(Very) quick thoughts on wearables

It is clear that a big theme in technology this year will be so-called “wearables.” While the tech press is setting up a notional, direct, one-to-one competition between Apple and Google, we are starting to see signals that these companies are placing very different bets.

Google’s bet seems to use a wearable as a second screen, whether a watch or heads-up-display, as a means to encourage more frequent interaction with Google Now-type services. Today’s announcement supports this.
Sharing what’s up our sleeve: Android coming to wearables

Apple’s bet (there’s a lot of gossip and wishful thinking, but the signals are starting to become more consistent), seems to use the wearable as a means to gather information about the user and their interactions with the environment: activity (through the motion co-processor already in the iPhone 5s), and health metadata through as-yet unannounced physiological sensors. Yesterday’s rumor’s (which have been trickling in a while now) support this.
This is Healthbook, Apple’s major first step into health & fitness tracking

These bets make very different assumptions about what users value. They are also well aligned with the core business of the companies’ prior efforts:

  • Google is a services company and wants users to engage more frequently and deeply with their services
  • Apple is a devices company and wants to sell differentiated products that command a healthy margin and are not easily replicated by competitors

I am excited to see what both companies produce. Many people have sniffed at existing smart-watches. It is true that they are generally hideous, and that none do anything a smartphone couldn’t. But every time I open my phone to get a quick piece of information, I am usually distracted and drawn in by a different application.

Alternate form factors (like a watch) could provide focused, modal, at-a-glance information that is seen, absorbed, then gets you back to whatever you were doing before you checked.

Update: Motorola and LG have unveiled their first Android Wear models.

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