The Swiss Armyfication of wearables

I liked the analogy in this thoughtful piece on dedicated fitness trackers versus smartwatches because it rings true: the former are pocket knives (single function) and the latter are swiss army knives (multi-function, taking up the same amount of room). Eventually for most people the latter will win. It's a tough statement to swallow when Fitbit is a public company worth ~$8.5B (as of today) and when even Apple is expected to disappoint with the sales numbers on its first smartwatch but ultimately I think it is correct for three reasons, all of which apply to wearables of all shapes and sizes:

  • real estate: there are only two wrists on the body, and while some of my brethren have taken to wearing a smartwatch and a fitness tracker (you know who you are), this Lynda Carter look is unlikely to attract even an early adopter following. So as a dedicated device vendor, you are fighting for limited premium real estate.
  • connectivity: I ran with an iPod for years past the launch of the iPhone and only gave it up when I realized that the combination of streaming music and podcasts meant that I needed a connected device. And though fitness trackers today employ the smartphone as backhaul pattern in the same way that the smartwatches do, BTLE is still finicky enough that regular user intervention is required, something which may or may not happen if that backhaul is not shared across a variety of valuable use cases, to say nothing of the advantage that the platform owner enjoys in maintaining that BTLE link (canvas Pebble versus Watch users on iOS to see this in action).
  • software: this is the sneaky lever (also covered in the aforementioned piece). Killer apps will drive the platform and it is clear that this is going to be a game of third party innovation (just try the first party Apple fitness apps if you are unsure of why). Now this claim is also hard to swallow because how crappy the 1.0 Watch API was — a fact that should get the man in charge of it promoted to the iPod group, but it will happen. Watch 2.0 looks like a much richer way for developers to write apps and it will be this app explosion— more than either of the two other reasons— that will ultimately kill the pocket knife in this particular domain.

Software does seem to be the world's greatest lever in almost any battle these days.