April 24th, 2015 ushers in a new era of the Apple Watch. As many others did, I watched with anticipation, the March 9th Spring-forward Apple announcement that included information about the Apple Watch. Apart from the availability and pricing, little new information was provided that we really didn’t already know. As I review a large number of tweets, opinions, and articles, the first results indicate a very mixed set of views (from extremely positive to extremely negative [“the iFlop”]).
Recall the days prior to the introduction of the 1st generation Apple iPad (first announced and unveiled on January 27, 2010) and very soon thereafter, the media and industry reaction was extremely mixed. Many stated that they couldn’t see a tablet supplanting cheap, windows-based netbooks, which were popular at the time; others couldn’t fathom a number of use-cases for keyboardless tablet device. Still many correctly predicted that the iPad (and other non-Apple tablets to follow) would ultimately spell the demise of the netbook industry. Today, the iPad and many other tablet models are virtually ubiquitous. There are numerous use-cases and no one questions the need for a tablet-based form-factor. In fact, depending on the task, I routinely use my laptop (most times, connected to multiple monitors), an iPad and an iPhone – sometimes multiple devices.
I think we are at the same juncture with the Apple Watch and wearables in general. Early predictions are that the Apple Watch might sell anywhere from 10 to 20 million units this year (starting on April 24th) which is more than all of the 6.8 million smart watches sold in 2014. Of course, Apple Watch will likely serve as a catalyst for greater smart watch sales such as the classic-looking Huawei Watch (Android powered) and many others.
I view Apple Watch and other Android watches as a framework or platform in which the real use-cases will come to fruition by the app developers – those whose functionality innovation will really “make the case for the smart watch.” Will this be another winning product for Apple or will it be relegated to the Apple fans and early adopters? Hard to say at this point. But I do have confidence in innovative app developers.
Let’s look at a few use-cases (most of these apply to smart watches in general and I’m not really including the various fitness-focused wearables).
The smart watch as a notification / monitoring platform – especially when the user is multi-tasking (a 2nd mobile-device screen) as many people use a mobile device as a primary engagement tool – either for communications and/or enterprise engagement tool. Despite the primary form-factor: smartphone, phablet, tablet, the smart watch can serve as a notification and/or monitor device as to not interrupt primary tasks on the main device.
The smart watch as a human sensor array – for health tracking purposes, this is a no-brainer. While there are many fitness-focused wearables such as Fitbit and others on the market today, the Apple Watch and other smart watches are fitted with a variety of sensors from heart-beat monitors, to accelerometers, barometers, thermometers, and more. These will increasingly be used to enable wearers to better monitor health issues and to maintain good health. With a variety of apps that will be coming to these platforms, now more than ever, I think these wearables will provide the means for people to live healthier lifestyles in general. As the FDA and other regulatory agencies approve more sensors and applications for health monitoring through smart watches and similar devices, I think we can safely say that we’ll be able to provide significantly more objective information to our physicians than ever before possible, through these devices with the smart watch able to provide feedback for the user (or caregivers) to intervene if necessary.
With the additional announcement of Apple ResearchKit for disease research projects, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of these didn’t also include the Apple Watch as a wearable component in some of these research studies.
The smart watch in the enterprise and workplace – incorporates technology into wearable devices such as a smart watch to simplify workers jobs. For example, SAP and Samsung announced a joint development that will link many of SAP’s business software to Samsung’s wearables and mobile devices. One application for oil and gas customers will “extend SAP software integration to Samsung wearables to support a hands-free user experience that allows field workers in heavy industries to receive information and respond more quickly and safely to urgent issues with minimal disruption to their work.” ABI Research issued a forecast in 2014 that predicted that the enterprise wearable device market will reach $18 billion by 2019.
The smart watch as a new personal messaging platform – well, why not? There have been varieties smartphone-only messaging solutions that have some to fruition over the last 5 years and why not smart watch targeted messaging as well. While virtually all support basic SMS and smartphone centric messaging such as WeChat, WhatsApp and other non-SMS messaging, I would expect some new personal communications innovation that would take advantage of the smart watch form factor.
I would classify these use-cases above and beyond the basic announced functionality of the Apple Watch such as mobile Point-of-Sale or contactless payments as well as increased consumer contextual awareness. There will be more categories born I suspect and probably quite a few that will help boost overall smart watch sales.
The Apple Watch era is soon to be upon us. As many other Apple products have done, this one takes some existing concepts and products and, as only Apple can do, applies their spin, fit, and finish and creates a catalyst for a brand new, if not ultimately ubiquitous form-factor. For me, I haven’t worn a watch in over 15 years. Will I get one? Actually, I will and I will pre-order on April 10th – the 1st day that I can. For the record, I won’t be getting the Apple Watch Edition!