Google, Apple poised to square off in smart wearable devices
By Chantal Tode
July 11, 2013
Google Glass now enables Web browsing
The stamp of approval for wearable smart devices from Google and Apple means mass adoption could be in sight. While Google has the more revolutionary approach to smart wearable devices, Apple appears to be taking a more conservative route.
Google is taking Google Glass very seriously and is making regular updates to the device’s software, including recently enabling Web browsing for the first time. While an Apple wearable smart device has not been confirmed, developments such as the company trademarking the term iWatch and shoring up related patents suggest one could be imminent.
“It's clear that Apple is taking the smart device seriously,” said Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands, Chicago. “They realize people want to consume and share content differently other than just on their smartphones, but the company is taking a different route than Google.
“Apple's entry into the smart device market is more of a natural evolution from what it’s been doing with smartphones and the iPod, while Google's Glass is more of a revolutionary, disruptive entry into the smart device market.
“It used to be makers creating these devices in their garages for their friends. Those early prototypes proved the value and are forcing the corporate giants to begin perfecting the formula for mass adoption.”
Mr. Santoro is one of the first 4,000 people selected to participate in the Google Glass Explorer program.
The wearable smart device category is not new, but has been picking up steam rather quickly following the introduction of Google’s smart glasses earlier this year.
In addition to Apple, such devices are also reportedly in the works at Microsoft, Samsung and other companies.
The rapid development of the smartphone and tablet categories over the past few years have laid the ground work for even smaller, wearable smart devices.
The Pebble smart watch
However, it is still unclear how widespread the desire for such devices will be or exactly what the best use cases are.
This is why the industry is closely watching what Google and Apple do in this space, as both are already successful in the mobile space.
Apple is also known for taking still relatively new technology and putting its own design and user experience on it to create demand for a product. Coupled with the strength of the Apple brand and its iOS ecosystem, a smart watch from Apple could have a significant impact on the market.
Already, there has been demand for wrist devices such as Nike’s Fuelband and for smart watches such as Pebble.
The impact from a marketing perspective could be very different for each type of smart wearable device.
For example, a smart watch from Apple could be used for contactless payments while Google Glass may be best suited for enhanced content experiences.
“Smart watches are overhyped but if Apple launches one, they'll create demand as they have for other form factors,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.
“Glasses and watches are both ‘glanceable displays’ but watches could be better suited for proximity payments and glasses could be better suited for augmented reality experiences,” she said.
The watch advantage
A smart watch may have several advantages over smart eyeglasses.
Smart watches are generally easier to use and have an interface that is more familiar to users, as they are essentially an extension of smartphone technology.
Smart watches are also more traditional, less disruptive and less noticeable.
There also may not be as many security concerns with a smart watch as opposed to a device that is in front of users’ eyes all the time. With a smart watch, users can look down at their watch for information when they want.
On the other hand, the always-on aspect of Google Glass provides it with more potential to deliver contextually-aware information such as weather or about products that a user is looking at.
Other advantages of Google Glass include that it is hands-free and allows users to have a range of vision. The fact that users do not have to touch anything to use it makes it easier to use while they are on the go.
The relative success of each is likely to come down to which brings the greatest value in terms of impacting how users interact with the world.
“In the end, all that matters is that you have to build a watch or glass or wearable technology that is an incredible product which transcends how we do things today,” said said Dipesh Mukerji, senior director of product strategy and marketing at Kony Inc., Orlando, FL. “ If you are able to do that, the cons will ultimately get ironed out,”
Another advantage of Google Glass is its ability to take advantage of Google’s strength in cloud computing.
However, it may be too early to say whether wearable eyeglasses will ultimately be the best way for users to access these services.
“I see Google's advantage in smart devices coming not from Glass but from Android and Google's unbeatable advantage in the cloud,” said Bob Goodman, senior vice president and director of user experience at Arnold Worldwide, Boston.
“Today Glass is an innovation showcase built on top of these capabilities,” he said. “But in the category of wearable devices, Glass seems too socially disruptive to carve out a mainstream Google-advantage.
“It's intimate for the wearer but it still may be offputting to those around you.”
Google has the jumpstart over Apple as its device is already in the market, and it is seeing how it is being used.
The last update includes the ability to browse a Web site and improved voice search capabilities.
But for now it is still early days, with developers not likely to jump on board in a big way until Google Glass or whatever else is out there proves a user case.
Ultimately, it could come down to fashion: are consumers more likely to want to make a statement with a high-tech watch or via eyeglasses?
“This is about real estate on your body,” Mr. Goodman said. “Even though many people don't wear watches these days, the wrist is much more discrete place than in front of your eyes.
“Smart glasses make a different statement,” he said. “To me, Glass goes beyond the smart device category into body-augmentation - it's saying my nervous system is interconnected with technology, and I'm not afraid for the world to know it.
“But I bet that where we stand today, not many people want to make that statement. Will people make the statement that they're willing to wear a stylish device on their wrist? That's a proven use case.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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