It is a super exciting time for wearable entrepreneurs! The early generation of wearables has offered a promising step towards what could be achieved over time with the new generation of wearable products.
The wearable industry is still in its infancy. Although wearable makers have spent significant effort to marry hardware and software technologies and build cool products, there is still a lot to be discovered, learned, and applied in this industry.
As a wearable maker, there are six elements to consider and successfully navigate in order to build a winning product that will be adopted by the majority of the population:
1) How to impact without too much disruption? For wearables to be successful, they need to change behavior and improve outcomes without too much disruption in the user’s lifestyle.
Think of health and fitness bands – if they cannot help users become more active, they will fail to provide much value. On the other hand, if they interrupt the user’s daily behaviors too much (with notifications or other nudging mechanisms), users may get uncomfortable and resist using the device all together. Having an impact on user behavior and lifestyle in a smooth and subtle way is the key for success.
2) Do you make your wearable fashionable or invisible? As wearable makers evaluating design decisions, they wonder if their products should be trendy and fashionable or invisible and subtle.
Observing the market leaders’ moves signals that they bet on the former. Fitbit partnered with Tory Burch to design next generation of wearables, Apple hired the former CEOs of both YSL and Burberry for its wearable efforts, and Google partnered with Diane Von Furstenberg to design new Google Glass frames. On the other hand, another group of companies put their efforts into designing invisible patches and sensors.
At this point, we are at the very early stages of the wearable era; only time and more data about use cases of wearables will verify or nullify some of the early design assumptions.
3) Where is the best spot on the body for wearables? So far the wrist has been a winning spot for wearables. BI Research projected that in the next five years, 70% of wearable shipments will be smart wristwears. Many health & fitness bands including Fitbit, Jawbone, and Sony SmartBand, as well as smartwatches such as Pebble, Basis, Moto 360, LG G watch, and Samsung’s Gear Live, chose the wrist versus other parts of body for their products.
However, the question many wearable makers are still trying to answer is if there are better places for wearables on or even inside the body. Some believe having wearables on the waist, inside ears, or under the skin would provide more accurate information. Others argue that the finger might be the best place, particularly for gesture-controlling wearables (e.g., Nod). At this point, many wearable makers seem to be experimenting with different options in search of the best solution.
4) How do you address battery life of your product? Users don’t like the mental burden of charging their wearables on a weekly basis. They view it as a disruption to their daily routine and report it as one of the main reasons to abandon their devices. Knowing this, it’s critical to make the charging process as frictionless as possible. Analysis by Credit Suisse expects that battery constrains will force more computation intensive activities to run on smartphones rather than on wearables.
Based on an IHS report, lithium polymer batteries will take the predominant share — 73% of total — of wearables’ battery revenue. That’s because they are lighter and can be manufactured into a wider range of shapes and sizes, compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries. If you have to guess, what would be your projection of the winning battery type for future wearables?
5) What are your privacy beliefs and guidelines? People hold a variety of opinions when it comes to privacy standards. Many come to believe that there is no privacy in this day and age. Entrepreneurs like Larry Page wish to make health data public. Others are concerned about the possible privacy nightmares in the world of wearables and connected devices.
As the FDA recently loosened up regulations on tracking devices and health apps, entrepreneurs in these fields got excited about the opportunities ahead. However, privacy advocates are utterly distressed! Their concern is that consumers may not be aware of the type or scale of data being collected about them. With increase in Internet-connected devices, companies would gain unfair advantage over consumers, knowing very detailed information about their personal life, activities, and behaviors.
As a wearable maker you can take a few steps to build trust with your users:
- Find out your privacy beliefs as a company
- Be transparent about your security and privacy rules
- Clearly mention what your policies are regarding connecting and sharing data with other applications and products
- Ensure your technological architecture can deliver what you promise in terms of security and privacy controls
6) What’s your distribution strategy? Over 250 wearable companies presented their products at CES in early 2014. The number of wearable companies will continue to increase as more entrepreneurs and innovators see opportunity in this category. The critical question is which brands and products will outlast others and become the product of choice by the majority.
Part of the challenge for wearable companies would be to get their products in the hands of users in the first place. That means a race for distribution. A few factors make distribution substantially harder for small players:
- Apple’s and Google’s existing distribution channels
- Large companies’ existing and loyal customer base
- Committed group of developers who will build independent apps for only iOS and Android platforms
- The possibility that, over time, wearables will become accessory devices for mobile products, thus giving advantage to Android with over 1.1 billion smartphones
As a wearable maker, try to address these issues and think about them early and strategically. Having a solid response to these questions will empower you to differentiate your company and product in this crowded and competitive market.