What We Can Learn From The Wearable Device Market

Years ago, Americans tore into their Sunday paper to read that week's Dick Tracy, comic strip. The detective strip was loved by boys and adult men alike. Dick Tracy was know for his strong chin, Fedora hat, and communicator-watch. For the last two years, device makers have been struggling to make a smart-watch catch on. It seems that Dick Tracy's watch, cool as it was, may be unnecessary in a mobile phone world.

Years ago, Americans tore into their Sunday paper to read that week’s Dick Tracy, comic strip. The detective strip was loved by boys and adult men alike. Dick Tracy was know for his strong chin, Fedora hat, and communicator-watch. For the last two years, device makers have been struggling to make a smart-watch catch on. It seems that Dick Tracy’s watch, cool as it was, may be unnecessary in a mobile phone world.

First we had phone-watches on eBay that never caught on. Visiting eBay, you can search for “phone watch” and still see these around. In the last two years, mainstream marketing companies have given us a bunch of watches that talk to our phone. The idea is that the watch can give the wearer information so they don’t have to pull the phone from their pocket. But is this a problem the people really want solved?

If people wanted phones they could put in their pocket, the phone would be shrinking. But that’s not what’s happening. Phones are getting bigger. Remember the first iPad. It was a phone! A tablet as phone! The iPad Mini, the iPhone 6, and so many Android phones are bigger than last years models. And forget putting them in a pocket.

In a world of big phone, meant to be out, held in hand while walking, why does anyone want a watch?

The watch came from a by-gone era. An era when clock towers were the time keeping device of the day. If you wanted to know what time it was, you looked up. Up in the sky to Big-Ben. Up to the clock in the middle of town. Up, unless you were in an windowless office. And so, the elite purchased clocks to always know what time it was.

As the clock parts got smaller, a new industry was born … that of the watch. Pocket watches and wristwatches became common. But fast-forward to today, and a phone serves the time keeping function. So why are companies spending so much developing watches. Do we really need two ways to tell time?

The tech industry can try to solve problems that no one has. For example, do you see people tapping their phones to their wrists? Or hanging their phone on chains like pocket watches? Maybe not, but surely you’ve seen people doing the quick draw, like the gun slingers of the old west – fast drawing their phone from a belt-mounted, quick release case. So why the obsession over watches. …

Because we can.

Companies want to be in the next hot craze, but often without a well-defined need. Make no mistake, high-end watches are selling. But that’s because it’s jewellery – not really a time keeping device. Sure, they tell time, but that’s not why people spend the big bucks to buy them. People either want high-end watches for fashion or cheap watches for the utility of telling time.

So what other technologies are a solution looking for a problem.

Apple TV/ Amazon TV … and all the other many companies that are trying to get into a set-top box as many people are becoming cord-cutters (giving up a TV subscription by watching shows online). None of these technologies have gained traction. Yet companies envision huge profits. This was the problem with IBM and Microsoft as they got bigger. They wanted to be in every technology they COULD be in.

Like the siren’s song that lead sailors to their death, the ability to make a technology seduces many tech companies to wreak their ships on the rocks. They invested huge amounts, only to discover, they’ve made a product which solves a problem – that no one has. Or at least, they’ve invented a solution to a problem, the market will not pay to solve.

My advice, don’t be seduced. Verify that people need watches, TV boxes, and whatever you’re thinking of inventing. Recently the voice of reason came from one of my colleague at New Bamboo: it can not just replace and/or do the same, an innovation have to do at least better than something that exist, augment it to a better solution. Even if … the youngster inside me secretly hope wearable will be a big thing, like Dick Tracy.