Why I'm Bullish About Smartwatches

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 24, 2015

Now having spent four months with my Apple Watch, I am unexpectedly making room for this smaller screen in my life. My position of acceptance and appreciation goes against the grain of many more cynics who erupted shortly following the Apple Watch’s debut. Even as reports speculate that Apple Watch sales have plateaued, my stance remains firm that the future is bright for smartwatches -- and that is good for marketers

A recurring critique that I contest is that the watch doesn’t serve any purpose that the iPhone doesn’t already fulfill in a bigger and better way. Of course, it is in fact a watch. A smartwatch trumps the utility of smartphones in certain aspects because, unlike any other screen-based experience, the watch is affixed in a single place -- your wrist. There’s no need to hold it. It doesn’t get left somewhere or get tucked in your pocket. For the first time in history, a sizable portion of the U.S. population is strapping screens directly onto their bodies. The constant close proximity of the device enables a consumer to truly embrace being "always connected" (except in the shower or pool, of course).

With this development, inherently, all user interactions, notifications and content consumption should be abbreviated by comparison to tablet or smartphone experiences -- the same way smartphones abbreviated the desktop/laptop experience. Smartwatches’ unique value will be attached to the brevity with which they can share timely messaging customized to the likes and needs of users. Brevity is what developers should have in mind as they flood mobile app stores with new smartwatch apps seemingly every day. Many of my favorite iPhone apps have companion watch apps. From Starbucks to American Airlines to Uber, all have found another home on my wrist.

Admittedly, many smartwatch app experiences are not vastly different in purpose from the smartphone experience. However, there is an inherent strength in the linkage between these two devices. For brands and marketers with pre-existing mobile apps, translating what already exists to an even smaller screen will help them better understand how loyal consumers are interacting differently with these watches compared to other mobile devices. As a frequent user of the American Airlines app, I identified my Apple Watch as the fastest and easiest way to scan my ticket before boarding. As a burrito fan, I use the Chipotle smartwatch app to order my favorite burrito bowl quickly -- and who can deny the value of faster burrito acquisition?

Now, the first iteration of any new device is never close to perfect. However, with the Apple Watch having been one of the most anticipated releases to date for the category, with some decent user adoption, we can knowingly forecast improvements. In addition to Apple, there are other smartwatch providers including Pebble, Samsung and Sony (among others) making similar products available for the masses. Soon, we will see Apple Watches sold in all local Best Buys. Furthermore, as smartwatch operating systems improve and their app ecosystems grow and refine over time, it’s inevitable that consumers will adopt these devices to the glee of optimistic marketers. Many marketers have long dreamed about interacting with digital consumers in more provocative and compelling ways. The Apple Watch and its closest competitor, Samsung, are leading the way to enable new engagement opportunities on even more intimate levels through smartwatch apps.

While consumers may not know exactly what they uniquely want or need from these tiny screens yet, they similarly didn’t know a decade ago that they’d be waking up and going to bed (and going to the bathroom) with smartphones continuously by their side. As consumers test the waters with these new apps, digital media publishers are also capitalizing on the alternative behavior of smartwatch users. FitAd is the first smartwatch ad platform to deliver advertising opportunities on select Android smartwatch apps. While scalable options are minimal to date, many companies are working to implement SDKs into smartwatch apps that show potential for popularity and widespread usage. iOS apps haven’t been tapped for ads yet, but in the next calendar year I’m confident an iOS smartwatch ad solution will be released. With all these imminent opportunities for growth, it’s a safe assumption that we’ll soon see new advertising advancements on smartwatches.

Cynics, prepare to be surprised by the adoption of wearable gadgets. Marketers, start strategizing for a future with an exciting new touchpoint.


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