As you may have heard, the world’s most valuable company recently released its first new product since the death of its visionary founder. The company, of course, is Apple. The product, the long-rumored Apple Watch. Prophet Associate Stephen Collins purchased his Apple Watch on launch day and he will be exploring the opportunities presented by the Apple Watch and by wearables in general from a brand and business perspective. What do these devices mean for the consumers who wear them, for the brands who sell them and for the marketers who support them? In this series, we’re going to find out.
The term wearable has been a buzzword for years at this point, but the age of wearable technology kicked off in earnest on April 24th, 2015 with the launch of the Apple Watch.
Of course, devices such as fitness trackers and experimental technology like Google Glass have had the business world buzzing about wearable technology for years. While Google Glass becoming a mainstream success now seems about as likely as flying cars appearing in-market within the next year, other wearable players like Fitbit – with 70% market share in the fitness wearable market that shipped 70.2 million units last year – have made millions by strapping computers to consumers’ wrists.
Now that the world’s most powerful company has entered the market, everything has changed. If you need evidence, consider that analysts believe day one Apple Watch sales eclipsed total sales of all Android Wear devices in 2014. It is expected that this huge uptick in adoption (a projected 101 million smartwatch units will ship in 2020, up from 3.6 million in 2014) will lead to an explosion of innovation and app development similar to what we saw with the introduction of the iPhone App Store. I knew that I would love the Apple Watch, but after my first few weeks wearing it, I’ve been surprised by the features that have made me love it.
As I write this, I’m wearing a 42MM Stainless Steel Apple Watch with a Milanese Loop band. I knew that I would love the Apple Watch, but after my first few weeks wearing it, I’ve been surprised by the features that have made me love it.
I had expected a gadget that I would take out of the box and fiddle with for hours, exploring every novel feature and new app. What I found is that there is little about The Watch that is entirely new, but it has improved nearly every aspect of my digital life – allowing me to spend less time staring at screens and more time in reality.
As Wired’s excellent history of the Apple Watch details, the Watch’s raison d’être is the fact that over-attachment to phones is “ruining our lives.” Indeed, I’m spending less time pulling my phone out of my pocket and disappearing into its screen and more time living in the present as the watch allows me to prioritize content by dismissing it, quickly addressing it, saving it for later, or choosing never to receive it at all.
As a brand consultant, I’ve naturally been thinking about the impact wearables will have on brands and the marketers who support them. The possibilities of this new format are as numerous as they are exciting, but brands must be careful to create experiences that are timely, relevant and engaging – not extraneous and incessantly annoying (as some Watch apps are).
To add real value for consumers, brands should focus on:
The immediacy of the Apple Watch makes it the perfect tool for communicating with consumers. Technologies that already exist but have not yet been utilized to their full potential (e.g. geo-location) will find new life with wearable technology. With the Apple Watch, it will be possible for retailers to know when their customers are passing by one of their locations and then push the customer a flash sale alert or coupon with a gentle “tap” on the wrist. Lifting the Watch to view the alert, potential customers can then add the coupon barcode to their Passbook to scan at the point of purchase, or they can quickly dismiss it by lowering their wrist.
Of course, this type of direct connection with consumers could be both a blessing and a curse. If used correctly, it could deliver timely, relevant and personalized alerts that will drive increased customer traffic and sales. If used incorrectly or excessively, brands could fall out of favor with their customers and quickly find their apps uninstalled.
Having a device strapped to your wrist also makes it easier – and more fun – to conduct mobile transactions. I’ve experienced the incredible simplicity of searching Amazon using Siri and checking out with 1-Click Payment and the ease of ordering an Uber with a quick lift of my wrist. Both of these experiences have been absolute revelations regarding the potential of wearables. By removing barriers to purchase and adding gamification elements to the shopping experience, the path to purchase is now shorter and more accessible than ever. If used incorrectly or excessively, brands could fall out of favor with their customers and quickly find their apps uninstalled.
The integration of Apple Pay into the watch also makes it easy to imagine a truly cashless future in which customers use wearables to research their purchases, locate them in a digital or physical environment, and pay for them with virtually stored credit cards.
While the importance of “second screens” has been a hot topic for a number of years, the Apple Watch completely redefines the concept by becoming a discrete “third screen” that won’t remove users from their primary task or experience as second screens like iPhones and iPads often do. Because of the unobtrusive omnipresence of the device (it is difficult to stress how much easier it is to interact with technology attached to your person), it is easy to imagine the Watch becoming the first device to truly enhance physical and digital user experiences rather than distracting from them.
Brands whose primary product is experience-based could use the Watch to provide as much or as little enhancement as individual users desire.
For instance, the NBA could develop a companion app that automatically determines when a fan is attending or tuned into a game and then keeps a constantly updating stream of player statistics, game-relevant tweets, and alternate views (e.g. bench cameras) on the fan’s wrist. Video game developers could use the Watch’s screen to display player maps, museums could use it as a virtual tour guide and theme parks could offer interactive maps with current wait times. By delivering relevant, interesting information and providing the user the power to decide how frequently they interact with that information, brands will be able to provide personal experiences unlike ever before.
Of course, these are initial thoughts soon after the launch of a new platform, and both the platform and my thoughts are likely to evolve in the coming days. Stay tuned to this series as we explore how the Apple Watch might disrupt various industries – and consumers’ lives as a result.