Wearables: A companion to smartphones or a companion to you?

Now that Samsung has entered the smartwatch game with its Galaxy Gear, we have one of the biggest players yet trying to sell a new wearable.That brings a couple of questions to my mind: Is there yet a viable mainstream market for these types of products?

What types of design elements will appeal to a wide audience and what price point will attract buyers? And what feature set are people really looking for on their smartwatch or other wearable device.

Mobilize_in-article_300x200Our Mobilize 2013 schedule has a number of panels relevant to these questions, ranging from wearables for athletics with Vice President of Adidas Interactive, Paul Gaudio to Dennis Miloseski, head of design studio at Samsung Design America.

I’m curious to hear what our speakers have to say about these questions, mainly because I’ve watched this market evolve — very slowly — for the past 10 years when I first bought a smartwatch. That ol’ Microsoft SPOT Watch wasn’t the best by a long shot, but it excelled at one thing: Putting useful data that could be read at a glance on my wrist.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of new products in the space, but many are just simple rehashes of the products before them. Notifications of text messages, emails, and incoming calls? Those are just “table stakes” features at this point for a smartwatch. And all that does is push the information from one screen to another. Useful? Yes. Innovative? Not so much.

I’ve seen more progress — and consumer acceptance — in wearables that actually collect more data than they share: Health trackers. Think of the Jawbone UP, Fitbit, and Nike(s nke) Fuelband, as recent examples. These devices add value because they provide information about you that you didn’t have and wouldn’t have without them. Want to know how many steps you took in a day, how many calories you burned or how much “good” sleep you got last night? These types of devices provide that information to a smartphone or a cloud service so you can evaluate your health.


This product type is actually very opposite of the traditional smartwatch concept because it’s pushing data out to or through a phone. All of a sudden, the device is a companion to me, not my smartphone.

Continuing that thought is a question: How does a service like Google Now play into the wearables market? It’s already a big part of Google Glass(s goog); able to provide information that’s relevant to the wearer at a particular place and time. That contextual value is what I’m looking for in a smartwatch; one that’s more of a companion to me and not my smartphone.

Google Now uses a simple card user interface and that’s perfect for the small screen of Glass or a potential Google-powered smartwatch. Only a limited amount of information can be seen on the cards, but it’s very valuable information: Traffic on the way to your next destination, perhaps. Or data on a package that was just shipped to you. Maybe a reminder of what’s on your grocery list as you’re just a mile out from the nearest grocery store on your way home.

Google Now cards

This contextual, hyper-relevant data is type of information that will create demand for a next-generation wearable or smartwatch in my opinion. And it won’t matter which company brings it to the wrist, although I think Google has the best chance to do so.

Regardless of the manufacturer, I think the company that can put a personal assistant in a watch or other connected wearable device is the one that will finally “crack” this market. And I’m wondering what our Mobilize speakers have to say about that. I hope to see you there.