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Smartwatches - Where's the Killer App?

To paraphrase Edwin Starr -

 'Smartwatches! What are They Good for? Absolutely Nothing!

The key question that smartwatch manufacturers need to ask themselves is why would somebody want to buy their watch. What's the USP? But more importantly, where's the killer app? Where is the killer app that renders acquiring a smartwatch a non-question. Where's the innovater that creates such an unique and awesome user experience, where people just 'get it'? With these types of questions, you'd normally ask, Where are Apple? Regrettably, their recent offering hasn't fared any better, and they're nolonger the innovator that they once were..

A global survey was recently conducted in October 2014 by BI Intelligence amongst Business Insider readers, and the results were telling regarding people's perceptions of smartwatches.The question that they posed their readership was:

Why Aren't You Interested in a Smartwatch?

  • 51% responded with 'I Don't See the Point'
  • 13% responded with 'I Don't Like Wearing A Watch'
  •  8% responded with 'Price. They are Too Expensive.'
  •  6% responded with 'I Just Don't Want To Spend A Lot Of Money on a Watch'
  •  7% responded with 'All Smartwatches I Have Seen Are Ugly'
  • 15% responded with 'Other'

      Source: BI Intelligence Smartphone Survey October 2014

I am very much with the 'I Don't See the Point' crowd. People have no viable reason to buy a smartwatch. In terms of everyday usability, battery life (or lack thereof) is a key issue. What is the point in charging it up everyday; or in the case of Will.i.am's new bangle/bracelet/smartcuff/smartwatch, PULS, charging it up after just five hours! Even innovation in battery life, or a new manner in which the battery is used is welcome. For example, there's a No-Charge Smartwatch that utilises Bluetooth Smart Technology that uses a fraction of the energy required by older versions of Bluetooth, thereby allowing the batteries to last up to one year without recharging. Great idea, but it looks horrible.

Even if you dismiss Will.i.am's PULS device as gimmicky, he is at least thinking and innovating. He appreciates that a five hour battery life isn't great. His solution? Develop a wearable backpack that would give it up to two-three days battery life. At least he's thinking about the battery life question.....even if his solution is somewhat bizarre.     

Another key issue with using a smartwatch to take a call is that you look like a complete idiot when you take a call. It's bad enough with people with headsets looking as though they are talking to themselves; but can you imagine walking around with your arm held up to your ear? You'll look like a person that has just escaped the local asylum!

But, I digress. Let's get back to the key issue of killer apps, which is closely aligned with usability and overall user experience. The closest analogy to the smartwatch situation, is the MP3 devices marketplace a few years ago. Even though Apple weren't first to the party, their iPOD was literally head and shoulders above any of their competitors in terms of usability, accessibility; and itunes was just a stroke of genius. Apple had thought of everything and created a complete ecosystem around their product. No wonder they dominated the marketplace.

The current smartwatch marketplace is similar to the early MP3 devices marketplace before the advent of the iPOD. More and more companies are coming to market with a diverse range of products. However, none, not even Apple's offering, has completely entranced customers.

So, what do these smartwatch manufacturers need to do? They need to answer the 'Why' question, coupled with having a combination of killer apps, an awesome user experience, great battery life; and all done at a price to the consumer that is affordable.

But, would I buy a smartwatch, even if they got everything right?

Probably not.

Ironically, the reason is nothing to do with killer apps, user-experience, or batterylife. It's purely to save my own sanity. Such phones would be used for not only taking calls, but also getting all your email / facebook / twitter notifications. It would drive you mad after a while.Technology is pervading every aspect of our life, and sometimes you do need to switch off. Besides, I like my watch. It tells the time and that's all I want it to do.

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