In 2015, Apple entered the wearables arena with Apple Watch. The product kicked off Apple’s attempt to grab wrist real estate. The wrist has proven incredibly useful given its line of sight for viewing information at a quick glance in addition to its ability to foster certain health monitoring capabilities. While Apple Watch is going up against traditional mechanical watches, competition ends up being much broader. Ultimately, Apple Watch is competing for a place on wrists. One of the Watch’s fiercest competitors is non-consumption, or empty wrists.
A similar dynamic is now unfolding with AirPods. The device is Apple’s attempt at grabbing ear real estate. Competitors for this real estate include both wired headphones, like EarPods, and non-consumption in the form of empty ears. Even though AirPods may be light on features today, having tens of millions of wearers today increases the probability of subsequent AirPods versions seeing strong adoption.
The battle for our eyes is on the horizon, not quite ready for prime time. A pair of smart glasses have the highest likelihood of being Apple’s next major product category.
The key to grabbing real estate on our wrists, in our ears, and in front of your eyes is selling tools that people want to wear and be seen wearing. A product’s design, defined as how we use that product, is crucial in this regard. With Apple Watch, interchangeable bands have played a crucial role in driving Watch adoption. AirPods’ elegant charging case has come to define the product’s experience.
Instead of positioning technology as a barometer for wearables success, the intersection between technology and fashion will determine which products people will want to wear throughout the day. Lessons learned from Apple Watch, and now AirPods, will give Apple an advantage when it comes to developing a pair of lightweight and unobtrusive smart glasses.
Unlike Amazon and Google, which are desperately trying to position voice as a way to leapfrog over the current smartphone/tablet paradigm, Apple is approaching things differently. Instead of betting on a voice interface that pushes some information to a stationary screen, Apple is betting on mobile screens that are home to a digital assistant. Apple is placing a bet that consumers will want the familiarity found with touch screens to transition to a future of greater AI and digital assistants. Apple Watch ends up serving as a bridge to the future. The most valuable mobile screens in our lives will increasingly be worn on the body. In addition, Apple thinks screen manipulation via fingers, hands, and eyes will remain a crucial part of the computing experience for the foreseeable future.
AirPods play a role in this vision by harnessing sound on the go. Wired headphones are an endangered species as there is no place for wires in a wearables world. While the viral nature of AirPods may subside over the coming months, especially as adoption continues to expand, the biggest takeaway from the various AirPods memes, tweets, and videos, is that wearables continue to infiltrate society. We are witnessing the early stages of the wearables era.
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