The stage is set. A memorable date: 09.09. An event unlike any other in the industry. A company without peers. But none of those facts parallel the opportunity at hand. It’s an opportunity that no company other than Apple seems poised to take on. I am talking, of course, about that gritty and elusive promised land at the intersection of wearables and health.
Wearables have been ‘coming’ for years now. From a mind-bending range of startups to the heavyweights, players of all shapes and sizes have been trying hard – and unsuccessfully – to make a real dent in the space. We’ve seen many, many approaches to market creation. Nike went in early with it’s FuelBand, offering a mimimalistic form factor with basic capabilities. Google, with Glass, seems set for the long play, and committed to confronting the cultural problem of how markets perceive and handle computers. Adidas, staying in-character, is going the professional route with its MiCoach range. Samsung is as usual following through dedicatedly at churning out ‘tech kitsch’ (it’s hard work, but someone has to do it.) And smaller players like Finland’s own Beddit are experimenting with business model innovation in a quest to take on the world.
But in the memorable words of Tim Cook: “There’s nothing great out there… that’s going to convince a kid that’s never worn glasses or a band or a watch or whatever to wear one.”
It’s the simplicity of this remark that tells me the post-Steve Apple might still have in it’s DNA that exceptional focus on solving a single problem, of capitalising on a single compelling opportunity, at the tremendous perceived cost of forsaking all others.
I expect only Apple has the simplicity to see that the biggest difference about a wearable is the most obvious one – it’s potential to be in 24×7 contact with the body. That’s potential forcontinuity of human experience: something that bridges the gaps between the time we spend with every other device. It’s the single opportunity that I sense Apple will respond to, by designing a product around it. And that’s why I believe that if Apple does introduce a wearable device this year, it will be about three things: health, health and health.
Apple has been quietly building the software infrastructure to actuate a health sensor in a way that will deliver meaning for the wearer, inside and outside homes, online and off. They’ve built HealthKit to deliver the content, HomeKit to integrate with your health devices, and iBeacon to recommended and complete transactions in retail spaces. So in terms of channels, they’re got you covered in both digital and physical realms.
The key challenge then is how to get you to wear the device, potentially all the time.
Now, I know one thing you’ve never liked to wear all the time – the watch. No matter
how small or elegant, watches are simply obtrusive. That’s the reason you don’t wear
one to the shower, and take one off just before slipping under the sheets. For something to be truly intimate, we’d need to get all the excess material out of the way. No screens,
no buttons, no fumbling with straps. It couldn’t afford communication, imaging, mapping controls. It couldn’t be a replacement for the smartphone, rather the smartphone would provide an interface to it.
So I expect Apple to present a spare, downright sexy sensor, so intimate that it is almost imperceptible and yet makes a fashion statement that’s crisp as a clear morning. Here I expect to see Jony Ive’s design army shine, and mesh with Angela Ahrendts’ retail genius to get us to do the one new thing with huge impact to their lives: watch our health.
Not because we want to, but because we have to.
P.S: If this description of the device sounds an awful lot like the Nike Fuelband ‘reimagined’, I must admit I am a leaning towards that. It just makes sense: Apple’s gain from ending the Fuelband, and testament to Cook’s tremendous heft in influencing partners à la Jobs. But remember the Fuelband didn’t see mass market adoption, and there’s plenty of room for it’s next avatar to go the distance, so why not?
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