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.