Wearables Industry Needs to Move Beyond Smartphone Technology


Steve Wozniak has poured more fuel on the Apple Watch fire by demanding ‘a larger screen that can do more of what my iPhone does’, in a recent interview with CNET. This is also combined with the now common unshakeable faith that Apple will do for wearables what it did for smartphones. But while the latter could well be true for the Apple Watch, I don’t think Woz goes far enough in stating that wearables ‘need special advantages that the smartphone doesn’t have’. They need unique functionality independent of a smartphone, which Cupertino’s device doesn’t currently offer.

Juniper Research’s Smart Wearable Devices Report shows that consumers are far more turned on to benefits that are more native to the wearables’ form factors, rather than just looking for another screen. The thinking that additional screens are the way forward seems to be common at both Apple and Google, but the imposition of a screen puts demands on the device’s form factor that severely limit the device’s options. In an industry that manufacturers are increasingly realising needs to be fashionable, they need to take this insight to its logical conclusion and make fashion, not function, the primary element in wearable devices. Even where function is considered, there is a growing awareness that wearables that can function without a smartphone in close proximity convey more benefits than those that require tight tethering.

Juniper Research has identified some emerging wearables sectors where fashion is taking centre stage, from Microsoft’s partnership with a jeans company to allow for trousers with an in-build phone charger to Intel’s partnership with fashion brand Opening Ceremony to provide a luxury connected bracelet. But even here the devices remain tethered to smartphones, offering benefits that boil down to not having to touch your smartphone to use it.

Juniper’s report outlines possibilities and trends for both these new types of devices and emerging schemes within the wearables value chain whose primary concern is to add ‘native’ benefits to wearable form factors, rather than just piling in more technology. Combined with several research findings that indicate consumers would prefer standalone wearable devices, it is clear that wearables will only catch on widely when the benefits before more than just smartphone supplements.