and they do so at a terrible cost in terms of fashion, usability and cost.(JOHN)

            the same can be say for an IPad which duplicate the functionality of a notebook

            Besides,
            have you seen the Moto 360 ?, Have you play with the android wear software?

            why try so hard to mislead your reader about something you haven’t use yet or just do not like?

            is that a Fan-boy things

          4. “your IBracelet Idea with two-step authentication is not a necessity for the majority of customer worth paying a lot of money for”

            “I expect a giant corporation like Apple to spend their money trying to solve big technical problem” ~ Kenny

            I think you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Rock-solid authentication is the holy grail of credit card companies along with a variety of other security issues. If Apple can solve this in a way that is accessible to the masses, this will be one of the biggest technical breakthroughs in a decade or more.

          5. Yes, a line of wearable fashionable sensors (iD, iWear?) that can carry and prove my identity. Biometrics in the sensors + TouchID perhaps? Seems to me we don’t need another ID system, rather we need a hyperlocal (wearable) solution that can prove/carry our ID. This sort of solution is modular and can plug into many other existing systems. The key problem is proving that I am me.

      2. I’ve been saying for quite a while that smart watches are a concept in search of a need but commenters say no, you’re wrong. I’m *still* saying it!

        1. For me the concept of a smart watches is a Watch with smart computer type capability for things that can be more useful in a watch as notification, fitness, authentication, and all sort of future sensor tech tech

      3. S Health was out for Galaxy S3 and Note 2 long ago. Now with Samsung KNOX comes the most important technological Security Advantage Governments, Militaries and Medical Industry have seen since Blackberry arrived on the scene over a decade ago!

        I work in the medical field and we recently got invited in on Samsung’s White Glove SIMband study on SAMI platform. We are using the same secure patient information cloud service we’ve been using, that’s now in a joint venture with Samsung. Let’s just make this simple; Samsung Cancer Research and Treatment Center is a Top 10 medical facility in the World. Samsung has been in the Medical and Health Industry since 1985. They are a MegaCorp of unparalleled dimensions on every level of the health Industry. These links are just the tip of the Iceberg coming onto the scene of wearables from Samsung. Medison was absorbed by Samsung Health and Electronics in 2011:
        http://www.healtherpeople.com/in-healthcare-apple-will-struggle-to-match-enormous-samsung-ambitions.html

        In the foreground is the Cancer Treatment and Research Center and background one of their hospitals: http://www.koreahealthtour.co.kr/hospital-and-clinic/samsung-medical-center/

        They built them too (along with now working on Kingdom Tower to go with the Burj, Dubai). Apple is simply no match for Samsung in both the Health and Fitness Wearables Industry or the Medical Field itself. Mayo Clinic is just a Show n Tell partner for Name Drop Purposes! ….if Apple is so great, why can’t they make their own parts,products and build their own Space Donut Headquarters? *_^

        1. “Apple is simply no match for Samsung in both the Health and Fitness Wearables Industry or the Medical Field itself.” – iKrontologist

          Gee. Where have I heard those kind of words spoken before? Oh yeah, from CEO of Palm when the iPhone came out. Whatever happened to Palm anyway?

          I think we’re talking two different things here, iKrontologist. You’re talking highly specialized vertical markets. I applaud Samsung’s efforts. But I’m talking ubiquitous use similar to MP3 players or tablets.

          I make no predictions about what Apple is going to do. But I confidently predict that the wearables that are on the market remain niche. They’re simply not good enough.

          1. You know Apple iPhone was a niche market niche market for two years with No GPS, No 3G and it’s success depending on Google Services and what Google was doing with W3C’s and “Mobile Web Initiative. Here’s the chart to for you to put that in perspective. All market share globally was going to Nokia, Sony, HTC, Samsung, Blackberry, Symbian, WinMo, Palm, etc.

            When iPad came out w/o 3G or 4G or Real GPS… w/ wifi only. How search how weak sales were on it’s launch? It certainly wasn’t making a killing! lol…..
            and it didn’t do so hot either…. remember?
            How about Galaxy Note Steve Jobs even said would fail? Look at Note Series now? With 3 models they’ve topped 70 Million…. SALES! ….Note Apple copying them. Google has Fit API’s and Samsung leading all makers. Remember that… when they lead to success!

            Then how about that first gen Galaxy Tab 7″…. that was actually the first Phablet… ‘eh? 😀 US carriers had no faith in it just like Verizon rejecting iPhone! You were the fools with Steve Jobs and all deluded Apple fans laughing about hold a big screen phone up to your face. With both Note Phablet and Tab 7” proofing people wanted bigger phones. Yet Steve “We don’t need a bigger screen. Oh…. then why is Apple copying the BIG GUYS??? 😀

            btw….. it’s against all odds to expect Apple to Magically do something any different than their competition. Check this link for trending sales this last quarter. Basically iPhones are set to take the biggest dump since last year. Apple will be lucky if they get 35% in the USA!
            http://www.sammobile.com/2014/06/30/android-samsung-see-global-market-share-gains-in-q2-2014/

          2. It’s not that these smart watches are nascent and need to grow, it’s that they make no sense. They duplicate the functionality of the phone without making it better and they do so at a terrible cost in terms of fashion, usability and cost.

            “btw….. it’s against all odds to expect Apple to Magically do something any different than their competition.” – iKrontologist

            What a bizarre thing to say. There are never any guarantees, but if anyone has a track record or completely re-inventing whole industries, it’s Apple (Apple II, Macintosh, iMac, Powerbook, iPod, iPhone and iPad).

      4. S Health was out for Galaxy S3 and Note 2 long ago. Now with Samsung KNOX comes the most important technological Security Advantage Governments, Militaries and Medical Industry have seen since Blackberry arrived on the scene over a decade ago!

        I work in the medical field and we recently got invited in on Samsung’s White Glove SIMband study on SAMI platform. We are using the same secure patient information cloud service we’ve been using, that’s now in a joint venture with Samsung. Let’s just make this simple; Samsung Cancer Research and Treatment Center is a Top 10 medical facility in the World. Samsung has been in the Medical and Health Industry since 1985. They are a MegaCorp of unparalleled dimensions on every level of the health Industry. These links are just the tip of the Iceberg coming onto the scene of wearables from Samsung. Medison was absorbed by Samsung Health and Electronics in 2011:
        http://www.healtherpeople.com/in-healthcare-apple-will-struggle-to-match-enormous-samsung-ambitions.html

        In the foreground is the Cancer Treatment and Research Center and background one of their hospitals: http://www.koreahealthtour.co.kr/hospital-and-clinic/samsung-medical-center/

        They built them too (along with now working on Kingdom Tower to go with the Burj, Dubai). Apple is simply no match for Samsung in both the Health and Fitness Wearables Industry or the Medical Field itself. Mayo Clinic is just a Show n Tell partner for Name Drop Purposes! ….if Apple is so great, why can’t they make their own parts,products and build their own Space Donut Headquarters? *_^

    2. Gee, Kenny. I never noticed your comments before. (You commented in another article I just read.)

      I’ve stopped reading them as of now. I believe people quicker than me, stopped long ago.

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