Trailblazing a new category is really hard. The pioneers of any category make products that fuse rich consumer insights, highly strategic design, impeccable timing, and just the right mix of prior experience. When it comes to smartwatches only a few companies are truly up to the task.
Things are just heating up as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear beat its major rivals to market in a bold first move eagerly received by wearable tech fans. Samsung gave gadget lovers the most notable participant since the release of the crowd-funded Pebble smartwatch of Kickstarter fame.
With Galaxy Gear, Samsung formally initiated the category with a broad suite of features that even included a gesture-controlled camera. Its wide range of mobile devices should soon gain compatibility with the watch, strengthening the Samsung ecosystem even further. The rapid pace of its innovation process will surely continue to fuel excitement in the smartwatch category.
But only recently has there been word of a Google watch, so we thought it would be interesting to step back and deconstruct this opportunity through a Google lens to see how it could satisfy both the consumer and the business. What would Google do?
This is a fun exercise for us here at Fahrenheit 212, where we regularly address complex innovation challenges like this through our Money & Magic approach, fusing analytical strategy with creative inventiveness to collaboratively build solutions. So when we think about a smartwatch, we frame the ultimate product as more than a great idea, but also a strategic solution that solves for both the unmet needs of the consumer and the strategic intentions of the company. Let’s get started.
Google is responsible for some of the most heavily used and impactful innovations of the digital age. It is the crucial steward of the Internet and Captain Crazy when it comes to big ideas that often sound like pranks. Self-driving cars? Sure. Wifi-emitting balloons floated into the stratosphere? Yep. And it just announced a new subsidiary called Calico intended to focus solely on “health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.” Time magazine suggests that Google is aspiring to “solve death,” which would sound far fetched if it didn’t recently hire Ray Kurzweil, the prolific engineer, inventor and author who is striving to “live long enough to live forever”.
These grand ventures reflect a culture of bold ambition that Google is acclaimed for. But at the core, these disparate projects are united by the central principles of the company’s official philosophy, including the maxim “focus on the user and all else will follow.” Simultaneously, the adventurous projects align with a strategic approach to innovation that CEO Larry Page believes will ultimately satisfy the business in both a profitable and meaningful way. This is expressed best in his own words, from an interview with Wired Magazine in early 2013:
“I feel like there are all these opportunities in the world to use technology to make people’s lives better. At Google we’re attacking maybe 0.1 percent of that space. And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent. That means there’s 99 percent virgin territory. Investors always worry, “Oh, you guys are going to spend too much money on these crazy things.” But those are now the things they’re most excited about—YouTube, Chrome, Android. If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.”
Through exploration in different-but-related ventures the opportunities will mount, and innovation may be found in the intersections of diverse experiments. This is what’s happening at Google.
The aforementioned Google moon shots reflect a clear component of its strategy to lead through innovating in wildly ambitious endeavors. Among these impressive projects are three other stars that could make up the constellation of a solid great smartwatch experience. The technological triptych includes Google Now, Google Glass, and Moto X. When combined, these products could fuse into a unique device, illustrating how a big idea can emerge from bold work in different-but-related areas.
“The right information at just the right time.” That’s the slogan that introduces Google Now, an app that seems to configure itself by leveraging your email inbox, search history, calendar, and social activity, to anticipate and deliver personally-relevant information when it’s most useful.
Consider the following scenario. It’s early in the morning and you have a business trip to Paris scheduled to depart in the afternoon. Since your boarding pass is in your Gmail account, Google Now knows where you’re going so it not only displays your local weather report, but the forecast for Paris as well. Later in the day, it will present one-click directions to the airport at just the right time, with an alert for when you ought to leave. Flight delayed? That’s factored in as well. As you arrive at the airport your boarding pass floats to the top of your interface for frictionless access, and the USD/EUR exchange rate is made painfully clear. Is there a band that you’ve previously searched for that’s playing in Paris that week? It’ll let you know. That’s the anticipatory magic of Google Now.
Google Now’s mind-reading nuggets are presented in a simple design, with each item encapsulated within clean tiles. The tile approach features crisp typography and instructive visual hierarchies, striking an elegant note that looks great and really helps to triage the relentless streams of information that we all have to manage. It’s not surprising that this design approach is quickly extending across major Google products like Maps, Gmail and even Search.
But what will make the tile design a sure winner on a watch-face will be the optimization that it endured through its application on Google Glass, the controversial eyewear that’s loved by many and ridiculed by others for its supreme geekery. The device involves a suite of challenging user interface constraints – both visual and interactive – not unlike those that burden the form factor of a watch (namely, a small screen and limited physical controls). This is a pressure-cooker for constrained design, and the experience that Google is earning through its process of refining the usability and human factors of Glass will deliver tremendous benefits when extending its capabilities to a watch. As far as wearable tech goes, eyewear may not be the winning form factor that will attract broad audiences (yet), but Google’s foray into the space allows them to ask a ton of questions and dissect their answers for the insights.
Thanks to Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility, one of the world’s biggest handset companies, it was able to hit the ground running with extensive hardware experience in its arsenal. Halfway through 2013, Google released a mobile device called the Moto X.
What makes the Moto X the final key ingredient in the recipe for the ultimate smartwatch is not its cutting-edge technical specifications. The truth is that it was never intended to compete on specs, for its processor, camera, and screen are all average. Instead, the Moto X competes on battery life, usability and responsiveness, each a key contributor to user satisfaction.
But the most differentiating aspect of the Moto X is how customers order the device: they use the MotoMaker.com website that personalizes the front and back of the phone, in addition to a number of other design details. If we think about watches for a moment, they are well-known for their function as a personality extender, something both functional and aesthetic that offers the ability to express one’s self. If we’re going to replace our current watches, it is likely that a key ingredient to the success of a new watch platform will be its customizability, enabling some personalization and self-expression. Given this premise, the experience that Google gained from designing customizable mobile hardware and Moto X’s supporting services will be vital in a successful rollout of smartwatches.
Lastly, the Moto X features a number of touchless controls that include Google’s impressive voice recognition and movement sensors that allows its users to activate the camera just by flicking their wrists. This innovation is truly destined to extend to watches.
As we’ve seen through this analysis, Google has an opportunity to give users a unique wearable technology gadget. This recipe of brain, design, and experience could provide good momentum going into the smartwatch race.
Whatever Google chooses to ultimately implement will inject a massive surge into this emerging space, largely because of how it will embolden the competition like Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and most notably the first-mover Samsung that will surely follow-up with a strong second generation device.