What a smartwatch will need to iPod the mobile market

Posted by Rob Enderle

Samsung, Apple and a number of other industry heavyweights are poised to make a run for the next "iPod event." As such, I thought it would be interesting to explore how a corporation could go about recreating an iPod, iPhone, or iPad moment with yet another mobile device.  

Obviously, Steve Jobs isn’t with us, yet he clearly was the guy that repeatedly showcased how this was best done. Samsung, with its Galaxy S4, definitely made a well-funded attempted but it was wrong headed. And while the phone sold well it certainly was no iPhone.


 

Do A Few Things Extremely Well

The device has to do a few core things extremely well. With the Palm PDA, which preceeded the iPod, it was contact management and scheduling.The original Blackberry? That, plus eMail. With the iPod it was music management and easy access, while the iPhone added apps and wireless features. And the iPad? Increased the size and introduced a new class of apps.  

For the smartwatch it will have to, at the very least, be viewable outdoors and provide access to information from a smartphone with adequate depth. If you can’t see it outside or if the device provides too much or too little information it simply won’t be useful. Display has been major battle ground in the smartphone arena, as Apple takes the branding lead with their Retinal offering. But here something like Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology could be the magical feature. This would not only provide outdoor viewing ability but potentially provide the device with days of battery life. Remember, being a watch, smartphone like battery life just won’t do. 

The smartwatch should also target a set of unique apps and features. For example, it could be particularly useful to someone who is health conscious (exercise and/or diet), safety conscious (alerts and/or wearable OnStar to call for help), and/or automotive (performance stats, car diagnostics, location and/or security) for instance. In addition, it should boast a set of distinct features/apps that a large group of people will find compelling and that marketing departments can target. 

Finally the smartwatch should either replace the smartphone or stream information from it. Who is calling, subject and author of emails, text messages of all kinds, calendar events - all while vibrating on alarms or phone calls (rather than the phone). The device should also provide some type of short response capability so you can let callers or writers know you’ll get right back to them when you can pull out your phone or laptop, or message that you are “on your way” or “running late” or other similar short messages.  

Design

The smartwach should look cool and be appropriate for the target market. It doesn’t have to be small but it also doesn’t have to look like a watch. In fact, I’d argue the farther away from a watch this product is the better it will play to a younger audience. Conversely, the closer it is to a watch the better it will play to an older one. But people have to want to show off this watch and they won’t if it doesn’t look cool. Fortunately, Apple traditionally uses brushed metals or high quality finishes to give their products a "richer" look.   

The biggest problem? The female demographic, simply because women don’t typically like or wear large watches as a rule; however they will wear large bracelets and jewelry.   This suggests the product, unlike smartphones and tablets will need a version uniquely designed for women that has more of a jewelry look and can be changed to better match different outfits while men may be more tolerant of a less flexible design. This is a wearable device and that means it is for both sexes (more like jewelry), bringing in a very different set of design constraints. I’m willing to bet most of the first generation of smartwatches wouldn’t get this right for either sex but particularly women. If there was ever a case to have a design focused women on the design team this would be it. Meaning, we are looking for something more like this, or this, and less like this

Presentation

One of the key characteristics of an Apple launch is that Cupertino tries to focus on the experience, making the product appear magical. In contrast, other corporations tend to focus on technological taking points like processor speed, memory type and screen resolution. This is largely why Apple is able to generate lines of people to buy their magical products.

So the smartwach has to be about how the products makes us feel - and it better damn well make us feel great. It should be presented in a way that makes it sound like this is the product the “in” people will wear where you can imagine showing this to your friends and family who will be impressed with you for having it. In short,it has to be presented in a way to inspire lust, and not just as a feature science experiment. Strangely, I expect this last to be the most difficult for anyone to pull off.  

Wrapping Up: Jobs Smartwatch

If the smartwatch is to be an iPod like product (from any vendor), it must be perceived as if Steve Jobs himself personally created it. Obviously Steve isn’t coming back to launch this product but what made his products so different is that he focused on capabilities he knew he could get people existed about. The iProducts were really more theater than gadgets and were designed to be that way. They were created to become stories the user could write themselves in and take pride and feel they increased their status by owning.  

The winning smartwatch has to be something you put on and wonder how you ever got through life without it. This can be done, for Jobs did it repeatedly, however in this post- Jobs world, I have my doubts there is anyone who can actually pull this last part off. In short, to iPod the market with a smartwatch you’ll need to get hold of Steve Jobs’ magic book and religiously follow it.