Imagine you’ve left your home, and at some point you reach for your phone to notice that it’s not there. Have you ever thought about what would be the furthest point at which you’re willing to turn back to retrieve it? For many of us, the answer may be surprising. But this is the kind of need that smartphones have created. Mobile computing has created a need that may even supplant conventional wallets. But in the dawn of wearable technology, that need is just not there yet.
In the summer of 2015, I got an Apple Watch. And while it took some time to figure out how it fits into my life, I really enjoy using it. Being able to see notifications with a flick of the wrist, knowing how active I’ve been through the day, or effortlessly redirecting email are all major reasons why I love having my Apple Watch on me. However, despite all these reasons, if ever I left home without my Apple Watch, I wouldn’t go back to get it. And it comes from the same idea that, for many individuals, smartwatches haven't created a need just yet.
It's in the best interest of consumers for Apple to really push the envelope on smartwatch technology
If Apple and other tech giants expect the wearable industry to take off in a manner that is more akin to the smartphone industry, creating a deeper personal connection by mastering key tentpole features will be vital. While the Apple Watch specifically does a lot of things well, the main areas for improvement should be around how we interact with it, the speed at which these interactions occur, and why we interact with the Watch instead of our phones. Sharpening these domains will ultimately be the root cause for smartwatches winning massive appeal. And I look to Apple here, because time and time again, they tend to dictate where the market trends in several major industries (smartphones, tablets, and laptops to name a few). Whether users buy into their ecosystem or not is irrelevant. It's in the best interest of consumers as a whole for Apple to really push the envelope on smartwatch technology.
How a person interacts with a piece of technology will say a lot about the traction that good will face in a market. The more friction a device creates for a user, the higher likelihood of that device not gaining widespread appeal. For smartwatches to really become a necessity for smartphone users, the ease of which we interact with them day-to-day should become near frictionless. What do I mean by this? Well, it comes down to intuitiveness. With most high-end smartwatches, your given a touchscreen, some voice functionality, and one or two physical buttons. This diversity is nice, but there isn't a clear paradigm for how a user should interact with a smartwatch. Often, you find yourself in a brief thought of how you will engage with the device. Do I scroll via the touchscreen or do I use the Digital Crown? Choice often creates friction.
Now, the answer to this may not be to remove choices. In fact, the answer may even be to add further functionality. Writing for Medium, Jack Arendt asserts that Apple should give the option to customize the physical buttons on the Apple Watch. What if your next smartwatch could be fine-tuned to the point that users dictate what each interaction does? While this concept may annoy purists and designers that seek to streamline user interaction, it could be implemented in a manner that the enhances user experience overall.
There has to be a shift to users nearly dumbfounded by how their technology predicts their next move
Another method of increasing smartwatch penetration would be to drastically improve the speed at which we interact with them. At the moment, many users are left waiting for their wearable to catch up to them. And even though processors and manufacturing techniques will ultimately make these gadgets faster as newer and newer versions release, I would implore tech companies to go beyond this. What if your smartwatch knew when you were driving? Or when you started working out? Or even, what your emotional state is at? If you’re looking to give users a unique and powerful experience, there has to be a shift from users waiting on their technology, to users nearly dumbfounded by how their technology predicts their next move. This concept involves going beyond the hardware, and into the psychology of why users will opt to lift their wrists as opposed to reaching for their phones. Which ties nicely into my final argument.
Figuring out why will be the greatest challenge and arguably, the most subjective
Why consumers will want to interact with a smartwatch instead of their smartphone will need further definition. Whether this comes from better marketing or increased functionality is yet to be determined, but at the moment, there isn’t enough to win over the masses. As I mentioned before, I love managing my notifications from my Apple Watch. Some would even argue that this is the killer app for Apple. But is it enough? I don’t know. From my experience, it doesn’t seem to give people that same wow-factor that, for example, TouchID does on the iPhone. One solution to amaze buyers may be to untether smartwatches from smartphones entirely and make them completely functional on their own. Another may involve enhancing the functionality of the watch straps and making them more than just a style choice. There are several ideas on the table, but figuring out why will be the greatest challenge and arguably, the most subjective. If tech companies can hone in on this concept, it can prove to be the most lucrative investment for the smartwatch industry.
I should conclude by adding that Apple just came off another record quarter and based on the numbers, analysts are pegging Apple Watch sales to be near 6 million units. Which is an astounding feat for an entirely new product. The crux of this article isn’t to downpour on that acheivement and others like it, but to really consider how companies can triple or quadruple these numbers in the near future. If manufacturers can truly evolve the wearable industry, as consumers, we may be liberated from the confines of our current technological experience. And at some point, we may even be running back home to grab the smartwatch we forgot.