Time has sped up for Smartwatch Innovation.
Step by step, the smartwatch ecosystem is building powerful next generation devices. While far from perfect, it is impressive to see how fast OEMs are testing, deploying, and learning. What was once a relic from the Star Trek series will be a no-brainer communication platform in as soon as three years.
Kicking off the smartwatch race is Apple’s iWatch, launching today. 5 million sales are planned, a huge spike from the 1 million sales of the Pebble Watch, the top-selling smartwatch until now.
From 1 innovation every 10 years to 10 innovations every year.
Smartwatch iteration is accelerating, proof of increasing market velocity and maturity. The first watch compatible with a desktop was launched in 1984 by Seiko. As early as 1999, Samsung launched the world’s first watch-phone with a monochrome LCD and 90 minutes of talk time. Since then, a new prototype has launched every 2 years. Innovations were coming from small start-ups, as well as big companies such as Microsoft.
Since 2013, the path of innovation has been on a bi-monthly release schedule. In the last 24 months, Samsung has launched 4 different types of watches, with 3 different form factors. Sony did the same. Motorola, Archos, Pebble, LG, and several smaller brands have launched their own versions. The smartwatch market has reached a fever pitch, showing a prophetic trend.
A full eco-system is on the way.
For the last 24 months the smartwach market has been building brick by brick a global eco-system.
- Cool-Quotient: Design and branding are as important, if not more important, than functionality, especially for the initial launch of a high-tech device. Brand, design, and features are the three key factors. Apple is the first company to come out with a design you’ll be eager to show off. Apple, the most preferred luxury brand in China (1) and one of the top 10 brands worldwide, will be able to market a Smartwatch better than any other OEM, even if its technical capacity is lower than that of competitive offerings. Its 12 page advertising campaign in Vogue, as well as its debut during Paris Fashion Week is a chic beginning.
- Access: On average, users access their smartphones 150 times and launch applications 10 times per day(2). If they only need a slight flick of the wrist to access content, how much more often will they check their smartwatches? 500 times a day? More? As an investor said, with a great sense of humour, the successful use-case for the watch is the restroom, for sure a perfect time to check the watch. Usage intensity will challenge battery life which has been an issue for all mobile devices at the beginning. The iPhone faced it at launch. The iWatch is facing it now We know it is temporary even if there is no Moore’s law for battery life(3).
- User Interface: Many experts in the field claim the watch screen is too small, which makes reading text on it too challenging. But the same worries plagued the launch of the original iPhone and yet, mobile news consumption is twice that of PC. While a valid concern, innovations in screen quality and voice command will certainly solve the problem quickly. It is interesting to notice that Facebook discreetly bought a company specialised in voice command, wit.ai, early this year.
- Content & Service: In order to bring their devices to life Google, Samsung, and Apple need applications and content. And critical mass is important. Even if a business model is not crucial at the start, either because of deep pockets or venture capital largesse, it will be to guarantee a sustainable offer.
Price: With a price range of $200 to $600, Apple’s offering is a luxury item for early adopters. Yet a high price tag only helps Apple’s image as a luxury brand and it certainly didn’t prevent the brand from selling 75 Million iPhone 6s in just this quarter alone.
March 9th marks a major stepping-stone for the smartwatch market, taking it from its infancy to its adolescence. While several challenges, such as screen quality, user interface, and battery life exist, these issues are temporary —mere growing pains in a device’s early lifestage Once the smartwatch becomes independent of the phone it will have reached full maturity. Manufacturers are in a race to conquer that big challenge in a market where every second counts.