From Syuzi Pakchyan on Pollen.
As the whooping cheers for wearables quiets to a whisper, impatient technophiles are as quick to deem them dead as they were to champion their rising star three years prior. When crowdsourcing darling, Pebble, came to an abrupt end and rumors flared that Jawbone was exiting the consumer market altogether, these fair-weather fans quickly leapt to the hasty conclusion that wearables hadn’t “lived up to their promise.” But what, exactly, was this promise?
Depending on who you ask, the answer could be different. For some, wearables were supposed to untether us from our smartphones, yet the smartphone was positioned at the core of the product experience. For others, wearables were supposed to make us fitter, healthier versions of ourselves, yet our own data was virtually inaccessible, locked away in digital fortresses. For the even more ambitious, wearables were supposed to offer new paradigms for interacting with the objects and environments around us, yet they naively interfered with human interaction. The truth is, whatever aspiration we may have had for wearables, they failed to capture our imagination.
Many of these first generation wearables anchored their core experience around a bet on a technology rather than genuine user needs. The resulting product experience was often not only contradictory to their lofty vision, but created gigantic barriers to achieving it. The UX burden of these wearables stripped them of their utility and once they fell off the wrist, there was not a good enough reason to put them back on again.
So, does this mean that wearables are dead? Far from it. The hype may be over, but now the real work must begin. The obvious place to start is to ask ourselves why wearables failed to reach their full potential. What failed to resonate? Was the UX burden too high? The utility not enough? Were they just too darn ugly?
These are all pieces of the puzzle, but more importantly, most wearables failed to develop a distinctive point of view or tell an aspirational story. Every decent product designer knows that a successful product must meet its users’ emotional needs, and every great CEO knows that this must fundamentally involve weaving a distinct point of view and a compelling narrative into the fabric of the product.
Few wearable companies to date are very good at telling stories, and by stories I don’t mean product stories or user stories—I mean human stories. To consumers today, what your brand stands for is arguably more important than the latest sensor technology.
Technology companies often rely on differentiation driven by technology alone or a set of features with no compelling story. However, we must remember we are designing some of the most intimate products competing for finite real estate—products we are asking users to wear on their bodies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those that appeal to the heart, like a watch passed down from generation to generation, or help people reflect their aspirational selves, like a delicate garment designed with thoughtful detail, have a better chance of remaining on the body than those relying on utility alone.
As we have seen with fitness trackers, most technologies quickly become commodified and their features are easily copied. Today you can purchase the Xiaomi Mi Band 2 for less than $20, so why would you want to spend $250 on a Kate Spade hybrid watch? What the fashion industry does, and does well, is tell a story. It is the aspirational part of fashion that captures people’s imagination, and it is this storytelling—not just an aesthetic revival—that is missing from wearables today.
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