As rumors mount about a possible iWatch launch late in 2014, with attendant speculation that it will provide Apple with a boost to its sagging sales, I have to ask, who is this for? Tim Cook wears a Nike fuelband (as well as sitting on their board) and Cupertino has been on a hiring tear for those with experience in bio-medical sensors. The kinds of sensors said to be included in the eventual wearable include heart rate, blood oxygen and glucose monitoring.
There are quantified self enthusiasts and fitness-obsessed people of all ages, as well as young people suffering from early-onset conditions like juvenile diabetes, but the largest market for the kinds of bio-medical tracking that the sensor-laden iWatch would address are baby boomers and the elderly. Which leads me to ask, will the iWatch be worn by anyone under 30? The irony, of course, is that the boomers were indoctrinated in the ’60s to never trust anyone over 30!
Just as Google has had to contend with the stereotype of Glass-wearers as creepy spies or techno-extroverted “glassholes,” Apple may confront the characterization of iWatch-wearers as iCodgers. It is a well-known fact that young people have lost the habit of wearing wrist watches, preferring to use their ever-present phones. So what Apple would need to convert the younger audience into iWatch users would be potent motivation for the formation of a new habit. I doubt that health and fitness will be that “hook” for young people.
For the older audience, however, the wrist watch habit is still in place and they have an increasing need to monitor their own health. The specter of mortality and particularly the threat of dementia are potent prods that app makers can use to build wrist-based routines. Apple doesn’t have to convert all of its iPhone customers to iWatchers, but it would be uncharacteristic for it to come out with a major product line so demographically skewed.
What could Apple do to woo younger iWatch users? It’s all in the apps. In general, Apple’s growth tracks app usage in the same way that Google’s tracks internet use more broadly. So the secret will be enabling and encouraging app developers who can turn obsessive tapping of the wrist or glancing at a watch into engaging games or new forms of instantaneous social communication (i.e. wrist-based Candy Crush or Snapchat.)
Another possibility, which I mentioned last week, would be if the iWatch contained a fingerprint sensor that could even more conveniently unlock your other devices or initiate mobile payments. Shopping, particularly, is a universal activity that would be a draw for all customers.
Interestingly, the most recent rumors about Apple concern a feature reportedly under development for iOS 8 code-nameded “Healthbook”. Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac, who is quickly becoming one of the stars of the current rumor cycle, claims to have inside information about the existence of this app modeled on Apple’s existing Passbook in iOS 7. According to Gurman, “The software will be capable of monitoring and storing fitness statistics such as steps taken, calories burned, and miles walked. Furthermore, the app will have the ability to manage and track weight loss.”
None of this references the bio-medical capabilities that Apple has been hiring for and “Healthbook” sounds more like a competitor to existing products like Fuelband, Fitbit and Jawbone Up than like a user experience revolution. These fitness trackers have become popular, but they show signs of being gimmicky gadgets that people buy but then lose interest in. The promise of the iWatch, like with all Apple products, is that it will do so many things well that we might lose interest in any given app, but not in the platform itself.
To close the band, as it were, on the question of how young an audience the iWatch can attract, I think it has everything to do with how many compelling reasons there are for young people to use it and develop new, wrist-bound habits. Certainly health monitoring is a hook for the oldsters, but the young will require more immediate itches to scratch.
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