Wearables, Payments, Chickens & Eggs (@stratechery)

Another great take on Apple’s entry into mobile payments from Ben Thompson, who believes the wearable device will be the centerpiece in making this happen:

That’s where Apple’s ability to move units simply because they are Apple becomes something that is an incredible weapon: suppose 10% of iPhone customers are willing to buy a wearable with some cool fitness functionality mainly because it’s built by Apple. Boom – suddenly there are 80 million wearables with payment functionality out in the wild. Moreover, the customers sporting said wearable are likely to be both vocal about their desire to use said payments, and high spenders to boot. That’s a very good way to spur merchants to install what will likely be a free payment device, available at your local Apple Store. 

He also argues that having this functionality baked into a watch or other wearable makes payments a very different proposition than having it done through the phone:

Moreover, I’d bet the difference between using a wearable for payment and using your phone will be greater than most people expect. I have no particular evidence for this outside of my own experience with keyless ignition systems in cars; the first time we got it, I thought it was a tremendous waste of money (it was part of a package); since then, I can not imagine buying a car without it. Saving a bit of hassle and a few seconds on a daily basis really adds up; it’s the type of subtle experience improvement that is Apple’s biggest differentiation.

A mobile scan via a watch that’s always at-the-ready and alleviates the friction associated with pulling out of a phone, opening the proper app etc.? Sign me up.

h/t MediaREDEF

Apple courts fashionistas as smartwatch expectations mount (@Reuters)

Apple Inc has invited top fashion editors and bloggers in unprecedented numbers to its Tuesday launch gala, further evidence that the iPhone maker is preparing to take the wraps off a smartwatch. Apple is forging closer ties to the fashion world as it plots its foray into the fertile field of wearable technology, trying to win over a critical crowd that may prove crucial to the success of consumer gadgets worn around the body.

On The Audience for an iWatch

Analyst Ross Rubin for VentureBeat:

Ultimately, Apple’s competition in the smartwatch space is not Samsung, LG or Motorola, at least not with the products that they are shipping today. It is brands such as Tag Heuer and Movado, brands that represent premium quality and materials while still being affordable and relatively mass market compared to elite luxury brands such as Cartier and Rolex.

I just don’t agree with this. Not that the current competition is any kind of barometer for what smartwatches can be but the last part about typical “premium” watches. Those purchases are still made for very different reasons. Yes, in some ways, it can be argued that gadgets have become as much of a fashion statement as clothes and accessories. But I think most people continue to make their gadget-purchasing decisions based primarily on functionality rather than fashion.

Eventually, these two markets will probably converge. But in the near-term, I believe the audience for the iWatch, aside from tech geeks and Apple loyalists, will consist of a lot of first-time watch buyers who have stopped wearing wristwatches (because their smartphone can tell time) or with younger millenials, have never worn a watch at all. I don’t think the folks buying Swatches and Tag Heuer watches are necessarily going to gravitate towards an iWatch because they’re looking for something fashionable first and foremost; not a gadget.

Re:Code’s John Paczkowski: Apple Wearable Won’t Ship Until Next Year (@recode)

So that new wearable device Apple is introducing on September 9? It’s going to be a while before anyone is actually wearing it. Sources in position to know tell me it won’t arrive at market for a few months. “It’s not shipping anytime soon,” said one. So when does Apple plan to ship its eagerly anticipated wearable? That’s not clear, but my understanding is that we’re unlikely to see it at retail until after the holiday season — think early 2015. 

Even still, this is going to be one of the more eagerly anticipated Apple events in quite some time.

A16Z’s Chris Dixon and Ringly’s Christina Mercando on Wearables (@a16z)

This was actually recorded in late July but I happened to stumble on it while reading Benedict Evans’ (great) weekly newsletter. Have a listen if you have an interest in wearables: the state of the present market as well as what’s to come.

Grading on a curve: Smartwatches in 2014 (@techpinions)

Jan Dawson:

The real point here is that smartwatches today, like smartphones then, had a niche appeal. Smartphone penetration in the US was in single digits in 2007, and that reflected the fact most people hadn’t seen the need to buy one. Smartphones in the US were work-centric, focused on delivering email and a basic web browsing experience. Apps for anything beyond PIM (personal information management) were poor or non-existent and, as such, the vast majority of the general population saw no need for one. Those that needed one would likely be issued one by their employers, and a few hobbyists would buy one for personal use or because their employer didn’t see the need.

If smartwatches are to succeed then, we need an existing player or a new entrant to do something similar to what the iPhone did to smartphones in 2007: that is, fundamentally reinvent the category

This is pretty much what we already know. The main thrust of the article was one that consumers (and the tech press) ought to therefore be heightening their expectations for what the devices can do, which I agree with:

The bar has been set so low for smartwatches that a device as flawed as the Pebble gets a score as high as the iPhone 5C or the LG G3, even though the latter devices do a far better job of meeting needs in their category than the Pebble (or any other smartwatch) does in its category.

He follows with some general criteria re: form factor (size and display) with a passing reference to functionality but I think the latter is the most important. It’s also the hardest to successfully predict. Would one have judged the iPhone in 2007 based on what the app ecosystem looks like today? Even Steve Jobs didn’t originally envision how things ended up turning out.

Sensors And Sensitivity (@techcrunch)

While this tech sounds very smart indeed, what’s even more interesting — from a tech trends perspective — is the growing potential of this anti-wearables approach of invisibly embedding sensors into objects with which humans interact.

So instead of having our bodies cluttered with electronic bangles that continuously quantify our existence, there’s an opportunity for more targeted applications of sensor technology, based on locating it in proximity to us — within objects we use, handle and interact with for specific purposes.

The key though, as with wearables, is the ability to have these sensors talk to one another in order to gather relevant data sets. Whether these devices end up on our bodies or the objects we interact with, isn’t really the point; although for those building this kind of hardware, working with companies to build these sensors directly into products their selling rather than selling directly to the consumer might be the way forward for mass adoption.

7 things the iWatch needs to do if Apple wants to win (@verge)

Most of the time, the iWatch should do nothing. It should sit forgotten on your wrist, alerting you only when there’s something worth paying attention to. And that won’t be every notification, every alert, every message. The iWatch needs tools to be finely tuned, and needs to be smart enough to tune itself to show me only what I need to see right now. Mostly it needs to just look good, and tell me the time. Everything else should be, and feel, secondary.

OK. But if that’s the case, are you going to fork over $300 for the privilege of owning one? Certainly, I agree with a curated approach to notifications and alerts. But if I wanted something that mostly just told me the time, I’d buy any of the thousands of watches for sale. There has to be an essential use case inherent to the watch itself; some reason I’m going to fork over a couple of hundred dollars.

Apple, Swatch working together on an ‘iWatch’ (@venturebeat)

Apple has been working with at least one partner, Swatch, to release a line of smartwatches in variety of branded styles and price points, a source with knowledge of the situation tells VentureBeat.

While most Apple-watchers and media have been laser-focused on one or two “iWatches” from Apple itself, the Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics and media giant may actually be working a number of partners in the watch business.

Apple and its partners will offer a family of smartwatches to suit all tastes “from geek to chic,” our source says.

So is Apple going after traditional watch buyers here? I feel like the market for smart watches is going to be made up mostly of people who aren’t watch connoisseurs and indeed many who may have never worn a watch. Not that those folks aren’t fashion concious too but I think it’s more about the utility of the device and less about the look or how it may be perceived as a status symbol.

Xiaomi announces its first wearable device, a $13 fitness band (@TNW)

Popular Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi has joined the wearables fray as it unveiled today its very first wearable device, a fitness band for only CNY79 ($13). The Mi Band features sensors for tracking various health metrics and can even act as an alarm clock.

Another nifty feature is that the Mi Band can even unlock a Xiaomi smartphone, eliminating the inconvenience of having to key in your password multiple times a day.

That’s actually damn useful.

I have no idea if, at that price point, they can produce a quality device. But if they can, that might facilitate a pretty substantial price drop among similar devices worldwide.

Early Apple Designer Explains The Only Way The iWatch Will Work (@businessinsider)

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Esslinger said, “When Apple eventually launches the long-awaited iWatch, it has to top the iPhone in function, design, and prestige — anything else would be completely illogical.”

The current smartwatches are a misunderstood issue because I don’t think there’s a real need for another device to access a smartphone already in the hand or in the pocket of the user,” he said. “It makes sense to make technology more wearable, but it must be a complete device.”

Android Wear: Nice to have, but not a must-have yet (@gigaom)

Android Wear solves the “2-foot problem,” if there is such a thing. Everything the watches do can be done with the smartphone that’s just two feet away from your wrist and in your pocket. For that reason, the devices right now are more of a convenience than a necessity.

Minuum Demos Text Entry On An Android Wear Watch (@techcrunch)

The Android Wear devices currently available let you respond to texts as well as read them – but they employ either voice-based input or canned responses to do so, and neither is entirely ideal.

I have enough trouble typing (still!) on an iPhone screen. This may make it a little easier but the constrictions of a watch interface are still going to make this difficult. That’s precisely why I think Google has pushed voice commands so hard for these devices; no it’s not entirely ideal but the dorkiness of talking into your watch outweighs the inflexibility of a form factor that makes it damn near imposible to type unless you have small fingers. Even with assistance from something like Minuum. Look for this to be a continuing issue with smartwatches and wearables in general.

Google Glass lead Babak Parviz leaves Google, joins Amazon (@venturebeat)

Babak Parviz, one of the leaders behind the Google X project and Google Glass, confirmed his move to Amazon on his Google Plus profile over the weekend.

The only time I ever hear of anyone using Google Plus, btw: its own employees. 😛

There is little detail on what Parviz may be doing over at Amazon, but people who have been paying attention to Amazon’s new product announcements may be able to guess. On June 18, Amazon announced that it will be releasing the Amazon Fire, its first smartphone. Optics designers like Parviz can could help propel these type of devices.

I can see Amazon having interest in tapping into the wearables market, whichever direction that ends up going. Amazon has shown a propensity for exploring the same kind of potential moonshots as Google has (albeit to a much smaller degree) with delivery drones, on-demand delivery etc.

Nike fires majority of FuelBand team, will stop making wearable hardware (@cnet)

Nike is gearing up to shutter its wearable-hardware efforts, and the sportswear company this week fired the majority of the team responsible for the development of its FuelBand fitness tracker, a person familiar with the matter told CNET.

“As a fast-paced, global business we continually align resources with business priorities,” Nike spokesman Brian Strong said in an email. “As our Digital Sport priorities evolve, we expect to make changes within the team, and there will be a small number of layoffs. We do not comment on individual employment matters.”

At Google, Bid to Put Its Glasses to Work (@nytimes)

“I’m sure Google would love this to be a consumer technology, from a scale perspective, but I’m just not sure it is,” said Chris Curran, chief technologist for the United States advisory practice of PwC, a business consulting firm. “It’s a technology that’s searching for problems to solve, and it’s really a matter of where do the problems emerge?” he added.

I don’t agree. I think the problem of smartphone/device distractibility is an acute problem that becomes more pressing with every day that passes as we become more and more reliant on pulling out the phones in our pocket. Wearable technology in general (smartwatches, bands etc.) is an attempt at solving that so that we can make use of the technology at our fingertips in a more perfunctory way. So is Glass.

Unfortunately, Glass doesn’t solve that problem well enough (and at low enough cost) for it to make sense for 90% of consumers. At least not yet.

Cards, code and wearables (@benedictevans)

This question of where the code lives also of course applies to TVs and to cars as much as to wearables. With AppleTV and Chromecast and Carplay, Apple and Google are saying that though everything is becoming a computer, actually the ‘smart’ part should be concentrated in the smartphone or tablet – something that’s easy to update, that’s replaced every couple of years, and that has a rich touch interface, and everything else should be a dumb sensor or dumb glass or both. And so the apps should only be in one place, and whether it should be an ‘app’ in a strictly technical sense is also up for debate.