In my previous posts I discussed the opportunity for Apple to create a new ecosystem around the rumored LTE Apple Watch. In the first one I mentioned that cellular-enabled smart watches have existed before for the Android ecosystem, but still this was raised by some people.
I think it is fair to ask why Apple, arriving later than others to this market, should create an ecosystem when other devices have not been able to. Is the halo effect from the Apple brand enough to justify the difference?
One thing that is important to stress is that, in most cases, being first is not that relevant to beat a market. Nokia had internet capable phones, with WiFi, great cameras and applications support before the iPhone was launched. But Nokia wasn’t able to create that ecosystem, while Apple was.
The key for the ecosystem comes from what I discussed in my first post:
Those two elements must interact into a virtuous cycle.
But the problem for the cellular smart watches launched as companions for Android-based phones is that they did not provide the required environment to trigger that virtuous cycle. And so, being first to market didn’t help to conquer it.
There are two main problems that prevent current Android smart watches being able to drive the new phone-less (r)evolution:
So all in all, the situation for a connected Android watch is that it does not bring enough value by itself to leave the main phone behind (something that affects the non-LTE Apple Watch too, which is why it did not create an ecosystem before), and the fragmentation issues further reduce the incentive for developers to invest into creating standalone experiences that significantly change that situation.
A side note to all this is that the value for a standalone Apple Watch will be fully realized by its usage with paired Bluetooth headphones. Interaction for music, voice calls and Siri make much more sense that way, and an Android device powered by Google Assistant would be in an identical situation. In Apple’s case they will be able to build that scenario around a previous successful product: their AirPods, but in the case of Android devices, while pairing an Android Wear smartwatch with a Bluetooth headset is possible, that use case is not promoted and there is no “natural product” to do this. Users need to imagine that scenario, or find some suitable earphones to complement their smartwatch. In Apple’s case the reinforcement between AirPods and LTE Watch will be part of all marketing material — it already is — which will further strengthen the ecosystem.
Ironically, the success of an LTE Apple Watch can drive success also for Android Wear devices with LTE, as its potential success and perception of value will generate more demand for alternatives from users. Meanwhile, developers having built applications for the LTE Apple Watch may be more willing to then try to bring that experience to Android, specially if the effort is relatively small.
Google could help this by providing an application model in Android Wear that follows the Apple approach to some extent (so that migration does not require a full redesign of the solution, even if it requires a full recoding). But also a reference device, so that developers can focus on it, and new let new devices follow that lead to avoid being let out of that ecosystem.
A successful LTE Apple Watch, followed by Google launching a Pixel Watch that is heavily inspired by the Apple’s approach to phone-less behavior, and some AirPods-like connected buds to interact with the Google Assistant, may help consolidate the dual ecosystem (Apple+Google) also for the connected Watch space.
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