Smart Watches Need (More) Killer Applications

Smart watches are not a must-have device - yet. The novelty of the device - combined with early adopters eager to have the next great thing - has carried smart watches from an obscure idea to a well-known device, but neither critical mass nor mass market adoption. So what's missing?

Smart watches or similar wearables will hit critical mass (20%) and then mass market adoption (> 50%) only once consumers adopt these five applications:

  1. Notifications. Among consumers surveyed by Forrester, 40% are tired of pulling their phones out of their pockets or purses. Moreover, according to a study conducted by Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins, more than 60-70% of consumers' mobile moments are simply a quick glance at their devices to get information they need to make a decision or take action. Notifications could range from a sports score to a reminder to pay a bill. Smartphones and apps are overkill for these interactions or mobile moments.

  • Payments. Mobile payment solutions from companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung, among others, are game-changing. The combination of near-field communication (NFC) and payments drove adoption of the current generation of smartphone upgrades. Mobile payments remove friction from the payment process both online and in-person. For example, I use my Apple Wallet so often that it took me six weeks to realize that my ATM card had expired.
  • Voice (and bots). Brands had to adopt new user interface designs when they moved experiences from computers to smartphones. Consumers eventually adopted and began to expect touch-based experiences, and then smartphones got bigger in part to accommodate the complexity of the interactions. Smart watches are small - and will stay small. Touch, buttons and bezels offer some rudimentary navigation options, but Voice is the killer application here to make the device easy to navigate. Consumers look to voice to retrieve simple information such as weather, flight times and calendar dates. Voice-enabled bots will bring smart watches from communication- or media-centric devices to viable commerce and customer service use cases.
  • Identity. We can now load credit cards, loyalty cards, tickets, coupons, and insurance cards into our mobile wallets; however, we are still required to carry personal identification when we drive, board a plane, enter our office buildings, or leave the country. Once I have to carry my drivers' license, it isn't much more cumbersome to carry at least a small wallet with a few credit cards, a bus pass, and cash. Identity is the "must have" app to kill off wallets.
  • Health. Wellness applications are too niche to drive adoption of smart watches. Too few consumers are self-motivated enough to exercise on a regular basis or care enough to collect steps, heart rate, calories burned, etc. on an ongoing basis. Therefore, wellness or fitness applications will not drive substantial consumer adoption; but instead, health applications may. If insurance providers incent consumers to track their fitness in exchange for offering coverage or discounts on premiums, consumers will adopt wearables. Smart watches offer a multi-purpose option that tracks fitness - and much more.
  • Let's face it. It isn't difficult to get the time: It's on our smartphones, tablets and laptops. But it's these five applications that will soon make them indispensable.