The Case for Wrist Wearables

I remember when Pebble first came out on Kickstarter. I didn’t really know why I would need so many extra features on a watch, but I knew one thing for sure: I had to have it.

However, since I was in college at the time and pinching pennies, I ended up not getting one. But perhaps it was for the best. Though Pebble might have killed it on Kickstarter, it wasn’t a formidable company compared to the likes that started joining in on the smartwatch fun. Soon, and predictably enough, Samsung, Motorola, Sony and – of course – Apple came out with their own versions.

Pebble didn’t give up even with the addition of these new competitors. They still had the advantage of being the scrappy trailblazers – the startup that was ahead of the game and identified something that people really wanted before the tech giants did. But it wouldn’t be accurate to say that they’ve had tremendous success with their business so far.

But as we’ve seen since Pebble’s debut, smartwatches and general “wrist wearables” – wearables that primarily go on wrists – still haven’t been proven to be nearly as groundbreaking as personal computers, smartphones or, these days, the other kind of wearables – headsets for AR/VR.

Breaking down wrist wearables, we have two categories:

  • Long-term wrist wearables
  • Short-term wrist wearables

Long-term wrist wearables are those that are meant to be worn over a long period of time, usually daily. These wearables include smartwatches and activity trackers (i.e. Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, etc.).

Short-term wrist wearables are those that are meant to be worn during certain occasions or events. These wearables include first-party wearables (e.g. Disney’s MagicBands) and third-party wearables (e.g. PixMob).

Long-term wrist wearables are obviously much more of an investment. Companies like Fitbit and Apple have partnered with high-fashion brands to position them as luxury items, hoping to make these wearables more desirable.
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Despite all of the hype, long-term wrist wearables have (so far) only accomplished: 1) Tracking and collecting data for activity and 2) Bringing some smartphone capabilities – literally – at your fingertips.  The former purpose is more helpful and seems to be stickier with users. Yet, it’s still not as effortless as it could be. There’s still manual syncing involved, and if there are syncing-related bugs in a new version of iOS or Android – users will abandon the wearable in droves. Not to mention, there’s the added hassle of charging all of the time.

I’ve owned a Fitbit, Jawbone and Microsoft Band at different times, and have worn them exclusively. I’d be optimistic at first about keeping track of my activity or hitting 10,000 steps daily. But gradually, I’d grow apathetic, leaving my house for a run without a wearable because I stopped caring or I had forgotten to charge it. Of course, this apathy could stem from the fact that I’m not a hardcore athlete looking to improve mile times.

Short-term wrist wearables, on the other hand, seem to do a good job of satisfying my short millennial attention span. I’ve been seeing PixMob wristbands more and more at events like concerts and conferences. They don’t require much effort on the user’s end since event staff is usually coordinating the wristbands – plus, they have pretty colors.

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Though I haven’t personally used a Disney MagicBand before, I’ve heard great things about the experience. Like PixMob wristbands, MagicBands do all of the work behind the scenes – WIRED has a great article on the technology. For instance, Disney characters will already know visitors’ names and where they’re coming from based on data that the band stores.

Despite the fact that short-term smart wrist wearables had a slightly later start than long-term  wrist wearables, I think they are proving to be more exciting. When long-term wrist wearables get to the point of syncing effortlessly with devices and doing more of the “magical” things that short-term wrist wearables are accomplishing… perhaps I’ll change my mind.

The most ironic part about all of this that you didn’t see coming? With all of this talk about wearables, I’ve been typing this blog wearing the simplest one of all – a $10 Casio Analog Watch I bought from Amazon.

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As a non-expert on wearables, I probably missed some details and would love to hear about your experiences with long-term vs short-term wrist wearables. Do you see any up-and-coming players in the space to watch for? Any companies doing extraordinary things with wrist wearables? I want to hear from you!

Update: Pretty cool – MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research worked together to come up with this new connected temporary tattoo.

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