Wednesday, 14 November 2012

2013's trends #1: wearables

As the end of the year approaches, many of my clients and Deloitte clients are thinking about what 2013 holds for the markets in which they operate. Predictions is something my colleague Paul Lee and his team do really well, so I won’t replicate their thinking. Instead, over the next month I’ll write down a few trends that I think will either gather or emerge in 2013. First up, wearable computing.

What they are: Internet connected devices that are worn in place or instead of or in addition to conventional jewellery. Emerging categories include smart watches, personal health monitors, life blogging photo recorders and heads up displays.

My prediction: each of the above products will be million unit+ per year categories in 2014, which means that they should be hundred-thousand unit categories in 2013. One or more of them will hit iPad 2 levels of distribution (10’s of millions) in 2015.

Why I think this: smartphones are to mobile computing what laptops are to desktop – they’re a utility device that can do everything but few things optimally. If I want to see a route to the nearest shop, glance at a news story or see how active I’ve been, doing so on a smartphone means getting it out, loading an app and so on. Not to mention holding a big block of plastic in front of my face. That’s why tablets are successful – they do browsing and video consumption really well, but aren’t quite as portable. They're used for consuming content (of all kinds) in stationary moments.

Wearables fill in this gap by persistently doing something in the background (Taking photos, measuring heart rate, steps, location) or by providing rich information at a glance (directions, messages, location). Wearables have been around for a while, but historically have been impossible to make slick and cost effective. Now that smart devices are a billion unit category, all the ingredients of wearables – small, fast processors, interfaces, batteries, DRAM – are now super cheap and relatively easy to integrate. Furthermore, there is a global tech-buying market that are willing to experiment with new tech providing the price isn’t excessive.

Smart watches are currently the best developed category. I’ve knocked together a little chart to show how pricing of these devices has collapsed in the last 4 years.

A quick look on Google price checker shows that dozens of devices are available around $100 and some are as low as $60 making them incidental purchases for the tech-mad and the gift idea short.

Implications: the smartphone seems likely to have a shorter time in the limelight than the PC did. It, like its predecessor will be replaced less frequently and used as a general purpose communicator. Over the next decade, consumers will own more and more specialised connected devices and segment their connected lifestyles to match. Anyone wanting to create a lasting mobile experience for consumers should bear this in mind when setting out long term strategy. Over-focus on applications is a dangerous strategy in a dynamic marketplace.

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