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What’s wrong with wearables?

By: Chris Bucknall
Date: March, 2015
File under: Articles

Wearable technology, smartwatches and the internet of things were all topics hotly discussed at the consumer electronics show in January 2015 and even further now that the Apple Watch is to be launched. While Sony, LG, Samsung and a host of other manufacturers have developed some compelling smartwatches, they are yet to see the same spike in interest that smartphones induced in consumer’s wallets. None of these ideas are new to the marketplace, so why do they attract so much attention year after year from the press?

It is because wearable technology and a connected life are promises sought after by many but not yet met by the marketplace. It is because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what is required in the customer experience of these devices. Many of these smartwatches appear to be nothing more than a gimmick with no compelling advantages for consumers over their existing mobile phone.

What they can learn from history

Think back to when the iPhone was first revealed in 2007, it touted a multi-touch screen which allowed greater usability through easily navigating the device with a finger while also allowing developers to no longer rely on physical keys for their application designs. Instead developers could create a user experience and navigation that matched the service rather than matching the phone’s physical form itself. This, along with the service design of allowing users to add additional services and functionality through the app store, were some of the key factors which helped Apple capture the imagination of consumers and illustrate the clear benefits of owning one of their smartphones.

Good usability, customer experience and service design were key factors that Apple nailed down at the very beginning. Yet what do wearables deliver in their current form that mobile phones can’t already accomplish, often with a far richer experience? The primary benefit with the current line of smart watches is that they are easily accessible and always on to receive notifications or interact with, but with many of them requiring a tethered connection to a phone to operate fully what is to stop someone simply taking an extra second and pulling out the superior device?

What makes a good customer experience

Fitbit is a company that has managed to understand and deliver on these points where smart-watch manufacturers have failed. The fitness tracking wearable provides an experience to the customer that they are unable to obtain with any mobile device. Fitbit understands that the strength of a wearable is its positioning on the body, allowing them to provide a unique service by tracking heart rate, sleep and activity through the day.
Key things fitness trackers do that (many) smartwatches don’t:

  • Gather information that can only be given from a wearable
  • Work without being tethered to your phone to provide value.
  • Give actionable information. Present meaningful feedback to the user and suggest lifestyle changes based on usage.
  • Integrate with your lifestyle rather than attach itself.
  • Connect to existing applications, allowing you to use your fitness data in your app of choice (i.e. MyFitnessPal) and not be locked into iOS, Android or Windows Phone.
  • Provide a community to connect with and network.
  • Simple interface focusing on one thing rather than cramming a phone into the size of a watch.

Smart watch manufacturers will slowly learn these lessons on how to properly deliver their service and meet the different touch points required by customers while providing a positive customer experience. It may take Apple to lead the way once again with the release of Apple Watch, or perhaps the technological limits will stop the true benefits of a wearable device for coming to light for some years to come. However it ends up, I look forward to seeing a wearable in the near future that provides a compelling customer experience and may change how we interact with technology once more.

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