So the hotly anticipated Apple Watch is now a reality. Many thought Apple might do something drastically different, but they didn’t — their device looks surprisingly similar to prior art in the space from Google and Samsung. It’s a watch with a few productivity functions beyond timekeeping, has almost none of its own onboard sensors (save the HealthKit and activity tracking sensors), and not-too-impressive battery life. The physical constraints of the wristband form factor don’t provide space for making significant innovation beyond the territory of their competitors at this point. If they made it super slim, it’d have less battery life and no sensors. The face can’t be too big, but needs to be big enough to interact with buttons and text. To do anything cool you need radios and sensors, which make it bigger. Marco Arment covers these engineering and design tradeoffs in his excellent write up.
As with all of their new new product lines (at least on initial release), Apple isn’t interested in satisfying business applications first; they’re a consumer products company. Thinking about the business potential of “wearable” devices like smart watches, headgear, and the like, I see more potential for devices such as these to become tools of the trade for all sorts of non-consumer markets.
- Businesses can afford expensive tools if they solve problems. Consumers want affordability.
- One can calculate the return on investment in buying Google Glass or smart watches to integrate into field service / team management operations. For consumers, it’s a lifestyle choice without much chance for any real ROI.
- Businesses think in function over form. If their wristbands or headgear don’t “look cool”, it’s a non-issue as long as they serve a function and ultimately save time and money.
I think we’re several years out from seeing wearable devices becoming prevalent in data collection and field service situations. You can think of interesting ways that smart watches could help track fleets, geolocate first responders in crisis situations, and more. None of the manufacturers have yet cracked the nut of fitting a full suite of comms sensors and GPS radios in any of the consumer-grade watches out there, but it’s only a matter of time.