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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TwoDots case study: A more effective IAP model for mobile gaming

While I was abroad for about a month, I found that with my limited access to the Internet, I started playing offline-compatible games that were still on my phone that I hadn’t played for some time. The game that I went back to most, almost obsessively, during my travels was TwoDots.

For anyone that doesn’t know about TwoDots by now, it’s the more grown-up version of the original Dots game, which took the casual mobile gaming universe by storm. It takes less than 30 seconds to understand the game and the interface (for both games) is both elegant and clean. The team beefed up elements in the game where, perhaps, a lot of developers wouldn’t pay much attention to otherwise (See NYT’s piece on TwoDots’ charming soundtracks).

Since the Playdots team launched TwoDots, they’ve spruced up some of their pay walls. Here are some examples:

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When you’re about to start a level, the game gives you the option of starting with a boost. I’m pretty stocked up in terms of boosts, but for users that have already run out of boosts, they are available for purchase.

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If you get very close to finishing a level but fail, the game usually gives you the option of purchasing a boost and a couple more moves.

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If you run out of lives, you can either wait 20 minutes for another life or refill your lives for 99 cents.

I’ve briefly written about TwoDots before, and how for a fairly casual game, they’re putting in a lot of effort to seamlessly monetize without being too pushy. I have to admit, it’s pretty effective. I’m not bothered at all by the pop-ups because they combine both helpful information (e.g. number of lives/boosts I have left) and chances to make a purchase. Though occasionally the placement of the “Refill lives” or “Buy more boosts” buttons are a little tricky (I find myself accidentally pressing them all the time).

But here’s the thing – I haven’t paid a single penny. Yet at the same time, I wouldn’t mind coughing up some cash for the game either. What gives?

As much as I talk about games and love reading news about gaming, I am not a devout gamer. I’ve taken gaming personality tests in the past, and each time, my results identify me as a very casual gamer. I am not a whale – I will not spend money unless I have to upfront for a game like, say, Monument Valley. I download freemium games to get a sense of what the games are like, but rarely do I ever stick with these game for more than a month or so (there are exceptions).

When I come across a game or app I really like, the more I use it, the more I get comfortable with it. And the more comfortable I get with an app, the more I feel ok with spending money on it, since it’s already served me well. The problem with a lot of freemium apps (especially for mid-core/hardcore games) is that their monetization strategies are geared heavily towards getting whales to pay up. It’s not a bad strategy, especially when whale users, who make up 0.15% of mobile gamers, bring in 50% of the revenue.

Monetization gets a little trickier though when it comes to TwoDots, a game that’s not mid-core or hardcore, but pretty casual.

It’s worth noting that TwoDots hasn’t done too bad in terms of grossing, but it’s nowhere near Clash of Clans or Candy Crush status.

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iPhone stats for TwoDots within the past year via App Annie.

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Google Play stats for TwoDots within the past year via App Annie.

As I mentioned previously, the more I play TwoDots, the more I would be ok with paying. However, I’d prefer to not pay 99 cents every time I need lives because it does add up over time. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind paying $5 to play as much as I want. Obviously, this is not a new revenue model at all – in fact, it’s how games have been sold since they were created. Buy so-and-so game for Xbox, and you can play it as much as you want.

So I’ve been thinking – whales bring in a lot of money, but they only make up a small portion of the gaming audiences (note: this doesn’t mean that non-whales DON’T pay – they just don’t bring in nearly as much cash as whales do). It’s true that you can’t directly use users’ UDIDs, but most major gaming companies have found a way of going around UDIDs by giving users their own ID numbers/codes to be able to define cohorts and gather data. Why not use the data you already have on users to make the gaming experiences slightly different? And I’m not just talking about tailored push notifications (which is already being done) – I’m talking about tailoring the ways to get users to pay up.

For users that are loyal to the app but have yet to spend anything, change the experience for them – send out a *limited time offer* to spend $5 for infinite lives (just don’t tell the whales). By doing this, it’s true that once the users opt into the $5 deal, they will never spend money in the app again… but hey – would you rather get $5 from a user or nothing at all?

At the same time, this kind of customized monetization experience can be slightly risky – the obvious factor being that people start finding out and getting angry that they’ve already spent a bunch of money on the app while the non-payers only have to pay $5 for infinite lives. Since this is a difficult situation, it might be best to roll out a “differentiated experience” like this when a company/developer(s) realizes that the game either is A) tanking or B) is not monetizing at all, since at that point, there aren’t too many options left to save the app.