In a couple days, Apple is poised to release its first new product category since the iPad. Like the iPad, Apple’s new wearable device (“the wearable”) will sit between two existing product categories. The iPad sat between the iPhone and the Mac. The wearable will sit between wristwatches and the iPhone. At the original iPad announcement, Steve Jobs asked, “Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products?” He followed, “The bar is pretty high. It has to be far better at doing some key things. We think we have the goods.” The question now is, can Apple create yet another product category between wristwatches and the iPhone? Do they have the goods?The Wristwatch
My wife surprised me with a beautiful Swiss watch as a wedding gift. A carefully crafted system of springs and gears keeps accurate time within a margin of seconds per year. It’s a mechanical watch, recharging on my wrist as I wear it. It only requires minor maintenance every five years to keep it tuned and accurate. It is waterproof to a depth beyond my diving ability. It will surely outlast me. The perfect timepiece. Tough competition for a new product category of wearable devices. The wearable will undoubtedly be a worse wristwatch. While keeping only slightly more accurate time, it may not always display the time at a glance. It won’t be as waterproof or durable. It won’t stand the test of time. More importantly, it will require a battery that needs to be recharged every day or so. Traveling? Bring an extra charger. Forget to charge last night? Head to work without a watch.The iPhone
The iPhone was a revolution in computing. A pocket-sized, touchscreen, internet-connected computer with an interface so intuitive that anyone could use it. The world in your pocket. And tough competition for a new product category. The iPad succeeded by improving upon the iPhone in two ways: screen size and battery life. A larger display gave app developers a larger canvas to work with and users more to look at while consuming content. Over ten hours of battery life allowed users to enjoy the larger display for longer. The wearable, however, will have neither of these. Instead, it will have a smaller display and less battery life. Thus, the wearable will have to differentiate itself from the iPhone in some other ways. Importantly, Apple must convince consumers that they should purchase, carry, and charge another electronic device in addition to their existing iPhone. A tall order indeed.Convenience
Steve Jobs’s aforementioned statement with respect to the iPad holds true to the wearable. It has to be far better at doing some key things. While the iPad was “better” due to a larger display and great battery life, the wearable has to be “better” through convenience. To succeed as a new product category in the long-term, the wearable must present users with conveniences that outweigh the inconveniences of paying for yet another device, wearing it every day, charging it often, and interacting with a tiny display. Below are some areas where the wearable might prove to be a compelling new product category by adding convenience to the user.
The ability to glance at one’s wrist and obtain important information without retrieving an iPhone from a purse or pocket is compelling. Walking down the street, riding in a cab, attending a meeting, or enjoying a dinner are all situations where retrieving a phone is inconvenient or even downright rude. The ability to easily glance at your wrist to get relevant information quickly and discreetly provides clear value. The quality and quantity of information is key. Merely slinging every notification from your phone to your wrist is a common complaint from those reviewing the latest Android Wear devices. Apple isn’t likely to make the same mistake.
Health and Fitness
While many phones, including the iPhone 5S, provide fitness tracking capabilities, the wearable may provide some distinct advantages. If the wearable can be used for health and fitness tracking without a paired iPhone, it will be more convenient to use while working out or running (especially if it can play music locally). In addition, the wearable device may passively collect information, such as heart rate, while current heart rate monitoring on phones like the Galaxy S5 require a user to manually open an app and perform the operation.
It is likely that Apple’s wearable will be integral to its new payment initiative. Others, such as Google and mobile operators, have tried to gain widespread adoption of mobile phone payment systems for years, without success. Despite having the infrastructure available, users still don’t pay with their phones. It’s simply not more convenient to pull out a phone than to pull out a wallet. A wearable device on your wrist might be just what the doctor ordered.
At Tuesday’s event, Apple is likely to expand on its HomeKit initiative, and the wearable will be at the forefront. Further, Apple’s iBeacon technology pairs perfectly with the wearable. By associating a user with locations, such as home, work, or a store, the wearable may provide location-aware features with real-world places. While it makes for an intriguing demo, all of these location-aware functions can be performed with the iPhone. It is difficult to see an advantage that the wearable has over an iPhone when it comes to location-awareness, but such functionality lends itself well to marketing.
Fashion is a wild card. Fashion is not rational. Those who seek to be fashionable often incur inconvenience for the sake of appearance. Whether it’s paying significantly more for lower-quality products or wearing uncomfortable shoes from the best designer, fashion doesn’t always make sense. Apple has recently recruited several influential members of the fashion industry to join its ranks and has invited many influential journalists from the fashion industry to the wearable announcement this week. Apple very clearly understands that what it can not make up for in convenience, it can with fashion.