When it comes to the smart watch market, there are myriad of players out there: Those include Metawatch, Pebble, Basis, Sony, Cookoo, to name of few. The biggest problems I have with most of those smart watches is that they lag in terms of features or functionality, and or elegant design. As a product manager, if I were to build a smart watch, these would be my recommendations:
1. The “hybrid” (smart watch/fitness oriented bracelet) approach:
Nowadays, there seems to be a clear distinction between smart watches such as Metawatch or Pebble and fitness oriented bracelets. Most smart watches allow users to surf the web, check their emails, incoming SMS, missed calls, get their GPS location, or even make phone calls. Fitness oriented bracelets like the Nike Fuelband or Jawbone Up, allow users to track steps, activities, calories, or even the quality of their sleep.
So here is my question: Why can’t users have the best of both world? A watch which would provide all those features available on both smart watches and fitness oriented bracelets. As a user, I don’t think it makes sense to buy both a smart watch and a fitness oriented bracelet, especially from an economic standpoint. This is why I believe the hybrid approach is set to prevail over time.
2. Flexible display:
This is an obvious one. Companies like Apple are rumored to be working on an iWatch, which could possibly be using Corning’s Willow glass technology (see video below), a flexible display technology. Of course the challenge here would be regarding components. However, this could be achieved through the use of soft components (e.g. soft sensors, flexible batteries, etc.).
In fact, Japanese company FLCB already developed a flexible battery (see video below) which can be used on wearable computing devices like smart watches.
3. Battery life: focus on solar and/or kinetic energy:
Several watches use kinetic energy, in other words they can recharge themselves using the energy of motion, which is being converted into electrical energy. To me, this would be perfectly tailored to hybrid smart watches/fitness oriented bracelets as it could leverage the energy of motion from active users as they exercise, or simply wear the watch throughout the day.
Another option would be to use technologies using solar energy. Corning’s Willow glass technology can actually be used to create flexible solar panels. I could see this kind of technology being used on connected watches over time. Another potential alternative would be to use the technology invented by MIT researchers which consists in inserting small solar panels into an LED screen, which would be able to capture the heat off the screen in order to recharge any kind of mobile devices. This could be implemented on a smart watch in order to recharge the device.
3. Gamification: Build an appealing mobile loyalty reward platform:
My ideal smart watch would also allows users to get rewarded for achieving goals or participating in challenges. TheAmiigo bracelet is the perfect example of this. Personally I am a big believer in gamification and strongly believe that mobile loyalty rewards on a smart watch will be a key success factor. I also think that it is equally important to reward users with health related promotions. For instance, a smart watch vendor could forge partnerships with organic stores like Wholefoods so that users can receive coupons or promotions on select items while doing their groceries at Wholefoods.
4. Personalized recommendations: AI + smart algorithms:
In my opinion, a key element of the smart watch experience should be the ability for the device to provide personalized recommendations such as the type of workouts the users should be doing in order to increase performance. Once again, the Amiigo bracelet is the perfect example of this as it uses smart algorithms and is capable of learning and analyzing the user’s activity, and comparing such data with friends or even professional althetes.
In addition, using an artificial solution (AI) similar to Google Now capable of providing a more interactive experience, learning about users’ behaviors in order to provide timely recommendations to the smart watch users will be critical to provide the best experience possible. By doing so, the smart watch could say things such as “You only burned 200 calories today, you need to burn another 300 calories in order to active your goal and earn 1000 loyalty reward points“.
5. Elegant design:
At the end of the day, a smart watch needs to be elegant. Most smart watches today are fairly bulky and fall short in comparison to luxurious watches. One time, Metawatch CEO mentioned to me that most OEMs don’t have the expertise to make an elegant smart watch:
Making a smart watch is a very different process than making a smartphone or tablet, it is like making a piece of jewelry. Most OEMs forget that they don’t have the expertise required to build a smart watch. – Metawatch CEO.
This is likely the reason why Apple recently hired Yves Saint laurent CEO as Apple is all about the high end and creating elegant devices. They likely see the iWatch as a piece of jewelry as well. Let’s hope that most OEMs see it the same way…
In the past 12 months, ever since Google unveiled its Google glasses in great fanfare, there has been many rumors of major companies working on connected glasses projects. Those include rumored companies like Sony, Samsung, Microsoft..to name a few. Big box retailers such as Target or WalMart are also eyeing the wearable computing space. In this post, I will give my thoughts on the ideal connected glasses for online or box box retailers such as Target, Best Buy, WalMart, or even Amazon.
But first, why would it make sense for retailers to get into the wearable computing space?
In my opinion, it would make sense for retailers to make inroads into the connected glasses space for several reasons:
The wearable computing space is gaining momentum: Wearable computing is not a new space. In fact, in the past 10 years, the market has seen the emergence of many prototypes anywhere from connected glasses coming out of prestigious universities like MIT, but in the past few months, following the launch of Google glasses, the wearable computing space has seen the emergence of a myriad of new players, from small players (e.g., Pebble, Basis, Misfit, Amiigo, Kopin/Golden-i, Recon Instruments, etc.) to major companies (e.g., LG, Samsung, Adidas, Nike) releasing their first products in the market (e.g. Connected glasses, watches, fitness oriented bracelets, etc..).
Big box retailers like Best Buy or Target under significant threats from online retailers: Big Box retailers like Best Buy or Target have been under significant threats from fast growing online retailers like Amazon in the past couple of years. This has forced them to adapt their business models. For instance, Buy Best recently introduced a new price-match policy in order to better compete against the Amazon of the world. In my opinion, if Amazon ends up making some connected glasses, it would have the potential to become the ultimate shopping device at POS, but most importantly it could become a serious threat for retailers like Best Buy or Target. I will get into that in greater details as I go through my concept of connected glasses for retailers in the upcoming sections.
Competition in the e-commerce, big box retailers space eyeing the wearable computing space: Based on my observations, Amazon’s competitors like eBay/PayPal, WalMart, Target, to name a few, are all working on wearable computing projects. For instance, Target opened up an innovation center in downtown San Francisco where they are currently working on wearable computing projects. That makes sense as those companies have already invested heavily in the mobile space, have a large installed base, and are already generating significant revenue through their mobile platform (e.g., WalMart has 140M weekly visitors in the U.S., PayPal processed $14 billion in mobile payment volume in 2012 – more than 3 times the mobile payment volume of $4 billion that it processed in 2011). Those companies likely recognize the enormous potential for wearable computing in the retail space as it could help improve the shopping experience and increase their top line.
So what would be the core capabilities of the connected glasses for retailers?
The ultimate shopping experience in store:
One time, I had a long discussion with the head of R&D of a major OEM regarding the concept of potential connected glasses. The bottom line of the discussion was: “If we are going to invest $200M in creating connected glasses, the experience and apps need to be unique to connected glasses“. In other words, there is no point in creating connected glasses if the apps or use cases for those connected glasses already exist for smartphones or tablets. This is why connected glasses need to be about enabling unique use cases which would be perfectly tailored to connected glasses.
Let’s take the case of Amazon. In my opinion, Amazon would be particularly well positioned in the connected glasses space. One of the key strengths of Amazon are (1) Amazon’s best in class mobile shopping experience and (2) the fact that Amazon has 140M credit card of file. In my opinion, this is a key advantage in order to build shopping oriented connected glasses as:
13% of mobile customers likely to buy is credit card already on file (Source: Retrevo, 2012)
I expect to see a similar phenomenon in the connected glasses space. In other words, when it comes to shopping oriented connected glasses, users will be more likely to buy goods via connected glasses if their credit card is already on file. So how would the connected glasses for retailers work?
Scan – search – shop – buy: This would be particularly handy for Amazon. Basically, Amazon’s connected glasses would allow users to scan and recognize objects at a store. Then the system will search for a similar item on Amazon.com in order to give users a price comparison. Then the user will have the option to buy the item directly through amazon.com via voice command.
Note: Amazon already developed a price check app with similar capabilities allowing people to scan items and buy things online via amazon.com directly from a mobile device. However, such app recognize bar codes, not object per say, so such app would have to be tweaked in order to be embedded into the glasses so that the glasses can not only recognize bar codes but also objects.
Here is an example (see video below) of some connected glasses using object recognition technology, manufactured by an Israeli startup. The glasses were originally created for people with impaired vision. In my opinion, although there is no price matching mechanism involved, this is something that any retailers (e.g. Best Buy, Target, Amazon, Walmart, etc.) could learn from.
2. The ultimate entertainment viewing experience:
In order to build connected glasses, retailers such as Amazon and WalMart could also leverage their video store: WalMart’s Vudu and Amazon Instant video store. Connected glasses could bring the Amazon’s Instant video or Vudu experience to the next level. In the case of Amazon, the connected glasses would allow Amazon users to watch Amazon Instant videos through the glasses. Of note, like with the Amazon tablets, Amazon prime customers purchasing the glasses would be able to have free unlimited access to Amazon Instant videos via the connected glasses. Free shipping would also be part of the deal for Amazon prime customers.
Here are some video glasses, manufactured by israeli startup Lumus: Basically, through those glasses, using an ultra-thin Light-guide Optical Element (LOE) lens with twin micro-displays hidden in the temple of the eyeglasses, video content from any mobile devices (e.g., smartphone, tablet) can be projected into the side of the LOE. It feels like watching a movie on a 6–inch screen from a distance of 10 feet away. Again, this is the type of technology that could be used on the Amazon glasses.
3. Other key features:
The connected glasses for retailers could be embedded with other key features such as:
Mobile loyalty reward program (Gamification): As a user buys items through the glasses, he/shewould be able to earn, accumulate and redeem points to be able to buy physical items (e.g. Physical goods or content via Amazon.com) through the glasses.
Location aware virtual coupons at POS (e.g., Best Buy, Target, etc.):As a user walks through the aisles of Best Buy or Target, he/she would be able to redeem location aware virtual coupons in order to get access to timely promotions. Such approach could potentially generate significant revenues over time for retailers as brands and advertisers would essentially buy specific locations inside the store in order to promote their goods. Granted, providing indoor location can sometimes be tricky, but retailers could partner with companies like WiseSec, Movea, Wifarer,WiFiSLAM (recently acquired by Apple for alledgedly $20M) or NextNav, to name a few. Of note, several methods can be used to get an accurate indoor location. It can be done by triangulating wifi access points inside a store, in the case of WiFiSLAM, or using signals from a variety of sources such as accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, pressure sensor, Wi-Fi, GPS, and matching against known map, in the case of Movea.
Other key features: The glasses would also allow users to to ask questions (what time is it? when is my next appointment? etc.) via a Google Now type solutions. Like with the Google glasses, those glasses would also provide basic features such as photo/video capture, turn-by-turn direction, or the ability to check emails, text messages, etc.
4. The app ecosystem for connected glasses set to be key success factor:
I strongly believe that the winners in the connected glasses will be companies capable of developing a strong and appealing app ecosystem. In other words, hardware will become a commodity, just like in the smartphone and tablet space today. Amazon would be particularly well positioned to develop a strong app ecosystem for some connected glasses as several reports already suggest that developers are investing more and more on Amazon apps:
50% of Amazon apps don’t appear in Android Market, suggesting that devs are bypassing Google Play (Source: ComScore, January 2012)
This is why I would expect to see a similar trends for connected glasses with developers creating specific apps for companies like Amazon, which has built an appealing app ecosystem for developers for its other consumer electronic devices like tablets.
So how much would the ideal connected glasses for retailers cost?
If I had to guess the ideal retail price of such connected glasses for retailers, it would have to be around the same price of a high smartphone ($200-300). While the Google glasses are rumored to be available for $500 retail, I would expect companies like Target, Walmart, Best Buy or Target to be very aggressive on price. Obviously, Amazon would be particularly well positioned here and adopt a model already used for its tablets which consists in offsetting a potential loss on the hardware by selling tons of items via the glasses.
Bottom line: In my view, it is only a matter of time before major retailers like Best buy, Target, and Walmart get into the wearable computing space. Building some connected glasses would make the most sense as it would enable them to bring their mobile shopping experience to the next level, grow their top line, reinforce their hardware ecosystem and address potential upcoming competition from online retailers like Amazon.
Some of the biggest issues or complaints regarding wearable computing devices like the Google glasses include privacy issues, the design of the device itself, the lack of appealing apps, and the retail price of the device. While I expect the price of the Google Glasses to come down to $200-300 over time and the app ecosystem to grow, redesigning the Google glasses so that it looks less like a gadget and more lore like real glasses, is set to be the biggest challenge for Google. There are already several concepts of more “elegant” Google glasses . One of my favorites concepts is the one made by Sourcebits who came up with a thinner and more elegant version of the Google glasses.
You can see the various screenshots of the concept below:
Screenshot 2: Memory storage
Screenshot 3: Battery storage
Screenshot 4: sideway
Screenshot 5: camera and glass prism
Bottom line: At the end of the day, wearable computing devices like the google glasses need to become more elegant and less geeky. This is why I expect Google to hire designers from well-known sunglasses makers (e.g. Ray Ban, Oakley, Gucci, etc.) or simply partner with those same leading manufacturers. With that in mind, I expect the Google glasses to be available in different sizes, design and at different price points.
In addition, I don’t believe that it is in the best interest for Google to continue to manufacture its own hardware for the Google glasses over time. Like with the smartphone and tablet market, the success of the Google in the connected glasses space will highly depend on the company’s ability to forge multiple hardware deals for its connected glasses platform. With already 7 Million google glasses expected to be sold next year, the sky is the limit for Google as it starts forging deals with multiple glasses vendors.
Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to advise several wearable computing startups on their strategy to build attractive and highly differentiated products. That gave me the opportunity to reflect on what it takes to build a successful wearable computing device. Here are 15 tips on how to create a best-in-class wearable computing device:
1. Make it elegant, fashionable, transformable, and waterproof. I would start by saying what the CEO of MetaWatch told me one time: Don’t forget that wearable computing devices like connected glasses or smart watches should be a piece of jewlery. The only difference between those devices and traditional piece of jewelry is that they are smart and connected. This is where I think some wearable computing devices fall short as they are not elegant and fashionable. But this is where companies like Misfit, which built a highly elegant and transformable device called the Shine which monitor users’ heart rate, steps, etc..and can be used as a neckless, bracelet, or earing, is spot on. Unlike jewelries, wearable computing devices have electronic components that can be damaged by water. This is why creating wearable computing devices that are waterproof is critical. By doing so, it will also improve the durability of your device. Lastly, to make your device waterproof, you might want to work with companies like HzO, which specializes in waterblock technology.
2. Make it smart, contextual, and customizable: In my opinion, this is where many wearable computing devices like smart watches are lagging. There are many smart watches or bracelets that are not very “smart”. Yes those types of devices can track things like calories, steps, heart rate, but they are not “analyzing” and providing contextual customizable recommendations to the users, and leveraging contextual artificial intelligence technologies and/or smart algorithms capable of providing a more interactive experience, learning about users’ behaviors in order to provide timely recommendations to the user. The Amiigo bracelet is the perfect example of this as it uses smart algorithms and is capable of learning and analyzing the user’s activity, and comparing such data with friends or even professional althetes in order to provide personalized recommendations such as the type of workouts the users should be doing in order to increase performance. So using analytics and smart algorithms as well as contextual AI is critical to make your wearable computing devices truly smart, contextual and customizable. Working with an AI startup like ExB or even Google (Google Now) is critical here.
3. Focus on ease of use and the user experience: This is an obvious one but based on my experience, many wearable computing devices out there are not easy to use as they require too many steps. For instance, I have been using the Fitbit One wireless activity tracker for several weeks. I had to connect the device via USB cable to sync the data to my laptop and recharge the device. In addition, I had to input my meals every day, which was quite painful. As a user this is not the kind of experience that I want. So if you are building a wearable computing device, cut the cord, use a wireless charger, voice activated type solutions allowing users to input data, and make the experience very intuitive for the user with fewer steps as possible. If the user experience is too painful, your user will not stick around and switch to competing devices with a seamless and superior user experience.
4. Focus on the key features that matter first, but have a solid product roadmap. Too many startups make the mistake of launching products that have too many features. So focus on the top 5 features that you need to have for the first iteration of your wearable computing device. This will make you save a lot of time and will simplify the user experience. One thing I have learned working for a major OEM is that you can always include additional features as part of your future feature roadmap, especially if those features are more complex and difficult to implement. Use the time to get it right and launch it during phase 2 or phase 3 of your roadmap.
5. Focus on differentiation: Making sure that your product is highly differentiated from a hardware and software standpoint is critical. If you take the case of the smartphone or tablet market today, the vast majority of the devices out there have very little differentiation, which is why some vendors are competing on price, brand recognition, or distribution. Take the time to study the competition so that you can build a product, which will be highly differentiated and stand out from the competition. For instance, you could offer a wearable computing device, which has unique features such as a mobile loyalty reward program, an advanced contextual artificial intelligence solution that can scale across a myriad of devices and support a multitude of languages (>20 languages). Another way to differentiate could be to use a device that is using advanced algorithms leveraging things like location, Facebook likes/comments, advanced gyroscope and sensors. You could also differentiate the device by using wireless charging technologies, or a sleek and customizable UI. Another way to differentiate your offering could be by offering a buy-back program allowing your customers to exchange their existing device to earn credits when upgrading to the next version of your product. This would also improve the stickiness of your offering, which is critical to drive future sales.
6. Create a solid software platform that can scale to a myriad of wearable computing devices: Like in the smartphone or tablet market, I believe that hardware in the wearable computing space will become a commodity, and that software will be the differentiation factor and sticky point. This is why it will be critical for any wearable computing companies to build a solid software platform attractive for developers, with an open API policy, which can scale to a myriad of wearable computing devices – your existing product line or devices from various vendors – over time. That way, if hardware does become a commodity, you will be able to eventually license your software platform to a multitude of vendors. WearMD is the perfect example of this. This Californian startup, created a healthcare oriented platform for all the fitness oriented devices (Fitbit, Jawbone, etc..) out there. WearMD doctors can then provide critical information to patients’ primary care doctor and notify them if their body functions are not normal. At the end of the day, your software platform needs to be highly scalable, contextual, open and customizable.
7. Make it energy efficient and green: Make your device energy efficient by using renewable energy like solar and kinetic energy. Kinetic energy would be perfectly tailored to hybrid smart watches/fitness oriented bracelets or connected glasses as those devices could leverage the energy of motion from active users as they exercise, or simply wear the watch or glasses throughout the day. Also, build a device that is “green” certified by using biodegradable material. This would be another good way to differentiate your offering and attract pro-environmental customers.
8. Do not repurpose existing apps on smartphones or tablets for wearable computing devices. Create a unique experience/app for your wearable computing device: One time, I had a long discussion with the head of R&D of a major OEM regarding the concept of potential connected glasses. The bottom line of the discussion was: “If we are going to invest $200M in creating connected glasses, the experience and apps need to be unique to connected glasses“. In other words, there is no point in creating apps or use cases for a wearable computing device if those same apps already exist for smartphones or tablets. So create apps and use cases that can take full advantage of hardware sensors, accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscopes, proximity and brightness sensors and many others.
9. Focus on native apps, not html 5 apps: With native apps you can fully use all the hardware sensors installed on your wearable computing device, such as hardware sensors, accelerometer, magnetometer NFC, GPS, camera, proximity and brightness, skin temperature sensors and many others. Do not make the mistake of building an html5 app. That will save you a lot of time and trouble.
10. Make the experience engaging and fun for the end user through gamification: One of the best ways to make the experience engaging and fun for the end user is by using gamification or building a mobile loyalty rewards program. So build a loyalty program for your wearable computing device allowing users to get rewarded for achieving goals or participating in challenges while using the device. Once, again, I would use the Amiigo bracelet as a perfect example. Personally I am a big believer in gamification and strongly believe that mobile loyalty rewards on any wearable computing devices (e.g. smart watch, fitness-oriented bracelet, etc.) will be a key success factor. For instance, a smart watch vendor could forge partnerships with organic stores like Wholefoods so that users can receive coupons or promotions on select items while doing their groceries at Wholefoods. Tying the mobile loyalty rewards program to artificial intelligence is also important as it would make the experience more engaging. By doing so, a smart watch could say things such as “You only burned 200 calories today, you need to burn another 300 calories in order to active your goal and earn 1000 loyalty reward points“.
11. Find the right supplier and plan ahead. Many of the wearable computing startups out there are device startups. When building a wearable computing device, take the time to look for the right suppliers based on quality, cost, and availability. This will help you avoid supply chain and logistic issues. Also, when trying to raise money from a VC, come up with a solid business plan highlighting a detailed plan on how you plan to use the money, anywhere from the cost of applying for the patents, your expected salary, the cost of materials, labor, etc. That’s what VCs want to see.
12. Open up your API to developers and educate your developers on how to better monetize the app for your wearable computing device: Open up your API to developers so they can create innovative applications for your device. Help developers create and monetize apps, explain to them how they can use your SDK for your device, and be very clear on things like revenue share, and software upgrade. A company like Kopin, which powers the golden-I platform for the Motorola HC1 connected glasses, has done a good job educating its developers on how better monetizing the apps for its platform through frequent workshops. Ultimately, it will be critical for wearable computing vendors to build a strong and profitable app services ecosystem in order to attract developers.
13. Sell your device through a strong distribution platform and choose key strategic partners: First, identify where your targeted customers shop, and based on that partner with the appropriate channel partners (e.g. Best Buy, Apple retail, etc..). You might have a great product but if you don’t have a strong distribution, it will be difficult to generate significant revenues.
14. Hire designers and executives from the non-tech industry: Because wearable computing devices like smart watches or connected glasses are fashionable devices, it requires good designing skills. So focus on hiring designers from the non-tech industry. It will help you design wearable computing devices that are less geeky and it will help you stand out from the crowd. That’s the reason why Apple has hired executives from companies like YSL or Nike.
15. Don’t rush it..take your time to get it right. Right now there are a myriad of wearable computing startups out there, with very little differentiation, so don’t rush it. Take the time to think how you will differentiate your device from the competition and learn from your competitors’ mistakes. At the end of the day, it is not about being first, it is about getting it tight.