More than a decade ago — in May 2001 — Forrester authored a report heralding the coming of the X Internet, or extended Internet, defined as “Internet devices and applications that sense, analyze, and control the real world.” We proclaimed that “the Web is fading fast . . . smart devices will push the scale of the Internet far beyond today’s PC-based Net.”
Turns out that the vision we laid out in 2001 still hasn’t come to fruition. While enterprises in healthcare, manufacturing, and utilities are well down the path of the X Internet — better known today as the Internet of Things, the industrial Internet, or in Cisco Systems' parlance, the Internet of Everything — consumer adoption and general business adoption of sensor devices and services are just getting started.
The sensor-laden consumer products that are starting to hit the market are “smart” in sensing and relaying information about the physical bodies wearing them or the physical environments they inhabit — a phenomenon we call “smart body, smart world.” But these smart products could get a lot smarter: Today they are largely fragmented and not as useful as they could be.
At an event in Berlin today, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear, a $299 smartwatch that improves upon the decade of smartwatches that came before it (Pebble, Sony, Metawatch, Microsoft SPOT) but still doesn’t give consumers a convincing reason to buy one. As expected, it syncs with some Samsung smartphones, showing alerts and letting users send and receive calls, and check emails and text messages. But the watch gets only one day of battery life, which means you have to charge it nightly like you do your phone (and having tested various wearables that have this requirement, it means you are much less likely to get into the habit of wearing it than a wearable with 10-day battery life like the Fitbit Flex). It also may not live up to the durability claims of other watches like the Casio G-Shock, although I haven’t tested this personally—again, a deal killer when it comes to wearables.
Ever since Apple launched its App Store in 2008, platforms have waged war on each other to attract the most app developers. In smartphones, iPhone and Android have pulled far ahead while competing platforms like Windows Phone and BlackBerry have lagged behind. On tablets, iPad beats any other competitor by hundreds of thousands of apps. But now, the app wars are battling on a new front: Wearables.
Last week was full of news on wearable devices: First the report from The Wall Street Journal that Microsoft is fabricating a smart watch (whether it’s just a prototype or an actual product is not confirmed); then Google’s release of guidelines for developers building apps (known as “Glassware”) for Glass; followed by the news on Wednesday that Google will start shipping Glass units to participants in its Explorers program.
To put these stories in perspective, Glass is a much, much more important story than any smart watch story — whether that watch is made by Microsoft, Samsung, or even Apple. Smart watches could enable new “glanceable” experiences that we haven’t had on other devices, enhanced by body-generated data, like the Basis smartwatch does today. But they won’t fundamentally disrupt social norms in the way that Glass will. At best, they’ll reinforce existing ecosystems for smartphones — i.e., iPhone buyers might buy an iWatch; an iWatch might displace some phone usage, but wouldn’t replace a phone altogether.
When I talk to marketing executives about the Smart Body, Smart World paradigm — how sensor-laden devices like wearables give us access to new domains of information and what we can do with that information — they always bring up the movie Minority Report.
The 2002 sci-fi crime thriller has become the reference point people imagine when they think about the future of advertising: specifically, the scene in which Jon Anderton (Tom Cruise) walks through the mall and billboards show him ads based on his mental state (stressed out) and context (on a journey).
This depiction of the future makes sense if you take the status quo of advertising in 2002 — delivering messages via screens to acquire new customers and persuade them to try your product — and bolt on new technology like biometric scanning. There are multiple examples of marketers today doing simplified versions of this, using billboards that adapt content based on gender and age.
A Dumb Vision Of The Smart Future
But this is a pretty dumb vision of the “smart” future. Smarter marketing goes far beyond advertising.
Google’s Project Glass deserves plaudits for innovation, not just for the device itself but also for the process by which Google is developing and marketing the product. Studying product strategy and marketing as a Forrester analyst for almost nine years, I have never seen a company do what Google is doing: launch an entirely new form factor in such a transparent, inclusive way.
As part of my research at Forrester, I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know companies developing technology solutions for K-12 and higher education. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera and Udacity give students around the world access to high-quality courses for free or at a fraction of the cost of a traditional university. Platforms like Inkling, Kno, and CourseSmart make distributing, purchasing, and consuming digital textbooks more convenient and engaging. Supplemental content sources like Khan Academy and TenMarks give students resources to learn at their own pace.
It’s worth thinking seriously about how these solutions will change the nature of education. Many of the changes are positive. We expand access to education across the globe. At the same time we increase scale, we also enable more individualized, self-paced learning, presumably at a reduced cost. For example, millions of students can dissect a cow’s eye in a virtual biology lab without the incremental cost of buying more cow’s eyes or scalpels or formaldehyde - and they could do it again if they miss something the first time. Through analytics embedded in texts, apps, and diagnostic tools, teachers will get real-time feedback and can make more-informed decisions about how to teach.
In the past few days, Wired, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have all published reports of Apple creating a smartwatch -- a multifunctional wrist-based wearable with a curved glass display. At Forrester, back in 2011 we predicted that wearables would be one of the next important form factors in personal computing. In fact, we put a date on it: “Wearables will broaden from health and fitness to more verticals in 2013,” we wrote in the report, and in a follow-on report last April, we predicted that wearables would be a battleground for the platform wars between Apple and Google. An Apple smartwatch would fulfill that multifunctional vision we have for wearables, broadening the category beyond health and fitness.
Though at Forrester we think the market for fitness wearables is relatively small, the broader potential for wearables is huge. Body-generated data could be applied to any domain, such as relationships, productivity, gaming, shopping, personal safety and identity validation, just to name a few possibilities.