Over the next few weeks, pretty much everyone and their brother is going to be launching a smartwatch with the hope that it will be the next iPod and not the next Zune. And trust me, most will fall into that latter camp. We don’t know yet whether the winning product will abstract and be an accessory for the smartphone or be a replacement, but there are some key aspects we do know that the non-Zune device will need to be successful.
This product will need to work outdoors, which means it will have to be robust enough to stand some water and some scrapes. It will also need something like the Qualcomm Mirasol display so you can see it outside. It’d be pretty stupid to replace your watch, which has all of this, with something that will either easily break or that won’t work when you are driving, walking or sitting in bright light.
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Each successful device was able to effectively replace what came before. This was the old Microsoft Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish strategy (which they appear to have forgotten) applied. The iPod extended what you could do with CDs and killed the Walkman, the iPhone embraced what you could do with PDAs and simple cell phones and replaced them, and the iPad extended the iPod and, along with the iPhone, pretty much killed it.
The Netbook didn’t embrace or extend anything and pretty much died.
This thing better look hot. At the end of the day both women and men will have to hold up this watch and get praised rather than laughed at for buying the product. This means it needs to be Apple/Porsche attractive and given Apple used Porsche as a template (which is kind of weird because Steve Jobs drove a Mercedes come to think of it) the successful product will likely look more like it was designed by Porsche than your typical technology product.
This means it has to be sleek, attractive, a bit showing, and particularly for women, more like personal jewelry but flexible enough to go with any outfit. It should have an edge to appeal to a younger audience but be conservative enough not to scare off the older buyers. Both Apple and Porsche have this in their DNA and the winning vendor will need to embrace their inner Steve Jobs to make this work.
This can’t be like a Swiss Army Knife product – cameras, GPS and massive sensor suites will dramatically limit the audience to geeked out guys and, while that is a great group, which I do belong to, it is also a limited one. The best products in the CE class have always been those that did a few things we needed done exceedingly well. The original Motorola Razer, the Walkman, iPod, Blackberry, Palm Pilot and iPhone were all initially very easy to learn and get core value from.
This extends from the design and the winning product will be simply elegant with emphasis on both the simplicity and elegance.
What really made the difference with Apple products is the care Jobs took in presenting them as magical offerings. From the original Mac to the iPad Jobs would focus on the way the product would make you feel and the technology was more of a proof point for that primary benefit. He convinced us that a small box containing a hard drive with our music was magical and became even more so when he added video, phone capabilities, and grew it to 10.
He really didn’t launch products as much as present stories might suggest. I remember one time walking out of a Jobs pitch raving about it with my peers, only to suddenly realize he hadn’t actually announced anything. That kind of skill will be critical to anyone wanting to iPod the smartwatch segment.
Wrapping Up: Not Pick and Choose
I imagine that most vendors will pick and choose from this list of required goals, believing that one or two out of four will be good enough which is why I think most products will be more Zune than iPod. In the end, the vendor that steps up – with Jobs gone that may not be Apple this time – will have the huge hit on its hands and watch its company valuation skyrocket. Those that don’t will find a lot of sudden affinity and understanding for Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer as they experience their own Zune moment.
Just remember, with products like this, it isn’t about the product, it’s about the magic.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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