Smart watches getting closer to hitting the mainstream

Apple published new phones as usual in mid-September. They were developed versions from earlier models, but nothing truly special. People don’t wait for new phone announcements as they did five years ago. Now smart watches have started to become a more important part of the device ecosystem. They are about data, especially health data. We can say data, health and safety is for smart watches as camera and social sharing is for phones.

Smart watches are not yet mature the way the phones are, they are actually in very early stage and still waiting to get to the mainstream. I have been skeptical of them; too small a screen to do useful things, bad battery life, not enough stand-alone functionality and relatively expensive when you know you will get something much better a year later. Now we can see, that this is finally changing.

The screens are getting better, battery life is improving, and also usability for many services. This makes the watches more useful. But this is not enough. By repeating an old mobile business phrase, they need their killer apps. Something that makes them more than smaller and more limited phones.

Health and wellness data is going to be a killer app for smart watches. Athletes and hard-core exercisers have long used different kinds of devices to collect exercise, health and wellness data. Now smart watches are bringing this to mainstream, to ordinary people. It is almost ironic that Nokia got rid of its health care devices just as the market started to gain traction, but Nokia hasn’t really mastered timing with new consumer devices for a long time.

It is not only about exercise, but it is about how you sleep, your resting heart rate, how to detect something abnormal, and also tracking life habits. Devices have also come to a very reasonable price, like Fitbit or especially Mi bands. Many people can already test these devices with little money and see what is available. Then it is a question of time, in terms of when they want to get more advanced devices.

Nowadays I feel almost scared to leave home without a phone. What if something happens and I cannot make a call, send a message or receive messages. In the 1990’s it was totally normal to go out without a phone, and 10 years ago without emails, social media and messaging services. I assume in 10 years many people won’t want to move without smart watches and other data devices (technically we can talk about IoT and wearable components too).

It is not only about smart watches, there are other devices, like rings (e.g. Oura), to collect health and wellbeing data. And it is not only about health data, there is much more data to collect from the environment. But wellbeing data is now a clear case that can really help smart watches to make a big breakthrough. Smartwatches are now in a natural place to have that functionality, and can offer other useful functions too, and people are used to wearing watches. Phones are like base stations for the watches. We will see better messaging functions, payment solutions and personal assistants in those watches too.

As always with data, it is not only to get the data, but how to find and analyze something useful from the data. This also requires a lot of data analytics applications for health care data and also to develop services on top of it. We probably see acquisitions in this area, especially to top level competence and software to analyze this data. We will also see more integration with third party systems, to enable capabilities such as the ability to send data to doctors and insurance companies.

Development is also needed to get more reliable data (e.g. better sensors and analytics to measure heart rate, blood pressure, food eaten, temperature), but most probably a bigger part of the development will center around analytics and software. There are many companies that have done this for more professional devices and users, but now that technology must be applied to inexpensive consumer devices and services.

Now I’m ready to declare that smart watches are coming. There are still many areas to develop, for example, battery life, analytics software, sensors, and especially design. Health and wellbeing are also one of the first areas, where people really start to collect and use a lot of personal data. There will be many other areas people start to have their own data from finance transactions to retail and home data. It will also create totally new models and AI to manage and utilize all this personal data.