“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844 – 1900
Many smartwatches (a mobile computerized device with a small display, designed to be worn on the wrist) have been launched over the last 16 years. Yes, 16 years. The first smartwatch was actually launched by Samsung in 1999. But only recently, due to advances in processing power, miniaturization and decreasing prices of gadget components, smartwatches started to make real inroads into the consumer electronics market. I myself, like many other people, although relying more and more on a smartphone for business and daily chores, never thought of buying a smartwatch. I always thought it would be kind of cheesy and just another mini gadget replicating what my smartphone already does with a much bigger screen.
The aversion to start wearing something on your wrist that traditionally is drawn from your pocket or your handbag is not new. The first wristwatch was invented by Jacquet-Droz and Leschot in 1790, in Geneva, but it was not until Adrien Phillipe submitted his 1842 invention of the stem-winding mechanism to Patek, in 1844, that a practical wristwatch became feasible. But, in those days, people wouldn’t swap their pocket watches for those small wristwatches. In most countries, notably the US, a wristwatch was perceived as being effeminate for a man. It was only during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902, in South Africa, that the wristwatch became firstly used as a practical timepiece for field operational purposes. The practicality of its use on the wrist was confirmed in military terms and it started to gradually convince watch buyers of its advantage over the pocket watch. Later on, the operational logistics of the First World War ensued the generalized use of wristwatches by the military, confirming the relevance of having a small and practical timepiece on the wrist. Nevertheless, the US continued to be a resistant market for civilian consumers. It was not until the 1920’s that Americans started to embrace what was already generalized in Europe – the widespread use of the wristwatch (a trend that led ultimately to the success of the European watchmakers upon their American competitors).
So, with hindsight, nowadays generalized perceived reluctance to smartwatches may have some parallels with the dragged evolution from pocket watches to wristwatches. Evolution (and consequent changes overtime in tastes and lifestyles) is a gradual process. But sometimes an event such as the Anglo-Boer War may speed things up and generate a quick positive technological impact, in this case the advancement of the wristwatch. The same can probably be said of the launching of the Apple Watch. Even if the Apple Watch is not much different from its competitors, the simple fact that the Apple Watch is part of a wide range of successful products from an innovative behemoth that sets technological trends makes it a sound bet and a quasi guaranteed bellwether. Indeed, Apple has been able to consolidate its image as a company that changes the way people work and live. Nobody gave full credit to the late Steve Jobs when he first presented the iPad back in 2010. The same sort of skepticism surrounded the presentation of the Apple Watch by Tim Cook in September last year. Anyway, the overall huge success of previous Apple products appears to be a good omen for the Apple Watch and similar wearable devices. But is the Apple Watch an evident market success as previous Apple gadgets? Apple has not yet released sales numbers. Above Avalon (a market watch consultant) estimates that between the 24th of April (store release date in the first 9 countries) and the end of June this year, Apple shipped 2,6 million smartwatches. Above Avalon foresees that Apple will sell 11 million smartwatches in 2015, 20 million in 2016, 30 million in 2017 and 40 million in 2018. International Data Corporation – IDC, (another consultancy firm) puts Apple Watch sales at even higher numbers for 2015, at 13,9 million and 40 million for 2019. IDC’s report estimates that with sales of 13.9 million, Apple will secure 58.3% share of the global smartwatch market in 2015. However, if Apple will ship 40 million in 2019, its market share will probably drop to 47.4% share, according to the same report. Competition between Apple, Android and other types of smartwatches will accelerate in the years ahead.
Provided that Apple’s bets and visions have been an inspiration and a quasi sure path, the question to address is: should you buy a smartwatch? Will a smartwatch make your life easier? Will it change the way you work? Will it boost your productivity?
Well, the Apple Watch, first of all, tells you the time, like all other smartwatches. So it starts by simply being a wristwatch. Then it comes, very much as its competitors in the market, with a number of different functions. It delivers smartphone notifications, fitness apps, calls, and other features to your wrist, allowing you to leave your phone in your pocket/handbag without missing alerts. Just for the Apple Watch there are now over 10,000 compatible apps available (and counting). For Android smartwatches there are over 4.000 (according to weareable.com). You have therefore plenty of options for fitness, health, social media, weather, sound recording, games, news, tourism, music, translation, personal planning, etc. Provided that you have all that plethora of features already in your smartphone, the recurring question comes up again: why would you need another gizmo to apparently do much of the same? Well, I have done a cross-check on a number of recent smartwatches reviews published in major websites and magazines and I have found the following:
1. People check their smartphones in average 150 times per day for notifications (emails, WhatsApp, Tweets, etc.). Looking at the smartwatch for the same purpose is a lot more convenient and discreet. Smartwatch users say that in business meetings and similar events peering at the smartwatch is almost inoffensive compared to be looking at the smartphone. It is also a lot more practical because you don’t need your hands to access information on your smartwatch (except to activate it, though you can also do it by voice). This is particularly advantageous in many real life situations, such as in field service and medical care, where freeing up the user’s hands is paramount to the job;
2. The smartwatch feels a lot more personal than a smartphone simply because you wear it. There is thus a rather different sense of ownership and privacy between the two devices and the former blows away the latter as a fashion accessory. Apple Watch, for starters, is the first smartwatch selling not just in steel but also in 18-karat gold.
3. Because it’s attached to your body, health and fitness features in a smartwatch can go way beyond the limitations imposed by the detachment of the smartphone; this may revolutionize health and fitness therapies for the general population. While the monitoring of movement and heart rate has become almost common in the latest smartwatches, additional variables such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, nutrition, temperature and an array of other parameters will be introduced in the years to come. Based on much more data points, therapies will become increasingly proactive and tailored to each individual. Improved health monitoring and therapies will advance your physical and intellectual abilities which will consequently improve your way of life and will ultimately boost your job performance;
4. Wellness in the workplace is another field which looks promising for organisations resorting to smartwatches. This is also related to the previous paragraph. Smartwatches embedded sensors can monitor fatigue and many other body symptoms. Sensors can also, due to improved analytical algorithms, gauge emotional, nutritional and biometrical changes of an individual which give a dynamic picture of his condition. Companies and individuals can tap into that type of data to buttress tailor-made wellness strategies.
5. Forward-thinking companies are increasingly eyeing smartwatches to boost productivity. Smartwatches can improve communication and collaboration amongst team workers. Because smartwatches are always on the wrist they produce a much higher sense of connectivity compared to smartphones (you can leave your smartphone at home, in the car, in the restaurant or elsewhere, but certainly not the device attached to your wrist). Smartwatches embedded sensors can analyze location, motion and time that are involved in executing a worker’s task. This is opening up new avenues for precision management in a number of fields, such as inventory management and field service management. The fact that smartwatches allow real-time and hands-free access to notifications and data is leading to an increased development of software for dynamic instructions and guides for field service or related activities. Smartwatches are perfect for ease of access, mobility and streamlined reporting. They are also perfect for hands-free electronic payments and security purposes (such as access identification).
The increasing number of features smartwatches can offer are being taped by a growing number of software companies looking at the business side of wearable devices. One such company is, for instance, Salesforce which has been working on the Apple Watch from the very beginning, particularly for business purposes. Salesforce launched, in August 2015, twenty new enterprise-targeted Apple Watch apps. These are applications that focus on a wide number of operational business needs, from looking at customer profiles for upcoming sales meetings, to keeping track of project tasks amongst a team to providing logistics information and instructions for workers in the field. At the end, the goal is to taylorize an expanding number of tasks to gain efficiency, save time and increase productivity. In order to do so, companies also need increased performance from its human resources. The ability to track down, through embedded sensors, biometrics of people, make smartwatches formidable tools to gauge physical/intellectual performance of workers. Predictive and prescriptive analytics of biometric data collected by sensors will not only warn to health/accident risks but will advance as well the promotion of healthy lifestyles at work and the general wellness of employees. Altogether, smartwatches may be on the verge of becoming a potent mix of health monitoring/prescriptive tools and general management performance boosters.
Small wonder therefore that a growing number of major high-tech companies are now jumping on the smartwatch bandwagon to become more competitive. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella in his speech at the Dreamforce 2015 Conference, in San Francisco, in September 2015, referred to wearable devices, such as the smartwatch, as the next “paradigm shift” in computing. Wearables, in particular smartwatches, seem to be poised to change the way we live and work. According to a study by Rackspace, “The Human Cloud at Work” (April 2014), employees wearing wearables at work became 8.5 percent more productive and 3.5 percent more satisfied with their jobs. This is a study that dates from April 2014. The age of wearables is still in its infancy but it’s moving quickly. Maybe this should be the right time for you to join it.
Manuel Gomes Samuel, October 2015