We are seeing battle lines drawn and vendors are lining up to see which one can deliver the iPod of wearable devices and, as before, all eyes are on Apple. However, Steve Jobs was a critical part of that repetitive success cycle and he’s not coming back for this one. But early indications are the market is looking in Apple’s direction, so even though Steve isn’t part of the mix Apple has the inside track to getting this right at the moment.
The other big player is Microsoft and it has been doing better work with hardware of late, and given the recent misstep with the Xbox, how the firm performs with wearables will have a great deal to do with how people perceive the new CEO, so expect them to come out swinging for the fences. In fact both Apple’s and Microsoft’s CEOs have a lot on the line here and they have some tough competition from Motorola who may have found their new Razor. Let me explain...
The first time a large audience of early adopters got to actually vote on what kind of watch they wanted was at Google I/O. They looked at the improved Samsung, which on spec has the best features, and the new LG which on spec has the best performance, along with the Moto 360 which was the most watch-like and arguably the most attractive, and looks won by a landslide. This showcases the fact that appearance and similarity to existing watches may be the tie-breaker in this mass of new products, and this shouldn’t be a surprise because watches generally are purchased more like jewellery than for any practical purpose (otherwise we’d have all likely bought Casio G-Shock watches rather than the prettier but less functional watches we actually purchased).
In a world where appearance is king, Apple can rule.
Apple is one of the few companies where historically function has followed form. The design of the product coming out of Apple is generally paramount and this same strategy could, based on this early feedback, give Apple a significant advantage because Cupertino is set up best for a design leading market model. People are outspoken about what they want Apple to create. Apple is expected to launch its product in the late third quarter and the odds favour them in this fight if Tim Cook doesn’t break the model. Unfortunately Tim is slowly converting Apple from a design driven company to a volume driven company which could take them from an easy win and put them back in the pack.
This opens the door for Microsoft to steal, and there is a lot of speculation and excitement about what they are bringing to market. The other clear indicator is that people buying smartwatch products are favouring exercise as the segment where they want to see most of the effort. Microsoft’s design capability has improved sharply based on the firm's execution of the new Surface Pro 3 tablet and clean lines of the Xbox. Microsoft actually has some watch experience having released the Spot watch several years back, and while it failed, sometimes you can learn more from failure than success. The Nokia unit has some of the best looking phones in the market right now, too, suggesting they can not only play this round but they could win.
As previously mentioned, the most popular of the watches we know of is the Moto 360 from Motorola. Before the iPhone, Motorola had the Razor which was the most popular phone of its time and a massive success. They still have that potential DNA and Lenovo brings massive manufacturing capability to this party along with better distribution in Asia and Europe than Apple has. They are the only firm trying to actually recreate the Steve Jobs Apple model around Ashton Kutcher and while that remains a long shot, that model clearly worked incredibly well for Apple. They are one hell of a wild card in this coming battle for the next iPod-like device.
Wrapping up: Wearable wars
This all comes down to a fourth quarter this year that will pit these vendors and others like Samsung and LG in a pitched battle for dominance to see who can bring the next iPod to market. While I still think Apple has the inside track in this race the firm's executive changes make this a race and the other parties are competing very hard. Samsung in particular is seeing sales problems and desperately needs a win to restore faith in its leadership team, and the company has been in the fight the longest of the major players. My recommendation is wait to see what all of these firms bring to market before making your choice because the winning product may not come from any of the traditional sources this time.