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.
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.
Sensor-laden wearable devices, with their unique ability to capture data generated by thebody, are important components of a larger phenomenon we call “smart body, smart world.” Use cases for wearables could extend to anything from navigation to shopping to social networking to productivity. One scenario in particular – health and fitness – has inspired a number of wearable devices that launched in 2012 like the Nike+ FuelBand, the Basis smartwatch, and the (relaunched) Jawbone UP. These new products spur the questions: Can the market support this many wearable fitness products, and who should these products target?
Clients frequently ask me about the big picture: How is consumer computing changing, and what’s coming next? My new Forrester report, published today, takes on that question. It’s called “Smart Body, Smart World,” and it describes the paradigm shift in computing that we see happening now. Computing has evolved from the mainframe to the desktop to the shoulder bag to the pocket, and now computing is taking over new frontiers: Our physical bodies and the physical environments we inhabit.
When we look at new, sensor-laden devices (SLDs) like the larklife or Progressive Snapshot,we see the beginnings of a new phase of personal computing that will transform the way we live and work. Sensor-collected data, when combined with intelligence and advice, will influence our decision-making and self-expression in domains as diverse as health, finance, shopping, navigation, relationships, work, and communication. SLDs could take any shape; in this report, we talk about them in two broad categories:
Wearables. “Wearables”—devices worn in or on the body—include accessories like Google Glass or the Nike+ FuelBand, but can also include electronics actually enmeshed in our skin and organs like the “electronic tattoos” developed by Nanshu Lu at the University of Texas at Austin, or the heads-up display contact lenses developed by researchers at Washington University (one of whom, Babak Parviz, is now leading Project Glass at Google).
If Apple had a motto for its product strategy, it would be, "Don't take anything for granted." The new iPhone and iPods are re-formed from the guts to the skin: Faster processors, faster connection speeds, better cameras, more microphones, new connectors, taller displays, and they're thinner and lighter to boot. iTunes and the App Store are redesigned to feel more modern and help with content discovery. These product improvements are aimed at convincing consumers that there's enough value to upgrade from their current Apple products, as well as growing market share by convincing non-iPhone users that it's finally time to trade in their BlackBerrys, Droids, and flip phones and join the iOS fold. Apple will be successful on both fronts -- not just because its products are well designed, but also because Apple's product marketing is on point. It will be the fastest iPhone rollout ever, available in 100 countries on 240 carriers by the end of the year. Older models of the iPhone will be cheap (4S for $99 with contract) or free (4 with contract)--including on Verizon and Sprint in the US, not just AT&T, which will positively impact market share.
But I think there's a more interesting story to be told than just market share. These products tell us a lot about Apple's vision for the post-PC future. Apple has sold more than 400 million iOS devices through June 2012, and it has more than 435 million iTunes accounts with one-click purchasing, so it will certainly have great influence over the post-PC experience of many millions of consumers. And here's what that experience is likely to be: