Have you seen the hordes of people using their smartwatches in public? Neither has Tim Green…
Before I start to get all smug about my accurate prediction that the Apple Watch would be a failure, let me get this out of the way first. I was the guy who said One Direction would have a single top ten hit, then never be seen again.
Amazingly, this middle-aged English male failed to gauge the musical preferences of the world’s 15 year old girls. How the heck did that happen?
But on Apple Watch, I fared better. When it was first unveiled, I felt out of step with almost everyone. The most enthusiastic fans said it would change the world. I couldn’t even see what it was for.
Fans talk of the watch as the remote control for your life, something that can open doors, make payments, control your smart home, navigate your journeys, assess your wellbeing. Maybe. But the IOT infrastructure for all that stuff is nowhere near built yet.
Text alerts? News headlines? Weather updates? Really, is that all you’ve got?
Most of those who shared my scepticism at least believed the Apple Watch to be beautiful – a dramatic improvement on all previous efforts such as the Pebble, Moto 360 and Samsung Gear.
I couldn’t even see that. When Jonny Ive was doing his dreamy thing on video my abiding thought was: it looks like a blocky 70s digital watch, just like they all do. How could Apple, maker of the exquisite MacBook Air and iPhone 6, get it so wrong?
For all my reservations, I confess I was nervous about slagging Apple Watch off. Back in 2007, I confidently predicted that the iPhone would sell only to designers and techies. And then there was the whole Harry Styles thing.
But a year on, it’s clear that the Apple Watch has been a disaster.
Oh, sure, Apple and its defenders will stress that it’s the world’s best selling wearable with around 10m sold. They will repeat the mantra that initial sales for the Apple Watch exceeded those of the iPhone in their first quarters.
Sophistry, I say. Apple was a new market entrant in 2007. Now, it’s the biggest company in the world. It could sell 10m fax machines (the iFax S, now in white gold) to its most fervent fans.
No, the evidence is in usage. Look around you. Who’s wearing one?
Last week I was chatting to the director of a mobile marketing agency. He told me that everyone in his 30 strong agency got an Apple Watch as a Christmas bonus. Today, none of them ever wears one. None. And these are young tech-savvy people who work in the business.
Why is this?
Clearly, smartwatches have been wished on to the world by tech companies (not just Apple) desperate for a new product category. Smartphones are almost ubiquitous now. They need something else.
But we don’t. Not yet, anyway. Fans talk of the watch as the remote control for your life, something that can open doors, make payments, control your smart home, navigate your journeys, assess your wellbeing. Maybe. But the IOT infrastructure for all that stuff is nowhere near built yet.
I reckon the big reason why the smartwatch has failed to catch on is that it doesn’t do the two things that really make new tech fly: communication and entertainment.
Being able to talk, blog, share, flirt, listen to music and watch movies helped the PC, phone and tablet become iconic inventions. The watch does these things worse or not at all. It gives us text and mail alerts that get switched off for being annoying and a voice function no sane human would dream of using.
Its screen will never do real justice to Lawrence Of Arabia.
Oh sure, there’s a market for fitness tracking and other quantitive self activities. But that’s not mass market. Your aunt wants an iPhone. She doesn’t want a $400 pedometer.
The non-arrival of the smartwatch market doesn’t seem to have stopped traditional watch makers from piling in. Swatch has launched the Bellamy range not long after its CEO, Nick Hayek called Apple Watch “a toy, but not a revolution.”
Meanwhile reality TV stars everywhere can buy a gaudy Guess watch with basic smart functions, while TAG Heuer is now working with Google and Intel on some new devices. Late last week, Fossil bought Misfit Wearables for $260 million.
Mmm, a Fossil and a Misfit.
Actually, this is an interesting deal since Misfit has quite different ideas about the market from many rivals. It makes very discreet ‘Shine’ activity trackers that use lights rather than display screens.
Misfit CEO Sonny Vu he started with what people would wear, and then worked backwards. His main conclusions. No screens.
“We thought about what people would want on their wrists, and we concluded that a screen was not it. Most wearables come with one because we’re so used to having screens on phones. But that’s not the way to think about it.
“If the main purpose of a wearable is to see how well someone is doing toward their goal, there are other ways to do it that don’t involve a screen.”
So it will be interesting to see how Misfit’s zen design ethos fits into Fossil’s traditional approach. Especially since Misfit is one of the few wearables companies to have actually explored the ‘remote control for life’ idea. Its Misfit Bolt, for example, is a connected light bulb managed by its devices.
While I wait to see what a Misfit Fossil looks like (insert your own joke), I will continue my search for a live human using a smartwartch somewhere in London.
I suspect they will be outnumbered by hoverboard riders.