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Giving the smartwatch a head start on success

Aside from the hype, will wearables gain mass market acceptance and become the next blockbuster technology category? Here are some specific ways the smartwatch can get a head start.

1. It is always by your side

You don’t need to take it out of your pocket or even hold it in your hand; it is right there on your wrist meaning that checking messages, placing calls, catching scores, checking into locations, and even “liking” a post on Facebook can all be accomplished more rapidly. These devices also have the potential to offer a fusion of benefits; for instance, when linked to a smart home, it provides the convenience and reassurance of checking your security system with a simple turn of the wrist.

2. It knows you better

Because smartwatches are wearable, they have the potential to capture certain types of information about us that no other device can. This opens up significant opportunity for digital health applications, because a wearable device captures biometric data and vital signs with greater speed and accuracy than a smartphone.

Consumers are also very open to the prospect of using wearables for health management. According to our research, one-half of US consumers are very interested in wearables that offer health information storage. Smartwatches and other wearables can help consumers overcome one of the top challenges in getting healthy and staying healthy: ensuring that patients stick to a prescribed routine, a.k.a., compliance. Thanks to its presence on the wrist, the smartwatch serves as a constant reminder for consumers to stick with their routines.

3. It can be your mobile hub

Capabilities enabled by Internet of Things, such as controlling connected cars and smart home products and services, capture consumers’ imagination, with nearly one-half of the 5,000 consumers in our survey expressing strong interest in each. How do we channel this enthusiasm and turn what could be just another gadget into a device that delivers truly unique experiences?

Let us consider the smart home. Smartwatches may be capable of collecting and storing data about the user’s location, daily routines, entertainment preferences, health condition, and even mood. Imagine the convenience and health benefits of the smartwatch interacting with a variety of connected devices around your home, including appliances, heating and air conditioning, lighting, door locks, windows, and security systems.

Is that “old school” shopping list just not keeping up with your busy life? With your smartwatch, you can have a look in the fridge and see if you need more OJ…while you are at the store!

Feeling glum? In the future, with the help of facial recognition and skin stimulation detection technologies, your smartwatch may know you are blue and can put on the right sound track, adjust the lighting, and open up the windows to create that perfect environment to lift your spirits. Now that is a fusion of benefits!

4. It has fashion appeal!

Watches are a lucrative industry, generating US$60 billion dollars in 2013 with profits of about 60%. Fashion and status are key drivers of these attractive financial results, and will be important for marketers to pay attention to when developing the smartwatch category.

Remember those old plastic calculator watches? Clearly, functionality alone is not going to create the next blockbuster industry! Many consumers wear watches to look good, make a statement, and fit with the way they are dressed. These motivations open up the opportunity for flexible, interchangeable bands – for example, plastic for running, and metallic or leather for going out. Although research shows that consumers look to technology manufacturers to lead the smartwatch industry, partnerships with fashion designers can really super-charge the opportunity for profitable sales. While the potential as a fashion item is significant, consumers’ focus on price suggests that manufacturers may need to offer multiple tiers of within a product line from basic to premium.

Get the user experience right

Consumers also express interest in using wearables to control a wide range of entertainment devices, from TVs to sound systems to game consoles. Manufacturers will need to think about the potential user experience challenges when designing functionality for this small screen device. Simply building out full on-screen guides may not be possible; rather, identifying those “in-the moment” capabilities that can enhance consumers’ experiences will enable smartwatches to uniquely deliver value within the entertainment ecosystem.

Controlling the smartwatch is a critical aspect of user experience that could make or break the success of the product. Our research indicates that the majority of consumers (64%) prefer a touch screen over voice control (26%) or buttons (9%) to navigate a smartwatch. However, Baby Boomers (34%) are more likely than Millennials (22%) to prefer voice control. As smartwatch functionality grows and evolves, it will be important to pay close attention to designing a positive experience for navigating the device.

Thinking beyond the traditional touch and voice controls, utilizing context-aware technology that learns your preferences from past behaviors can make the watch easier to use and more valuable to consumers. Google Now’s ability to “learn” users’ surroundings, habits, and preferences is a good example of this technology in action. Additionally, the wearable aspect of the smartwatch may include motion sensors that further enhance the wearer’s convenience and wellness; for example, the watch may detect the rapid movements of the wearer who’s in a hurry and offer various functions that maximize efficiency and minimize stress.

A wide world of potential

The smartwatch has limitless potential, but the first challenge will be to raise awareness of the unique value these devices provide. For example, activity tracking (29%) was the leading function consumers consider when purchasing a smartwatch, cited more than twice as often as answering phone calls (13%), basic apps (10%), and sending short messages (6%).

In summary, when developing new generations of smartwatches, those that win will design experiences that deliver on a fusion of consumer benefits that uniquely leverage the miniature, wearable, personal and portable properties that could not easily be delivered with other devices.

Rob Barrish is SVP, GfK Technology; contact him at rob.barrish@gfk.com.

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