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.
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.
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?
Today, more than 3,000 vendors and somewhere in the ballpark of 140,000 attendees descend on Las Vegas to attend CES 2013. Continuing the trend of the past several years, this year traditional consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers are noticeably absent or scaled back in their presence. Microsoft has ditched its keynote and its million-dollar booth, preferring to hold low-key meetings in a hotel far from the convention center. HP, Dell, RIM, and other tech titans of the past are similarly absent from the show floor. But rather than see this withdrawal as a sign that CES is on the decline, I see it as a sign that CES matters more than ever — to everyone except the CE giants of the past.
It's that time of year again: Tomorrow, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs looking to raise funds, journalists, bloggers, geeks, and digital executives from all over the world will be gathering at LeWeb in Paris. For a couple of days, Paris will turn into the digital Mecca.
A lot of the media and investor attention will focus on the now-traditional startup competition, looking for the new Evernote, Instagram, Nest, or Withings. Here’s the list of the 16 semi-finalists. Emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit of the conference, David Marcus, founder of startups like Punchd (acquired by Google) and Zong (acquired by eBay) and now CEO of PayPal, will be speaking at the event and will cross paths with a long list of digital visionaries and key executives, such as Pascal Cagni, former general manager and VP of Apple EMEA.
Here are some of my observations on this year's theme — The Internet of Things — as well as a summary of some of Forrester’s latest research on this quickly evolving space.
Jawbone, a privately-held company based in San Francisco with a $1.5 billion valuation, today announced the relaunch of its UP wristband, which it discontinued one year ago due to manufacturing problems. (An excellent article in Fortune from October details the "beautiful failure" of the product and CEO Hosain Rahman's decision to cease manufacturing and refund customers' money.) There's a lot to like about this company and its products. Jawbone is one of few companies that has successfully innovated the adjacent possible, as my colleague James McQuivey has written, pivoting from Bluetooth headsets to Jambox speakers to the UP. The UP is a wearable device that lives (on the wrist) at the intersection of fashion and the consumerization of health. The UP is part of an emerging phenomenon that we call Smart Body, Smart World, which we think will power the next wave of growth and innovation in personal computing.
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).
We’ve seen many dazzling new consumer technology products launch in 2012, with many more expected by year end. Amid the bang of the Microsoft Surface, iPhone 5, and Google Nexus, it would be easy to miss the quieter product launch today of the larklife, the second product released by Lark Technologies, a 21-person startup located in a Mountain View shopping center. As I’ve been researching my soon-to-launch report on the bigger story of wearables, Lark caught my eye, and I was completely blown away by the demo I saw of their new product last week.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.