As everyone knows “Smart Watches” are dominating a lot of the tech conversation as of late. It’s new, it’s cool, it’s “techy” and even has a touch of fashion wrapped up with it. To better understand what we are talking about, it’s not the $200-250 dollar sports watches that you have seen me write a lot about here on Mobility Digest. Those are very high end watches with GPS, Accelerometers, Optical Heart Rate Sensors and software syncing to smart phones or tablets to keep up with your activity. What we are talking about is a notch above those that will not only take care of keep up with your physical activity, but interact with you like never before. Messaging, appointments, apps and much more will be contained on a small device wrapped around your wrist. They have touch screens and intuitive buttons to aid in quick user interaction and not only have sound capabilities but also vibration modes for letting the wearer know they need to check something that is happening on their device. Currently the most anticipated device is the Apple Watch due out next year at a price point starting at $350.00. Like the Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon Apple commercial: “It’s huge”.
But even the premier wearable technology device anticipated by Apple is still not fully matured. The Apple watch like all of the other watches out there will still need to communicate with a host phone to send and receive data. If your iPhone is not handy, Siri will not be giving you directions and dazzling your friends with all those ridicules questions people like to ask it. That’s where the wearable technology market leaves me a bit sour. I do not think the hardware has caught up to what the consumer is really envisioning out of the smart watch and that is a stand alone device that they can take running or what ever and not be dependant on their phone to stay connected. Starting at $350 the Apple Watch iPhone clone really becomes a mini wrist monitor. Even though I do see future development leading to a stand alone wearable device, I’m not sure $350 dollars makes this worth it to me. However, we all know that Apple loyalty runs deep and there will be huge demand for the Apple Watch.
So before we discuss where Microsoft will fail, what really is the demand out there for wearable technology? According to TechSci Research: "The global market for smart wearable’s is forecast to reach 275 million units, in volume terms, by 2019." According to ABI Research, The Apple Watch could have a bigger impact than iPod, iPhone, and the iPad and sell more than 485 million of wearable technology devices a year. Even though I am highly skeptical of these numbers the real fact to take away is the wearable technology market is real and will provide growth for Technology Manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft.
So where does that leave Microsoft? Microsoft who has been reworking their image to appeal to the Apple “post PC” crowd as Steve Jobs liked to call it, has been only gaining ground slowly with their Nokia Lumia Windows Phone, which will not be phased out and called Microsoft Phone and Surface Tablets. Windows 8, which was a very intuitive way to interact with your device with hubs live tiles failed to really make an impact on device buyers and was rejected by consumers buying PC’s. Microsoft has recently announced Windows 10, jumping completely over Windows 9 and brining the Popular Windows 7 and Windows 8 full circle and a balanced blend of what’s good in both of them to life. I am actually very much looking forward to this release in fact.
The point is Microsoft, has not been looked to large scale to appeal to the Post PC consumer and Apple and Android continue to soar with Windows Phone and Surface Tablets growing at only an organic rate. At the onset I really though the massive success of Xbox would carry these Post PC devices and make the normally boring Microsoft business class perception hip and encourage younger consumers to jump on board. The integration and marketing just wasn’t there or poorly received because both Android and iOS continue to soar in these markets.
Which leads me to the Smart Watch market. Microsoft is rumored to be weeks away from launching, not just releasing their new Smart Watch. We really don’t know a lot about it other than it will beat the Apple Watch to Market, Cost less at a projected cost of $200.00 and have better battery life. In fact insiders are suggesting the Microsoft Smart Watch will last 2 days on a single charge and double the Apple Watch. And unlike the Apple watch that will only play nice with Apple products, the Microsoft Watch will sync cross platform with Apple and Android devices. This is the only way for Microsoft to sell product as their adoption of smart phones and tablets are so low where as Apple can stick it to users because of the demand and adoption of their phones and tablets.
So Microsoft has an opportunity to be first to market and escape their constant catch up way of going to market. They clearly had the smart phone market in hand and completely dropped the ball much like Blackberry did by not realizing what consumer demand would have on these devices and not integrating social networking and apps into the equation. Microsoft has new leadership and fresh ideas. Satya Nadella has replaced Steve Ballmer and brings a much needed facelift to Microsoft. The Microsoft Smart Watch will be Satya’s first new device with Microsoft and he will be solely judged on it. That’s not to say Microsoft doesn’t build a great product, but what Microsoft can’t afford is to have another Zune on it’s hands which was a great product but failed to capture an audience of people paying for music to be stored on their device.
If Microsoft had an ace up their sleeve that Apple doesn’t, it’s Xbox integration. As reported on Gear Live, the Microsoft watch could come with built in Xbox One integration that would “augment the gaming experience” according to Andru Edwards. This could finally be the ace Microsoft needs get a leg up on Apple. The appeal across multiple device platforms, Xbox One integration and a much lower price point before the holiday season could lead to very good sales for Microsoft. The idea of 2X the battery life I don’t think will help them that much as device owners will either accept having to charge their phones during the day if they are a power user, or getting to bedtime and plugging their device up. Battery life is great but I don’t think it will help Microsoft here against Apple.
Microsoft seems to have an opportunity with what should be a quality product first to market with more attractive pricing. Even with the Xbox One integration I just don’t see the Microsoft Watch matching or even exceeding the Apple Watch. These products are discretionary and even though a lot of Apple owners are forced to use Windows PC’s, I don’t think they will jump ship for a Microsoft Watch when they are using Apple iPhones and iPads. That is a huge demand to market against and leaves Microsoft to work against Samsung and other Android Smart Watch manufactures which will most likely have a UI and integration into their own devices already existing on Android with smart phones and tablets.
Like the Windows Phone which is a highly reviewed device with a much more intuitive user interface, I just see the Microsoft Smart Watch getting lumped into the same category as the other devices Microsoft makes. I just don’t think Microsoft is there yet with a platform that appeals to “Post PC” consumer and I think it is this consumer that will drive the smart watch category sales and opt towards Apple Watch or Android smart watch.