Is T-Mobile’s Legere right to bet on wearables in 2015?


Earlier this week, we pointed you in the direction of John Legere’s 2015 forward-looking blog post. In it, he predicted a number of events and devices which would help shape this year. We’re still only two days in, but I’m still left pondering one of the predictions made by John. If what he says turns out to be true, then 2015 will be “the year of the wearables”. Just like 2014 was, as was the year previous. And yet, no year so far has fully captured the imagination.

The Apple Watch is key. Will 2015 be the year we can put a pin in as “the year smart watches went mainstream”? As Legere states, it could be:

And though we won’t see its full impact in 2015, I believe that the Apple Watch will mark the tipping point when wearables go from niche to mainstream.”

Granted, wearables completely flooded the market last year. We saw Pebble’s second generation smart watch, what felt like Samsung’s thousandth, the stunning Moto 360 and the ASUS ZenWatch. Not to mention a bunch of devices from lesser known brands like Basis and Withings among many others. But we’re still yet to see smart watches on the wrists of the general, non tech-obsessed consumers. In fact, the vast majority of techies still don’t wear a smart watch. You’re far more likely to see people wearing fitness trackers than smart watches. And even that’s a rare occurrence. So, clearly, 2014 was not the year that wearable technology was king.

T-Mobile has even decided to stock a few models of wearable, and created a special data plan for the SIM card reader-equipped Samsung Gear S which was announced a few months back. Clearly then, T-Mo was already betting on wearables before 2015 came around.

In 2014 there were two real beacon moments in the wearable market. One was the introduction of Android Wear and the other, obviously, was the Apple Watch announcement. One of those is on the market already, the other isn’t. And here’s a worrying (albeit completely anecdotal and non-scientific) thought for everyone but Apple: Whenever anyone with barely even a slight interest in tech has seen my Moto 360 on wrist, the first question is: “Is that the Apple Watch?”. This is a device which looks nothing like the Apple Watch. I mean, it’s round for a start. And that’s not an exaggeration. Not “is that a Moto 360?”. But “is that an Apple Watch.” This is the mind-share Apple has. Forget if the Apple-made device is better or worse than the Moto. People actually know about the Apple Watch. And that in itself should indicate that at least a few people will end up buying one.

With that said, I’m still not convinced the Apple Watch will be to the wearable market what iPhone and iPad were to their respective smartphone and tablet markets. I can’t see that there will be a huge upswing in the number of regular, average consumers walking around with connected devices on their wrists. At least, not in 2015. There will be an upswing, that’s taken for granted, but not “this is the moment the wearable market got turned on its head” swing.

I think the problem is – in my mind – that smart, connected wearables have to change people’s thought process about what a watch should be. Traditionally, and for decades, a watch is for one thing alone: Telling the time. And for many it’s a very personal style statement. Even though Apple will offer various style straps and three different metal finishes, it’s still nothing like the customization available in the traditional watch market. After all, it’s still just two sizes of the same square face on your wrist. And apart from the Apple Watch, Moto 360, Pebble Steel and perhaps the ZenWatch, there’s nothing really good-looking enough to convince the style-conscious to ditch their Rolex, Tag Heuer or Brietling for a wrist-worn device made by a computer manufacturer.

And it still has to answer the question: “Why do I need that?”

It’s the same question the iPad faced when it was first announced. But at least with Apple’s tablet I had an answer to that question. It offered me portability my laptop didn’t. It offered me a 10 hour battery life my laptop didn’t. It was more intimate than my laptop, in that I was directly involved with the content on the screen. It wasn’t sat, heating up my lap and blocking my interaction with a finicky keyboard. 9 times out of 10, I still pick it up over my MacBook Air to browse the web, go shopping or play games.

But what about a smart watch?

My answer – in reference to the Moto 360 – to “why do you have one?” is always “because it looks cool, and I’m a geek.” And “it shows my notifications on my wrist so I don’t have to pull out my phone for every email, or non-vital message.” But that’s all I have. Its coolness, style and features still don’t quite outweigh the fact that I need to charge it every two days, or that it really doesn’t offer me anything unique versus what my smartphone can do. And I’m not convinced – from what I’ve seen of the Apple Watch so far – that even Cupertino’s darling tech company has answered those problems yet.

So is 2015 really the real year of the wearable? In some ways, yes. Undoubtedly there will be more sold to customers than ever before, because the Apple Watch will be appealing to iPhone users who want the next, cool thing. And yes, I’ll be one of the early adopters. But I’m not sure it’ll be so big that everyone will talk about the wrist-worn gadgets in the same way that iPhone and iPad were talked about.

I could be wrong, but after owning and using several smart, connected wearables, I’m still skeptical that it’s even a thing. At least, I’m skeptical that it’s the next big thing. I see smart, connected home technology and automation as being a much bigger, and more vital area of the tech scene than any vibrating, buzzing, motion sensing piece of gadgetry I stick on my person. But that’s an entirely different article waiting to happen.

What do you think? Will you (or do you) don a wearable gadget on your arm? Why/why not? And will Apple’s Watch make it a more popular market?

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