Wearables: more like social networks or hoverboards?

Apple is going to release its highly-anticipated iWatch this October. It will have a 2.5 inch rectangular display. I’m pretty skeptical that anyone will want one. But I could, I suppose, be wrong. iWatch could turn out to be the next facebook. let me explain:

Apple’s chance of first-mover advantage is zero. The smart watch market is already quite busy. Samsung and Google have products out. So do others.

smash misses.
smash misses.

None is making much of a splash.

We have a vision of tech breakthroughs as being radical new inventions. But really they stand on the shoulders of others.

Here’s a little extract from an email I got in April 2005, when facebook was still mainly for ivy league students and working on attracting early stage investors.

“I actually don’t know what this Bebo service does, but it looks like some of you are ‘existing members’ so I’m assuming it’s a good thing I need to get on the band wagon with.”

I joined Bebo. I can’t remember if I joined Hi5. I definitely didn’t join MySpace. But I thought about all of them and dismissed their usefulness long before I …

Joined facebookApple is betting that its smartwatch will be like facebook. That it will enter a market that has been a graveyard for competitors and make them look foolish. You wouldn’t bet on any company that wasn’t Apple being successful. And the Apple of 2009 might have been able to make a smartwatch into a runaway smash hit. But is 2014 Apple equally savvy?

There are clues that the magic began to evaporate when Steve Jobs passed away:

Why Apple no longer innovates.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) No Longer The King Of “Cool Tech”

There’s No Way Around It: Apple Is In ‘Reset,’

Although there are clues that the backlash is mainly clickbait and the magic is still there.

Source: Google
Source: Google

Investors are betting that the combination of fitness monitors and mini-notifications in the smartwatch will be just right. That it will click with the zeitgeist and zoom away until tehre are two types of people. Those who have an iWatch, and those planning to get one.

But when a product already exists in the market, you have to really nail your version to capture the market. That’s an art, not a science, it requires judgment in the 99th percentile, not the 98th. There is evidence a company like Apple can continue to be good for a long time. But can it be very very good? I doubt it.

The iWatch may not turn out not to be a facebook. It could be a hoverboard.

Something from science fiction that is possible to produce, but turns out to have severe limitations.

Not like this.
Not like this.

If that turns out to be the case, the iWatch will be a niche product and eager investors will lose a lot of money on Apple stock.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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