440645-apple-watch-healthThe Apple Watch  marks the first new product from Apple under CEO Tim Cook and as Apple’s track record for re-energising established markets shows, could be the product to make wearable technology commonplace.

Below, MEF Chairman Andrew Bud discusses the implications it may pose for the industry, and the hurdles Apple will need to overcome to succeed.

Apple’s eagerly anticipated entry in to the wearable technology market has come in the form of its Apple Watch which combines various classic mobile functions like music and messaging with health and fitness monitoring.  It tracks the wearer’s movement with built in sensors and feeds that information back to Apple’s Health app, allowing the review and analysis of the data that the watch has captured.  Apple’s new NFC payment platform, Apple Pay will also be available via the new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch so contactless payments can be made simply with the flick of a wrist.

It even tells the time.

This is CEO Tim Cook’s first new product category innovation and although it’s Apple’s first wearable computer, it is entering a crowded market place with Samsung, Pebble and Sony already established.  Earlier this month more than 10 new smartwatches were released at IFA, Europe’s largest electronics trade show in Berlin, almost all of which run Google’s Android Wear software.

“To succeed, it will also need to capture the imagination of third party developers who believe in the opportunity for monetisation and scale. “

But in fact, despite early signs of momentum in the wearables market, the technology is struggling to become mainstream.  It’s a bustling category that has seen more publicity than sales; indeed research firm IDC estimates that 2014 will see only 19 million smartwatches on the wrists of consumers.  The narrow range of compelling use cases of today’s smartwatch, together with its high cost, limit its appeal to the very affluent or very health conscious consumer.

Can the Apple Watch energise this market?  It is never, ever a good idea to underestimate Apple’s ability to revolutionise a market, as history shows.  In 2010 amid great scepticism MEF was one of the very few commentators to endorse Apple’s claim that the iPad would revolutionise content consumption.  As well as the Watch’s user interface innovations, it is most likely that Apple has identified an exquisite yet huge latent user need – perhaps people wearing clothes without pockets. It’s a beautifully designed item, and one senses that Apple have gone to a lot of trouble to know more about how people will respond than we can see today.

To succeed, it will also need to capture the imagination of third party developers who believe in the opportunity for monetisation and scale.  So the company has created a special developer programme: WatchKit with a large community of existing iOS developers to draw on for app ideas.  There are also plenty of heavyweight third parties readying dedicated Apps for the 2015 market launch including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  You will also be able to control the temperature in your home with the Honeywell app or tell your friends that you are about to head out for a run with the Nike app.

Andrew Bud

Andrew Bud

Global chair

MEF

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If it works, the mobile ecosystem will see demand for a whole new category of watch-optimised apps. That can only be good news for our industry.

There are interesting questions to resolve. Will consumers accept the day-long battery life, charging it every night, or will they wait for a longer-lived next iteration?  What will transpire to be the compelling appeal of the device? And since much of the Watch functionality depends upon tethering to an iPhone, will the Watch sell the phone, or the phone drag the Watch? As an industry, we can only applaud this new initiative and hope that it, and its competitors and imitators, succeed.

mef_global_forum_2014Wearable Technology, and in particular, how it intersects with mHealth will feature as a dedicated session at MEF Global Forum 2014, MEF’s annual conference in San Francisco (November 17 – 19) – early bird deals for the conference close soon, book now.

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