The Naked Wrist

As you wander about your world, casually observe what people wear on their wrists. You will notice the most common wrist worn device is a wristwatch. But you will also notice most people have nothing on their wrist. If you are super observant, you may notice fewer people under 40 wear watches than those over 40. Fewer under 30 than those under 40. And much fewer under 20 than those under 30. All of this is to say the majority of people have a naked wrist. This is the fundamental challenge any wearable must first overcome. The masses must feel it valuable enough to put something on their body where they have specifically chosen to not place something before.

Is there a job to be done?

Each product must exist for a reason. It must solve a pain point. If the purpose of a business is to find a customer, the purpose of a product is to find an owner. What is the job to be done that only a wrist worn object is uniquely designed to do? That is the question.

Whenever I share my skepticism with this category, and use the “job to be done” philosophy, a common response is “Well, no one really saw the iPhone coming.” It’s as if Apple’s ability to re-invent the mobile device is the benchmark to validate the opportunity for wearables and smartwatches. This is, in fact, a tired response. Many did see the iPhone coming. I would argue anyone who used a Palm Pilot, Treo, Windows Phone, or Blackberry would have known the value of such a product and recognized its potential. Apple came in with a better recipe and, more importantly, one that included value propositions that went beyond the business/professional audience. Since the original Palm Pilot, the job to be done was clear. There is not a single wearable or smartwatch on the market that has clearly highlighted the job to be done beyond a few verticals.

This is not to say someone will not figure out the right recipe that can take these devices beyond niche verticals. But even then, it is up against an adoption cycle issue. Prior to the smartphone going mainstream, many in developed markets owned a basic communications device like a cell phone. The initial barrier to adoption had already been broken by cell phones for smartphones. Wearbles and smartwatches are starting from scratch for the majority of consumers. If we were to use this analogy, wearables are in the cell phone adoption phase, not the smartphone adoption phase. Should the right recipe for wearables and/or smartwatches emerge that can drive mass market adoption, I would expect it to happen faster given it will be closely tied to the smartphone. But the point remains, most people have naked wrists.

While I have no doubt this market will be filled with companies attacking it from many areas, finding the killer app will remain central. I believe digital identity will play a role and, perhaps over time, so will the unbundling of technologies in our smartphones and decentralizing that experience to other devices. The point I want to drive home is timing. The naked wrist is the single observation we need to keep in mind when we think of adoption cycles. While it may likely be a complementary device to the already widely adopted smartphone, the value proposition of any wearable must be enough for the mass market to add a piece of electronics to a part of their body where there is none now.

The other key to addressing the naked wrist is breadth and depth. This is not a one size fits all market. What young people want will be different than what older people want. What women want will be different than what men want. What people in Europe want will be different than Asia and so on and so forth. For any vendor to compete in this market they must have a deep product portfolio that will deliver the same value proposition but come in many styles. This is the one thing I feel will pose the largest challenge for the category to go mainstream, and particularly for any one company to address the mainstream consumer market.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

43 thoughts on “The Naked Wrist”

  1. There are numerous use cases for the wrist, and Apple will make sure to offer some very compelling ones with every iteration. Let me show just two examples:

    – Verified digital identity: When you close the latch of the wrist band, you identify towards your phone’s TouchID so the iWatch “knows” it’s worn by the person owning the iPhone. This information remains valid until the latch is opened or there is no more pulse/temperature/blood pressure signal. It will then auto-login to your Mac and auto-unlock your iPhone. The cooperation with IBM will make it possible to replace those name tags / badges everyone wears at work. While inside the geo area of a company building the iWatch can serve your name or vCard to everyone via BT (just like your name tag used to). Later it can be used to open your house, then to start your car. And much later for fast lanes at airports as well as for payments.

    – Health & Fitness, but rebadged as “Life Expectancy”: Seriously, who wouldn’t spend a fortune to live a few years longer? If Apple can spin health & fitness monitoring features to the value proposition of an enhanced life expectancy with any reasonable accuracy and scientific background, then millions of 40+ year olds are going to queue all the way from the hospital to the bank ;). Think Hours of Life Gained displayed rather than some obscure Nike Fuel Points.

    Sounds good enough to me to make it worthwile to spend a few hundred or more. If it’s also good looking and stylish and has some common use cases (notifications, SIRI interface) it can become a must-have shortly.

    1. Those are good points, and ones we think make sense. But the point remains, that my gut tells me that unlike the smartphone and the tablet, the wearable will face a longer diffusion of innovations adoption cycle. These are new habits, and new types of experiences. Those always take more time to be adopted.

      1. I agree with you in general. But I think you are not taking into account the special case that is Apple:
        Wasn’t the iPod a new experience? How long did that take to reach saturation? I think if there is a compelling point to a new gadget, and it’s done right (which Apple usually does), then it can have a lot of momentum.
        Other new experiences that I feel were adopted by their target group very quickly (not having researched any of them): contacts lenses, jogging, tattoos & piercings.

        1. Both the iPod and iPhone were introduced into markets that already had proven products and markets (mp3 players, smartphones). Mainstream adoption of both was happening prior to Apple’s products.

          The iPad created a new sub-category of touch screen, but its value was apparent to many people as it was essentially a new model of iPhone with a screen size/portability trade off.

          Smart watches have neither proven products in the market, or a similar type of product to model on, so they are another level of challenge even for Apple. Are they up to it? For the time being, only they know.

          1. While it is right that there were mp3 players before this is not really the central point of the discussion. The question is will the iWatch be able to convince many ppl who are not currently used to wearing watches. My point was that this is likely in face of the fact that iPod did convince many ppl who never had MP3 players to use one. The fact that there were MP3 players is not crucial. What is crucial is: did the number of ppl using an MP3 player expand dramatically. I think think can be confirmed in the case of iPod, and I assume it will be confirmed in the case of a future wearable, based on the fact that Apple seems to consistently hit the nail on the head in the consumer space.

          2. Yes, Apple’s iPod made MP3’s easier to use for a wider audience.

            But the purpose of the iPod was clear decades before the iPod existed: carry all your music with you. Even people who were not yet up to the complexity of MP3s before the iPod knew the benefit of carrying music with them. Portable music has been around since Sony Walkmans. Apple’s iPod just made that job (dramatically) easier.

            Apple has to do FAR more to sell smart watches. They have to figure out what job smart watches can do that will actually make sense to most people. Nobody has done that yet with any technology except the watch whose non-fassion use case has been eliminated by both dumb and smart phones.

            If anyone can do it, Apple can, but its a much greater problem than the iPod solved.

          3. The central part of this is the point that the MP3 player appealed to those who listen to music. Much of the adoption of all previous parts paved the way for its rapid success. Walkmans, tape deck players in cars, homes, etc., and all related industry infrastructure already existed.

            Using that same analogy, a smart watch/ wearable appeals to people who already do? This is the issue and why I phrased the point of the naked wrist.

            I’m not bearish on the opportunity I just believe the adoption cycle of this one will take a bit longer and have more moving parts than anything we have seen before.

          4. I agree regarding the naked-wrist preference, but don’t believe it is very strong. Most people don’t wear watches, but for the same reason they don’t carry calculators, calendars or cameras: they have a device in their pocket that does the job of a watch, and costs $0.

            So the main lesson is that people won’t wear something that performs no useful function.

            As you pointed out, people over 40 are less likely to have the naked-wrist preference. Fortunately, consumers older than 40 appear to be the target clientele for iWatch: People who have moderate to higher incomes, people who aren’t in the market for a music player or full-time text-messaging device, people with a growing interest in health/fitness, people who already own an iPhone.

            If iWatch is fashionable and the rich and famous are spotted wearing them, that in itself may be enough to overcome the naked wrist preference. I also imagine that Apple will attempt to get health care and life insurance companies to subsidize iWatch for those with chronic illnesses that can be monitored by iWatch sensors. That, too, could help overcome the naked-wrist preference.

            In short, I think you are absolutely right in theory, but expect the measurable impact of the naked-wrist preference to be small — less important than size or color or price. For better or worse, I believe function and form will drive iWatch sales.

    2. You could’ve kept going with that whole ID area. I have 2 badges, 2 keys, an RSA token and a Bloomberg ID unit to get into work. Separate fobs for our 2 cars, and another key, to boot. Two different transit passes, and a host of ID cards for my gym, the Delta Sky Club and an ATM Loyalty/affinity cards at a couple of eateries. A house key, another for the back door; an access fob, a door key and a mailbox key for my apartment where I have a regular assignment. Credit cards, boarding passes, tickets to performances (a couple of season subscriptions), movies. A code to get into the garage. Another code for my gym locker. Every now and then a hotel card or magic codes for our VRBO rentals.

      All of which could be replaced by a single device saying, “here is Walt French. Let him have what he is due.”

      1. That’s exactly why I’m sure ID will be key (no pun intended) for iWatch. But it will take a while to replace all of your badges, fobs and frobnitzers. And there are three classes of IDs: The ones where it suffices to prove that wearer equals iPhone owner. The one that requires proof that wearer equals holder of credit card, which can be folded into the first and which could be used for payments. And the much harder one that requires proof that wearer equals wearer of passport (i.e. actual verified reallife person). The latter is for e.g. airports, border control, etc., and will probably be implemented last.

      2. “All of which could be replaced by a single device saying, “here is Walt French. Let him have what he is due.”

        Yes! And the world doesn’t need to radically upgrade to accommodate this, you simply need a device that proves you are you. In that way it is a modular solution.

  2. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? The wrist watch “solved” the pocket watch. Now we’ve gone back to the “pocket watch”. Yet it doesn’t seem people are all that interested in a wrist smartphone.
    Go figure.

  3. Some people, like me, don’t wear a watch (the world’s full of clocks) or any form of juwellery. On the other hand, most people that do wear juwellery tend to be very peculiar about what they wear; they spend considerable effort to find the right item and happily pay good money for things they like.
    In a world like that, I just struggle to see how you could ever schip XX million identical watches, rings or necklaces. The functionality would need to be exceptional to convert the non-consumers, while the range/variety/quality would need to be extraordinary to compete with proper juwellery. It would also suggest that big screen watches (1.5″) will remain an uphill struggle.

    1. It’s not going to be jewellery, not exactly. Think more Batman’s utility belt or Star Trek communicator. Cool, stylish, but not just worn for looks.

      1. Oh, high end watches are worn just for looks. And status. (Never underestimate the influence of sexual and reproductive signaling.) But not for utility, otherwise a 100 dollar quartz watch could easily do the job and more accurately to boot.

        It is very hard to convince a person to buy something based on the promise of what it can do. Especially if they don’t have someone they trust telling them “I’ve got one and it really works great!”. So maybe the correct approach is a device that is bought for its looks, then used and kept for its (surprisingly indispensable) function.

        1. The jobs-to-be-done aren’t going to be the same as a traditional watch (just as the iPhone was never really a phone). It’ll give you the time, but the iBand will be about identity and sensors. I’m sure it will look great since Apple is reasonably good at industrial design (sarcasm), but consumers buy Apple gear because of the utility (jobs-to-be-done), and Apple gets a lot of great word of mouth (customer satisfaction). A lot of poor analysis flows from incorrect assumptions about why people buy Apple products (status, trend, cool, marketing, sheep, etc).

          The iPhone is successful because it works really, really well. I suspect the same will be true of the iBand, or whatever they call it.

          1. As the father of two teenagers, believe you me that status, trend and cool are significant reasons why some people, a significant number of people, buy Apple products. There was no question with smartphones that Apple was and is far and away the first choice of their cohort.

            But. Admittedly, a lot of this ‘coolness’ derives from the quality of the product. Apple wouldn’t be able to sustain cool and trendy if it what it sold were a pieces of you-know-what.

            So yeah status, coolness and trendiness aren’t the only things, may not be the main things in the long run but they’re pretty significant and I suspect it’s what makes people not seriously consider other brands when buying smart phones.

          2. I have four teenagers. They and all their friends have iProducts, and while you are correct that there is a coolness and an aspect of style, those are byproducts of the quality and design of the products. If the devices didn’t deliver a user experience that satisfied them, my kids would not use Apple products. I should also note that teenagers are not easy to satisfy, as you well know, they are demanding and switch allegiances fluidly.

            Certainly many factors come into any buying decision, but the road to poor Apple analysis is paved with the bones of pundits who do not understand why people actually buy Apple products.

            On a side note, I’ve noticed Facebook has fallen out of favor with many teens, it doesn’t do what my kids want it to do. It’s not a trend thing, it’s simply a failure by FB to meet the needs of my kids, to deliver the jobs-to-be-done. Facebook doesn’t work well for them anymore, so they moved on, and quickly.

  4. Identity + Sensors = Success. Either one of those alone is a valuable job-to-be-done, but together there’s a lot of power and value. As claimchowder has already noted, throw identity together with the recent IBM/Apple partnership and you’ve got yet another avenue to explore re: jobs-to-be-done in the enterprise. Heck, even the sensors/health angle could work in enterprise, hand in hand with a company’s healthcare plan.

  5. It will not be an iWatch unless it is tied to the Apple TV (watch a “screen.”)

    I believe Apple will continue the iP naming series by calling it the iPulse and marketing it as the center (pulse) of your “connectedness”. The pulse name will fit in with all the obvious health applications but also can be thought of being core to “the pulse (beat or Beats) of your daily life.” Many very moving commercials showing that theme will immediately follow its announcement.

  6. I never understood the appeal of tennis bracelets but there was a time when everyone and his uncle wore one. Perhaps the trick is to get people wearing something on their wrist again as a fashion statement and then they realize, in the time-honored Apple tradition, that they couldn’t live without it.

    This is why I keep insisting, despite the risk of Mr. Kirk suffering a coronary ;- ) , that an iWatch, to succeed, should be as much a fashion item as a tech device.

      1. I agree, Apple won’t target watch owners. As they do with their other products they’ll target normal human beings who value the user experience Apple offers. Identity + sensors can add a ton of value to that user experience.

  7. Looks and prestige is another area where they could excel. Remember all those people in the 80’s/90’s showing off how important they were by posing with their pagers or (later) BlackBerries?
    Well, now you’ll have the thing right on your wrist, no need taking it out to make ppl ask you about it. Plus it has you employer’s logo beautifully stenciled right on the display in that very visible, yet unobtrusive way that Apple is so good at. Wouldn’t you want one?

  8. I completely agree that Apple would be wasting their time competing with wristwatches. When I do see young people wearing things on their wrists, they tend to be plastic or leather bands that are insubstantial. Note that Tim Cook wore a Nike Fuelband on stage and in public for a long time. He has stopped doing that now. Did he stop liking his Fuelband? Maybe not. Perhaps Apple has something coming that is less substantial than what Android is offering, more along the size of a fuelband.

  9. I think the notion that this is going to be a watch or wristband of some sort is too narrow. Assuming that the device will need a fingerprint detector roughly the size of the one on the iPhone 5s, you’re potentially looking at something that will likely be tiny enough to be considered in many form factors: certainly a wrist band, perhaps a pendant worn on a necklace. But why stop there? How about some sort of shoelace binder, or even a credit card sized device that slips into your wallet? I carry an ID card for work, but unlike many people who put their card in a case and clip it to their belt or wear it around their neck, I carry mind in my wallet and pull it out if I need to show it. I could see the fingerprint reader integrated into a slightly thicker card that would store all your data. Imagine a wallet with one card in it instead of dozens (figuring things like membership cards, insurance cards, etc.).

  10. This was exactly Tim Cook’s point at AllThingsD last year. You first have to convince people it’s so incredible that they’ll want to put something on their wrist.

    For what it’s worth, I think iBeacons will play a central role in whatever Apple does in wearable tech. As nice as many of these ideas are, I want Apple to somehow help me get rid of my wallet. Carrying around plastic cards feels incredibly quaint and the experience sucks. A device stuffed with biometric sensors can provide the type of security needed for carrying your most important cards and IDs.

    What would it take to get my license on to a proverbial iWatch?

  11. “The masses must feel it valuable enough to put something on their body where they have specifically chosen to not place something before.”

    I don’t see this as a problem. All my life everyone my age and older wore a watch no questions asked. If you didn’t wear a watch you were eccentric at best. As phones came in, watches went out. And so it goes.

    All anyone has to do to get us to wear something on our wrist is to make it as valuable as a watch was to us prior to 2005. And it can’t be something that we can do on our phones. What that thing is, I haven’t a clue. But it’s a pretty low bar.

    1. Here’s my let-your-imagination-run-wild scenario which makes the wrist device indispensable. It’ll be the universal authenticator. It proves that you are whom you claim to be you are. That stuff you claim to be yours, really is yours. A thousand years ago, the wax seal was the universal authenticator, the latest version is the digital signature or watermark or whatever you call it. Not very mobile and limited use case.

      Now wrist device with a Touch ID type sensor on the surface laying against the skin goes into lockdown if it doesn’t recognize the dermal pattern it sees but opens up to as many functions as you can imagine if the authorized user wears it: starts the car, unlocks the front door, signals your bank’s website to accept the correct password when you key it in, lets you board the plane, endless possibilities for making work and life more productive and convenient.

      1. Sure, depends on target group’s maturity I guess :). In any case: iWatch provides identity, actuation and and sensoric information, relays it to iPhone, which then takes appropriate action. That will most likely be the modus operandi. Now let’s see what they will deliver in version 1.

  12. More use cases:
    – Shake left hands to exchange vCards
    – Notifications only for relevant items: messages from your VIPs and notifications from

  13. Some more things that popped up while pondering the iWatch:
    – more use cases: iWatch will signal (sound/vibro) when you are getting too far away from your iPhone so you won’t forget it somewhere. Once it’s happened though, you can put iWatch into search mode and as soon as it gets close eough to your iPhone it will make the iPhone beep very loudly. This should take care of most cases of people losing their iPhones.
    – There will be multiple models for sure. Actually, lots of them. This item is so much more personal, intimate, than a phone that’s in your pocket. There absolutely has to be an array of models, materials, and colors. And there can be tons of special editions that have branded logos or rare colors and THAT DO SPECIAL THINGS when you get near certain iBeacons. Example: The NFL/NHL/MLB special edition will trigger some goodies to be delivered to your iPhone (special apps, promos, media etc.) when you enter one of their stadiums.
    This would lead to iWatch to become a powerful collector’s item and some people may have literally dozens of them.

  14. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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