Attack of the Round-Faced Wearables

Moto 360

The square smartwatches (Samsung Gear, LG G Watch) have already largely failed. Motorola’s forthcoming round-faced Moto 360 is the new “reference design” that Samsung and LG are racing to match, hoping that round faces appeal more than the clunky rectangles we’ve seen to date.

We don’t yet know what the anticipated Apple iWatch will look like or what capabilities and functions it will feature. I have a Samsung Gear Live watch and have no desire to actually wear or use it.

I’ve been spending lots of time thinking about smartwatches, wearable device advertising and various user scenarios. Here are a few observations and predictions.

A successful smartwatch will be characterized by at least two and maybe all three of the following:

  1. Beautiful design that will create a desire to own the item purely from an aesthetic standpoint
  2. An affordable price (below $250) for the mass-market version (iWatch probably comes in at $299)
  3. It can work on its own without a mobile phone connection

The latter issue presents problems for device makers and consumers.

Samsung’s “Gear Solo” watch (for India) and perhaps its forthcoming Gear 3 have or will have built-in connectivity and won’t require a smartphone pairing. This is a way Samsung could potentially break out with a smartwatch. Indeed, the more I think about this issue, the more I tend to believe that over time stand-alone functionality will need to be present for success.

(I suspect the iWatch will presuppose and require an iPhone, which I imagine is part of the point for Apple)

There’s the basic problem of paying for the always-on data connection for your watch. Consumers fundamentally don’t want to be shelling out additional money to carriers. Family and multi-device plans might address this issue over time.

Moving on to monetization: traditional mobile display advertising is very unlikely to be viable on wearables. The same largely goes for mobile search ads. However I can imagine, for example, a news app that inserts some interstitial ads as one swipes through headlines. We might also see video pre-roll — if video can be made to work reasonably well on these devices.

On the whole, however, marketing on wearables is going to be notification based. These will be notifications that consumers have opted-in to receive in advance (presumably on the PC or a smartphone or tablet) that can be pushed based on location/context, time of day or other considerations.

Fundamentally I don’t believe people want to make calls on their watches (a la Dick Tracy). I also don’t think they want access to dozens of apps. They’ll want a few core features and capabilities such as health tracking, weather, news/sports, local discovery and perhaps one or two other things (e.g., social media updates). Ironically I think Foursquare might really shine on a smartwatch given its new focus on personalization.

Notwithstanding the success of smartphones a “wearables market” is not a foregone conclusion or in any way inevitable. Much depends on the variables above. In addition, if Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and others don’t get it right during the first few “at bats” consumers will start to lose interest.

Leave a Reply