Samsung, Pebble, Apple and others have all thrown their hats into the smartwatch battle. It has been rumored for some time that Microsoft would soon enter the fray. Well, kind of. Let me explain.
Time Travel – The Past
Most companies have entered the wearable market with what are indeed smart watches. These are wrist-borne devices that mimic the look, and form of what watches have become to us since they escaped the chain which traced their round faces into our pockets. Yes, in an era gone by our trusty time pieces were retrieved from our pockets glanced upon and returned to the safety of our pockets after we retrieved the desired data: the time. Pocket watches served their primary function as a time piece and secondary function as an accessory.
Time has brought a change. Eventually the pocket-watch permanently escaped its chain and changed its form acquiring two bands conveniently fastening that precious meter of our lives to our wrists. Ahhhhh. The simplicity. A lift of the wrist certainly beat reaching into a pocket when one desired to know the time. Wrist watches served a primary function as a time piece and a secondary function as accessory.
Time has brought yet another change. With the advent of the cell phone and its multipurpose position in our lives, these ever present pocket-sized computers have almost universally usurped the position of wrist-watches as our means to keep pace with the time. It is a notable phenomenon that our mobile devices from which we glean SMS, Facebook, Twitter, email and a host of other notifications throughout the day are also pulled from our pockets when we want to retrieve not only these modern forms of data, but also the most enduring and basic form of data: the time. Our time pieces have gone full circle and returned to our pockets in the form of our mobile devices.
As a population of connected individuals, denizens of the Post-PC era, humans who have grown accustomed to responding to diverse notifications consistently and sporadically throughout each day, reaching into our pockets for our mobile devices to retrieve various types of data is the new normal. Nearly all of us have accepted our mobile devices -pocket-sized personal computers- as our new time piece.
Where We Are Now – The Present
It is notable that there has been no real market demand to return our “time-pieces” to our wrists. Most of us, if nothing else, are content with reaching for our devices to get the time. We have to reach for them to see who texted us, or messaged us, called us, or liked our latest post, or responded to our tweets or to update some status on some social network somewhere, anyway. So there is no real convenience factor in getting a watch, that archaic time keeping device, and slapping it on our wrists since we would still be reaching into our pockets dozens of times for other tasks our devices perform along with its quite capable time keeping abilities. So no. There has been no real market demand for a return to the watch. People don’t want watches. We don’t need them anymore.
What’s the Problem That Needs to Be Solved
So, what’s going on? Why are companies like Pebble and powerful brands like Samsung and Apple making smartwatches? Don’t they know we don’t want watches? I think they kind of do, but they got confused and missed the boat. Let me explain.
As stated above we denizens of the Post-PC era are intimately connected to our smart devices, which are intricately connected to everything else. We are beeped and buzzed and bothered by notifications, messages and alerts every day, throughout the day. We love the attention (be honest) and the distraction (it’s true) – most of the time. Sometimes that untimely buzzing or vibrating in the middle of a meeting, or while in conversation with someone, or while driving, or when our hands are full is, however, quite an inconvenience.
But we’re so trained, so deeply entrenched in our connected world that we just need to know what that latest buzzing from our personal pocket-sized computer was all about. Yet, digging into our pockets, retrieving our devices and planting our eyes full onto that addictive screen is just not appropriate, convenient or even possible in many situations. Now there is a market for a device that solves that problem.
“But wait!” you say, “Samsung, Pebble, Apple and a host of others do address that problem with their smartwatches. Their devices handle notifications and such quite well. How then sir, did they miss the boat?”
I would be forced to agree that these companies, with their smartwatches, have indeed addressed this particular need, of Post-Pc smartphone users– in part. Their watches, as these companies categorize them, are quite capable in regards to function, but where they fail is in regards to form and market positioning. They gave us watches. We don’t want watches.
Not So Smart. Watch
Apple, Samsung, Pebble and others have made the proper judgment, in my opinion, in choosing the wrist as the placement of a wearable device to which our frequent alerts and notifications could be offloaded. However, I believe they erred in supposing that simply because the wrist is where we historically wore a watch, that the modern device that was to fulfill a new and unique human need, as a window to our mobile devices and as a health tracker, should bear the same name and form as that “archaic” (tongue in cheek) single function time piece.
A watch, in our minds is a time piece. Yes, throughout the years they have acquired additional functions making them more useful than a mere tracker of the time. Trust me, I have been a tech geek since I was a kid and I have had at least three Casio Databank watches, game watches, a radio shack talking watch, a calculator watch and a number of other watches. Now despite the additional functions any of these devices may have possessed the primary function of those watches was to tell the time. They were watches. Their form factor with the round, square or rectangular face above the wrist also lent itself to that concept.
We don’t want a watch. We want a device that makes monitoring and interacting with the services and tools our mobile devices are connected to easier, more efficient, subtler and less disruptive. A subtle glance at a wrist borne wearable to spy the latest notification. A slight brush on a wrist borne display to quick reply to a text message. A subtle type on a wrist borne device to answer or ignore a call. This is the device we want. And the form should cater to the function.
Enter Microsoft – Smarter Than the Average Band
It had been rumored that Microsoft would be entering the wearable market with a device that challenged the popular “wrist watch” form factor approach of its rivals. The Redmond company would be approaching the wearable market not from the perspective of “it’s on the wrist so it’s a watch” but with a form factor that serves the function of allowing for efficient, subtle, natural and somewhat private interactions by the user. It would be a tool designed with the desired function, as a Post-PC era tool, to field alerts, notifications and monitor a user’s health in mind without the psychological obstructions of trying to be a watch. Neither in form nor market positioning would Microsoft position this device as a watch. Microsoft’s smart band is the smart implementation of the Post-PC wearable device.
It had been rumored for months that Microsoft’s wearable would have a display that would sit on the inside of a user’s wrist. Watches aren’t designed to position the display on the inside of the wrist. What’s that big deal you ask? Well just pause for a moment and imagine a device with a display on the interior of your wrist. Subtly twist the inside of your wrist toward yourself. Natural isn’t it? You notice two things, it much more natural than turning the upper part of your wrist toward your face and it’s more private – more personal.
The display would be close to your body – always facing you- even when walking, working, talking with others – and not the world. Your alerts, notifications and emails are yours. Competitors, because they chose to build watches(whose form factors were never meant to field personal information but to only display the time), are selling devices that are inherently less personal (despite the ability to choose what color band you want) as a user’s personal data faces the world.
Imagine the subtle checking of a notification during a meeting with the universal raising of the hand to the forehead and peering at the interior of the wrist at your display. Did that email from corporate come through? Or picture the placing of your intertwined fingers in front of you as the display on the interior of your wrist faces you. Is that my pregnant wife texting from home? Or imagine the subtle placing of your fist in palm and elbows on the table, or desk in front of you (prayer position) and subtly swiping the display on the interior of your wrist with your thumb to dismiss a phone call during a meeting. Microsoft has forged a form factor that meets the functional needs of smartphone users. Rivals built watches. We don’t want a watch.
Apple announced their smartwatch in June but it won’t hit the market until 2015. Even worse the cheapest version will cost a consumer $325. And it’s glued to Apple’s ecosystem. Microsoft’s device was rumored to come in much cheaper and will actually be available for just $199. And it’s available starting tomorrow. And it works with Windows Phone, Android and iOS. Apple with their powerful marketing muscle added their massive weight to the wearable market, legitimizing it in many people eyes. However their costly device won’t be available for months. Microsoft’s offering comes at a time where many Apple fans may have been primed for a new wearable by the Apple Watch announcement. Many of the 10 million who unloaded hundreds of dollars on a new iPhone 6 or 6 plus may be chomping at the bit for a new wearable having had their appetites whet, yet they don’t want to wait until early 2015 for the Apple Watch. Microsoft has you covered.
There may be a host of Windows Phone fans out there who haven’t been graced by the Redmond company with a new high-end flagship device and are primed for the fresh tech experience that a new device often elicits. The smart band may not be a new smart phone but it does extend the functionality of ones aging device allowing Windows Phone fans to use their device and their trusty digital assistant Cortana in new ways.
Of course this Android compatible device adds to the number of options the Android faithful have to choose from. Due to the open nature of that ecosystem, many android users are likely quite open to using a non-Samsung or non-android wearable.
This holiday shopping season will likely be a boon for Microsoft’s Band.
Apple, even if Microsoft had not launched its wearable, the Cupertino company may have found it a challenge to move a large number of its watches. The $325 and up cost in itself is prohibitive. The early 2015 launch is also a challenge. Many potential Apple Watch buyers will have likely several months before made large purchases upgrading their mobile devices to the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Many of these same users will likely have spent another significant amount of disposable cash (or used credit) for the holiday shopping season. The only potential upside is that at least in the US market, an early 2015 launch places the release likely around income tax time. Which may work for some buyers, or may be the means by which many cover the costs (or debts incurred or bills delayed) of expenditures made over the holiday.
Apple I am certain is cognizant that the Apple Watch 1.0 would only sale in small numbers primarily to early adopters with a lot of disposable income. Their strategy is likely to build a tiered system as they have with the iPhone. By late 2015 Apple will have learned what works and what doesn’t, and will also have a better assessment of the competition. By the second half of 2015 Apple Watch 2.0 will likely be announced and the first Apple watch will become the lower cost entry level wearable about the time of it’s successors release. Apple will likely continue this pattern, and as time goes on, establish at least three tiers from which buyers can choose an Apple Watch. Apples problem? Unless they change their form factor, which is unlikely given their apparent deliberate positioning and pricing of their device as a high end watch – It’s still a watch. We don’t want a watch.
By the way, Microsoft’s Band does tell the time.
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Here are My Notes for This Piece Originating on 9/10/14 (One Note Time Stamp) Prior to Microsoft’s Announcement. Also below is a concept drawing I composed noting some of the devices potential functionality. This concept was also conceived earlier than this post and Microsoft’s actual announcement. (This Final Piece Includes Information After Microsoft’s Smart Band Announcement)