Ray Velez
Oct 6, 2014

Marketers need to think bigger than the Apple Watch

It’s time to focus on going from wearables to usables.

Ray Velez
Ray Velez

When Apple’s CEO Tim Cook unveiled the much-awaited Apple Watch recently, hailing it as the company’s most “personal device” to date, I couldn’t help but think that’s only partially true. Unlike iPhones, the real value to consumers with the new watch lies in its ability to morph into something bigger than what’s sitting on your wrist.

For months now the industry has been abuzz about wearables. However, that term is becoming a misnomer. The future of these devices is not about what a consumer wears, but how they behave.

I foresee a major transition when there is true interconnectivity between watches and other devices, homes and vehicles—the phenomenon that’s referred to as the ‘internet of things’. The innovators who can build novel apps will drive the watch’s adoption, not the device itself.

While Apple certainly nailed the design element of the product (it was a stroke of brilliance to enlist the ex-CEO of Burberry to help style the watch) being fashionable is only half the battle. The rest is all about utility.

Until now, the biggest issue early adopters have encountered with wearables is that they’ve lacked broad integration and clever apps. While it was exciting at CES to see Mercedes integrate with the Pebble, it’s far more exciting now to see the rush of brands integrating with Android Wear and the Apple Watch. For all the work that the tech minds at Google and Apple put into building these devices, marketers are the ones with the power to make the device more appealing.

SEE ALSO: Wearable devices: The next great frontier 

The Apple Watch, when it’s available in early 2015, must seamlessly and quickly deliver such information like how much gas is in the car or whether the front door is locked. Countless brands are hard at work developing apps to serve these utilitarian functions.

Interestingly, lots of functionality and apps for the Apple Watch seem similar to the Android Wear watches that came out recently. For example, there’s talk of an American Airlines app that will let you check in and collect bags, Twitter will show notifications, and BMW will display charge level. It’s exciting to see Apple finally embracing NFC (near field communication) on both the iPhone and the Apple Watch, as NFC will soon let us make seamless mobile payments and even open hotel doors.

Getting to a place where all wearable devices aren’t just a nice-to-have but truly helpful to everyday living will take serious trial and error. This is where marketers have a huge opportunity. Not to use smartwatches and other wearable products to deliver ads, but to make these devices more utilitarian and fun for consumers.

Those marketers who can figure out not only how to best design functional apps and services not only for the Apple Watch, but also those that work in tandem with other parts of life will be the real winners.

Here are four key hurdles that companies should keep in mind when formulating marketing strategies for wearables.

1. Don’t be novel, be indispensable

The biggest problem with wearables is when people don’t wear them. Lots of folks excitedly buy them only to take them home and tuck them away in a drawer. The “This Week in Tech” podcast reported that 45 per cent of wearable devices are ditched within the first week. Why? Because wearable tech isn’t sophisticated enough yet to measure what people want, which is more than counting the number of steps you took in a day.

In the future, products need to spark more valuable interactions with wearers. “Hey, it’s 3pm, you should have a Kind bar” or “Congrats, you shed two pounds this week.” Apps and devices like the Jawbone Up or the Fitbit are getting close, and there’s lots of promising projects over on Kickstarter. It’s going to require wholly novel approaches to satisfy consumers because there is less real estate. You can’t employ interruption-based techniques, so rethink how to build contextual messages for wearable devices. Marketing best practices are shifting as eyeballs move to smaller screens.

2. Going from premium to mass market

With a price tag that starts at $349, the Apple Watch is decidedly a premium product that’s significantly more expensive than its largely fitness-oriented predecessors in the wearables market. Like all other first versions of these devices, cost poses a barrier to adoption. It was for the Pebble, which was expensive due to the component process and manufacturing process. A Nielsen survey last fall found that cost is a limiting factor, with 72 per cent of users saying they wish wearables were less expensive. It seems inevitable that costs will go down as manufacturing gets more established, but for the moment more consumers than you might guess are balking.

3. Just 'wearable', or 'loveable'?  

When Google first came out with Glass, we saw a preview at the Googleplex from their lead designer in New York, and it was clear they had put a lot of effort into a simple and elegant design. It hasn’t achieved the goal of seamlessly weaving its way into our lives. I know I won’t wear Glass in public. People look at you differently—and not in the good way. 

Apple realized this in designing the new watch; they made sure it looks good. Getting these devices to blend into our clothes and accessories is what will help attract more buyers. There’s the NFC ring to help with security and passwords, and Ringly is another company that’s making smart jewelry.

All new wearables need to follow the lead of the “internet of things” mindset. Making them smaller, and taking into consideration fashion will help move this. One of my favorite companies to watch in this space is AdaFruit; this team is doing an amazing job giving our designers the raw technology tools to build some surprising inventions. Take their ‘responsive’ bike jacket for example. As you slow down, brake lights come on, tilt sensors tell you whether you are turning right or left, and infrared tells you if someone is getting too close.

4. Personal versus pervasive

Data-sharing between the leaders—and this is where Nike’s move to rethink its involvement in the market and scrap the proprietary wearable products was wise—is a huge issue because the platforms aren’t coming together. Until the data speaks across companies and becomes as pervasive as a regular web page specification, it’s going to be hard for people to have their devices work in a powerful way. Of course personal data privacy must be taken into consideration. But this will really play out in a strategy put in place by Google a year ago. Android Wear has set a foundation for interfaces that will be recognizable across mobile, wearables, Google Glass, and Android Auto. Until there are open standards, these devices will be held back by competitors' desire to, well, compete.

The wearables market is set to grow exponentially. Berg Insight predicts we’ll see sales of 60 million units in three years. Marketers must remain one step ahead of the game to prepare for the eventual reality of consumers embracing these devices. They should also take an active part in making them more appealing and delivering true value on mobile. The most surefire way to do it is to focus on finding ways to allow your brand’s wearables approach link with consumers’ lives more broadly.

Ray Velez is chief technology officer at Razorfish and co-author of Converge, Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology.


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