10 questions successful wearable device makers will have to address

10 questions successful wearable device makers will have to address

Summary: Any company planning to release a wearable device – be that a smartwatch, smartglasses, or whatever – needs to have their ducks in a row if they have a chance at success. That means having compelling answers to the following questions.

TOPICS: Mobility

2014 seems like it will be the start – and who know, maybe the end – of the wave of wearable devices being unleashed. If you're believer in wearables then you see it as the next logical step for technology to take. If, like me, you're a cynic, then you see it more as a desperate land grab by companies looking to positioning themselves for a potential gold rush.

Either way, wearables are coming. Limited success of devices such as the Pebble has shown that at least a modest market for such devices, and with PC sales close to freefall, and Apple dominating the smartphone and tablet markets, it presents an opening for device makers.

But, as with any other device, wearables aren't a slam-dunk, surefire winner. Nothing is. And just as with tablets before the iPad, there have been plenty of companies in the past who thought they had wearables cracked, only to find that no one was really interested in what they had to offer.

With that in mind, it is my belief that any company planning to release a wearable device – be that a smartwatch, smartglasses, or whatever – needs to have their ducks in a row if they have a chance at success. That means having compelling answers to the following questions.

What does this device do for users?

Sorry, but "it's a smartwatch" or "a computer you wear on your face" just doesn't cut it. Consumers need a clear idea of what the device does, not a vague description of what it is.

Is this device bringing something new to the table or is it just duplicating something that the potential user already owns?

"It tells the time."

"It shows you if you have messages."

"You can view your contacts."

I can do all this with my smartphone, my tablet, and my PC. This is also the issue holding back NFC payments – now much harder is it to whip out my wallet than it is to futz with a smartphone?

Wearables need to bring new stuff to the table. If they don't they're dead.

Could the potential users do what this device does better/quicker/easier/cheaper on an existing device?

Again, if a developer can bring out an app for an existing platform that does what your wearable does, and sell that for $0.99, you're wearable is toast.

Is the device fiddly to use, or does it have parts that can be lost?

Tiny buttons, caps to lose, microscopic displays that require you to have compound eyes to view – all of this doesn't bode well for efficient usage.

Case in point – The Jawbone Up. The cap on that is far too prone to loss.

How much proprietary kit will the user need to cart around?

Think carefully about going down the proprietary route. If they need a special cable or connector, consider giving them a second as a spare.

Again, the Jawbone Up is a good example of how to do this wrong. This needs a proprietary charger, and it comes with one. Lose that, misplace it, or forget it, and the device goes flat, and the user loses momentum using it.

Are updates and apps smooth and painless to apply? Is getting at any data it holds easy?

If not, your device will end up in a drawer.

Is the battery life long enough to not be a hassle?

If it doesn't last a good few days – a week would be a good number to aim for – the user will start to have recharge fatigue as the device spends too much time off their face/wrist and too much time on charge.

Is the device comfortable to wear?

Not just for you, the person who designed it, but everyone else. Is it cold? Hot? Sweaty? Bulky? Be honest. If it is, the device is not ready for release.

You need to be able to actually wear wearable devices, and anything that's uncomfortable is going to get abandoned quickly.

What are the times when the users might not want to wear the device?

Does the wearable have a style that fits in both at home and in the office? What about when out on a dinner date or business meeting? What about on the beach?

The problem with current wearables is that they are glorified sports items, and while they look fine in the gym, they tend to look a bit goofy in the office, and look really out of place when wearing more fancy attire. The ideal situation would be for wearables to be wearable under as many scenarios as possible.

The more users have to take the wearable off, the more likely it is that the wearable stays off.

What does the device look like after a month of wear? Three months? A year?

Wearables look nice and shiny when they're new, but what do they look like after they've been worn in for a bit?

Wristwatches are, on the whole, designed to take quite a beating, but smartwatches and other smart devices seem to be fragile things that fall apart and scratch easily.

Over the years I've had wearables where parts have fallen off, where straps have broken, where the plastic has become scuffed and rough, and where the nooks and crannies of the devices are caked with gunk that has worked its way into the device and can't be cleaned.

Topic: Mobility

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  • The tech might not be there yet.

    I suspect that we are still a couple of years away from a decent smartwatch. The missing piece of the puzzle is a high quality display that consumes very little power. The smartwatch form factor severely limits the size of the battery so power consumption drives every design choice. The Pebble uses an e-paper display which meets the low power consumption requirement, unfortunately it sucks as a display. Under a bright light it's fine, unfortunately under any other circumstances it's nearly unreadable. Most of the other smartwatchs are using LEDs which are readable but their power usage is way to high. Until the display problem is solved there isn't going to be a really successful smartwatch.
    • Soory, I meant LCDs not LEDs

      I meant LCDs not LEDs, wish there was a way to edit your posts on ZDNET.
      • Sorry again for mispelling sorry

  • meh

    Adrian, I think the first question you need to ask yourself is what sort of consumer are you talking to? The masses or those who sported a Casio CFX-400 back in the day?

    If it's the former: none of the above questions matter. If it's the latter: even satisfactorily answering your list of questions won't matter.

    Some perspective is in order. Remember the U2 ipod commercial of 2004? Wow, what a difference a decade makes. Well, anyway, that was a wearable device, albeit for the ears, but wearable nonethess. Seeing someone with earbuds or the more intense beats by dre sends a message about who you are and what you want people to think. Just think for a second what a bluetooth device on your ear says to the world. In the best situation it says you must have important phone calls. Google glass: I deserve to be punched squarely between the eyes. Even analog timepieces say something.

    So the only question you need to ask is: does this device say something that consumers want to project?
  • Does it engage the user?

    That is the first question a company needs to ask. Books, TV,s Gaming consoles, PCs, tablets, iPods, and smartphones all engage the user. Successful apps and social media sites all engage the user. They provide an experience that provides hours of daily enjoyment. In a business environment, tech supports critical business functions. What does a wearable offer that will engage the user? How does it make an employee more productive? I have yet to see any wearable that offers a compelling answer to the question of "does it engage the user"
  • I agree with most everyone

    These are wants, but not quite needs. I only wear my watch anymore as an accessory, much like most people these days. In fact, people nowadays - males and females, who don't buy watches will wear a bracelet of some form. In sum, and it may sound frivolous and shallow, but if it isn't really needed, it better fit the look someone is going for with their apparel.
    D.J. 43
  • Display Size

    I gave up on my iPhone 4, and went for a WP8 Lumia phone with a decent size display. I can't see how a watch could have a display large enough to be usable. (Maybe glasses, but not a watch)
    I think I'll just keep using my smart phone.
  • Perceptive comments

    Thank you Adrian, one of the few perceptive articles you have put out in quite some time. Are you back on track? Let's hope so....
  • Author is so far off...

    And apparently does not really understand why first generation Samsung Smartwatches and things like Pebble ended up in the drawer after a month of use. They are DEPENDENT devices. You need to carry a phone and the watch. It is a bad user experience. Only when wearables become SAD's ( Stand Alone Devices ) will they become highly desirable and have a great consumer value proposition. Why do you think that Apple did not come out with a dependent smart watch. They could have done it in a heartbeat. They know this also. Samsung has added better battery life and fitness functions to try and convince you to keep their smartwatch on your wrist but it does not change its core failing of being a dependent device. How many people want to start their day with .... phone on, in pocket, watch charged on wrist, Jawbone charged in ear.... NO ONE...