Back in the dark ages of direct mail (when people used to write paper letters and we shopped using printed mail order catalogs), people railed against “junk mail” just like they do today. Only back then they complained about wasting trees; now they complain about email inboxes so cluttered that they can’t find any useful correspondence. One other fact remains; one person’s “junk” is another’s “valuable information.” For example, I was wading through my inbox clutter and found an ad promoting a $50 smartwatch.
It is not just a Chinese knock-off, either. It’s an HP Titan JUXT, which is still listed on the HP Store site but without a price which makes it a tad difficult to purchase. However, this is a watch that had a list price of $250 when it debuted two years ago. It has a traditional analog face (moving hands) with a small black-and-white OLED display window for alerts and other smart functions. It is not overloaded with sensors; while it tracks motion and counts steps, it does not measure heart rate or other biometric data that could be useful for health and medical applications. And here it is, two years later, available in the Internet surplus bins at $50.
I’m not trying to kick sand on HP here. My reason for bringing this up is that it raises questions about the market for “smartwatches” and where they are headed. The story of the $50 smartwatch underscores three of my recurring themes about this market. First: “more features” wins over “fewer features”. Just as with smartphones, people want their devices to do more, often to the point where the original purpose — such as making phone calls — gets lost in the weeds. Second: fitness is not enough. If you follow the money, health and medical applications for wearables will changes lives and save money. Step counting alone? Not so much. And finally, these devices will be purchased by the large organizations that stand to benefit financially from their use: healthcare systems, insurance companies, and self-insured employers. There’s not a lot for them to love in a product like this, so they are more likely to purchase a container load of some other device that actually gathers actionable information.
Still, I confess that I’m tempted to find out what a $250 smartwatch might do that is useful. At this price, it’s not much more than a standard Timex at Walmart. And it raises the question of whether or not watch manufacturers can incorporate enough desirable functions at an affordable price, or will they lose out to the “fitness bands” that are morphing rapidly into wrist-worn sensor platforms that also tell the time?