It’s our most personal device yet. That was Apple’s tagline around the announcement of the Apple Watch, a brand-new category of device in the Apple ecosystem that was announced late last year. If you’re like me, you received the news with excitement (as we tend to do with most big Apple announcements) but that excitement was followed by a little bit of skepticism. A watch? Does anybody wear watches anymore? I already have a portable device that I carry around in my pocket every day, so what use do I have for a slightly more portable device? From reading and listening to some of the tech community and their responses to the announcement after the fact, I was certainly not alone in my doubt.
In the weeks and months after the Apple announcement, the entire category of wearables received renewed focus from the tech community. The most well known device in this category to that point was Google Glass. I watched several demos of Google Glass, one at Finovate and another at BAI Retail Delivery, conducted by innovation specialists from various FinTech companies. While certainly interesting, upon reflection, I observed the following:
1. None of the demos actually seemed to go off without a hitch. Something didn’t seem quite right in all instances.
2. The odd contortions and positions that people needed to put themselves in in order to actually get the pair of glasses to recognize something was unusual on stage and I can only imagine what it would look like in a line at Target or Home Depot.
3. The only time I had ever actually seen anyone wearing Google Glass was at one of these demos. To this day, I’ve never actually seen anyone wearing Glass out in the real world.
On that last point, I had tweeted about that, and got a response agreeing with me on Google Glass but insisting that wearables would be big.
While I agreed with most that the wearables technology sector was something to definitely pay attention to, I had some fundamental questions about its applicability within the financial technology community. As I spent more and more time thinking about it, and with some help from others outside of the financial software community, I started to see some patterns that looked promising.
For the financial software community, our specific community banks and credit unions are looking for opportunities to provide their customers with the immediate data that they need and to keep their brand in front of their customers and members, as a trusted advisor. Mobile technology has enabled that like no other technology has by allowing the bank to extend its services into our users daily lives, without them being tethered to a computer at a desk. Clearly the explosion of mobile growth in this sector proves that point soundly. People want access to their data, and want answers to their questions, and look to their financial institutions to provide that service regardless of where they are or what they are doing. Take a look at the below graphic, courtesy of Luke Wroblewski.
This graphic was instructive for me, because it brought to light an obvious, yet not as common realization, about wearable technology. As far as ubiquitous devices are concerned, the watch is arguably at the top of the heap. In most cases, a user has their mobile phone available at a moment’s notice. I know that I, a heavy smart phone user, will at times forget my wallet as I go off on errands but never forget my phone. If I could pay everywhere with my phone, I would have almost no need to worry when I forget my wallet but that’s another blog post. To have a glanceable version of that same functionality on my wrist with me all the time is obviously an interesting proposition. It means I wouldn’t have to fumble through pockets, or head back to my bedroom or office where I left the device, or otherwise spend time looking elsewhere.
Will users require that kind of immediate attention to data? We could have asked the same question about mobile vs. desktop. Based on mobile growth, that question has been answered already. What’s been great about delivering a mobile only experience is that it forces us to narrow the focus of data and functionality to precisely what users want and need, nothing more, dispensing with extra checkbox functionality, and to take advantage of the ubiquitous nature of mobile. A wearable device like the Apple Watch only amplifies what a true mobile only experience should deliver: glanceable data that is relevant and important to the user, nothing more, and arguably even more ubiquitous than a mobile phone or tablet.
To my second concern about whether or not watches are really used anymore, I spent some time thinking through that one specifically. While it is certainly true that a lot of people I know, myself included, don’t wear a watch on a regular basis, mainly because timekeeping is something that my phone presently does better than any watch I’ve had ever did, I did think it relevant to expand my notion of what a watch is, and what use cases I was actually paying attention to. I started asking myself the question: instead of asking why in the world would anybody want to do all of these things with their watch, I instead started asking why in the world would anybody wear a device all day and all evening on their wrist that only tells time? If I’m going to devote that part of myself to carrying, indeed wearing, technology, I would presume that it needs to be much more functional than just letting me know that I’m five minutes late for lunch. The functionality that a highly targeted and pointy solution can offer is certainly much more compelling to me, and more useful than a simple timekeeping device. Additionally, to the question of who wears watches anymore, while it’s true that casual observance of watch usage would seem to indicate a decline, if you’re a community bank or financial institution and your brand could be placed in front of all people who still wear watches, that’s an attractively large segment of the population, abstainers notwithstanding. The reality simply is that the vast majority of individuals still wear watches and financial institutions cannot dismiss such a large population of customers and members.
So as we anticipate and await the official release of Apple Watch what will the turnout be? What will the experience truly be like? Will it be a game changer or will it simply be another device that ends up on a failed technology idea list? The truth remains to be seen. Whether or not Apple Watch succeeds, only time will tell. But whether it succeeds or not the concepts that it has helped to create, I believe, have far-reaching and fundamental questions for financial institutions that want to continue to look for opportunities to continue to deliver relevant and useful information to their customers and members while maintaining a ubiquitous brand presence. A most personal device, indeed.
What are your thoughts on wearables, personally or from a business perspective?