I’m packing to leave Paris and it’s a hard town to leave. Not only because I managed to catch a glimpse of a Paris sunset last night from the top of Notre Dame, but because I’m leaving LeWeb Paris 2014 while it’s still in full swing. There’s no denying LeWeb is one of the most invigorating events I’ve attended. Highlights in the first two days included a candid discussion on Uber with celebrity venture capitalist Fred Wilson and amazing comments from Web founder Tim Berners-Lee on everything from robots to net neutrality to Europe’s “right to be forgottten” laws. Most invigorating for me personally was the day one session on wearables. LeWeb invited me to curate this hour-long track as part of its new format, tackling multiple themes in short bursts over several days. Curation required pulling together experts on the topic which was both simple and difficult. Simple because there are some great ones to choose from, difficult because I would have had 10 people on stage if I could have managed it. But that’s where the hard task of curation comes in.
I was very pleased to share the stage with Forrester’s very own wearables expert, J.P. Gownder, a VP and Principal Analyst who brought exclusive, new data from his latest Forrester report, Five Urgent Truths About The Future Of Wearables That Every Leader Should Know, to his keynote address. David Rose, CEO of Ditto Labs and author of the book Enchanted Objects, came next, sporting a lifelogging lapel camera that took a picture of the audience from David’s perspective every 30 seconds. These gentlemen then joined me on stage for a discussion panel where we also invited Cedric Hutchings, CEO of Withings, maker of the famous scale but also the Activite watch, a new entry in wearable health and wellness devices, to join us. Also on stage was Stephane Marceau, CEO of OMSignal, maker of biometric smart clothing, a sample of which he was wearing on stage. I won’t recap the whole session because you can see it all right here yourself on the video below (or if you want to link to it, the link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=El2o0YnzILQ).
On the other side of the video, I want to share some observations on the topic of wearables that emerged from backstage discussions with the panelists, meetings with Forrester’s clients in Paris, and conversations with journalists covering LeWeb.
Four facts about wearables that I’m bringing home with me from LeWeb:
- Fashion is going to matter here more than ever. Stephane said it on stage and the panel discussed it backstage with some passion. The things you wear have always been signifiers of who you are and what you want from life. Fashion brands have long capitalized on this. In fact, David added that the wearables category was “the fashion brands’ game to lose,” meaning that they already sell billions’ worth of wearables every day. If they don’t step up to transform those wearables into technology-aided objects, someone else will. Though Stephane won’t disclose names beyond his existing partnership with Ralph Lauren he assures us that OMSignal is speaking to dozens of fashion brands and that we will hear more about that soon. In a later conversation with a Forrester client, a technology security provider, we discussed how a company like Rolex should be leading this charge into wearables. It already has a premium price, its customers have proven eager to adopt new technology from quasi-fashion brand Apple, and its customers will want the utmost in information security and privacy which Rolex could easily afford to provide.
- People want technology benefits, not technology. This is a long-running theme in my research and in the wearables case it will prove to be 100% true. The sooner companies can make the technology a means to a beneficial end, the sooner more people will do it. That means reducing the burden of charging — I charge my Moto 360 every night in an inductive charger next to my bedside (yes, I have to bring it with me when I travel, ugh) but Cedric’s Activite watch never needs charging because its face is actually a Swiss-made timepiece with analog hands, and the wearable tech is embedded in the watch unobtrusively, pushing all the interaction with the user out to the smartphone. Whether we’re talking haptic shoes or jackets (both real things, watch JP’s speech on the video) or eyeglasses beyond Google Glass, the more the emphasis is shifted to what you can do with the tech rather than what the tech can do with you, the more people will grab these gadgets.
- Apple sure knows how to cause a stir. I closed the session with my prediction that a year from now, at least 10 million people worldwide will own an Apple watch. As that note bounced around the Twitterverse, several people responded that others are predicting from 15 to 25 million while still yet others complained that analysts always inflate things to be sensational. First, a disclaimer, Forrester hasn’t issued a formal forecast for Apple Watch because we don’t have enough information about things like its launch timing, the countries it will be in, and whether it will have added features that haven’t been announced yet (I believe it will). But by that time, at least 100 million people will have an iPhone 5 or 6 that is capable of connecting to Apple Watch. All Apple needs is a 10% conversion rate to sell 10 million units. For most companies, that’s hard to do. Microsoft’s launch of the Kinect camera in 2010 actually earned Microsoft an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest selling consumer electronics device launch. In that case, Microsoft sold 8 million units in just two months. Importantly, that was a 12% conversion rate of Xbox 360 owners around the world. Can Apple match that? Yes, especially if Apple Watch goes on sale in April or May. And those of you quibbling over Apple Watch costing too much, please note that the original iPod, in today’s dollars, was launched at a price point over $500. The lowest-priced iPad at launch cost more than that and it sold 10 million units in its 2010 launch. It’s going to happen, and every other wearable will see a lift because of it.
- Europe is one year behind the US, and that’s unusual. The exclusive data we shared in our report and that JP showed on the stage put Europe about a year behind the US in consumer interest, meaning that Europe in 2014 reports the level of interest in wearables that the US showed in 2013. Some reporters asked us if this meant that Europe was lagging. Let me add some perspective from the two decades of experience I have working with the difference between the US and Europe on consumer technology adoption. The point is not that Europe is a year behind on wearables. It’s that Europe is only a year behind! In the past Europe has typically has a 2- to 3-year buffer between seeing things like iPods and eReaders debut in the United States and when they had to prepare for them. What’s amazing this time around is that the lag has compressed to one year, despite the very real barriers caused by the economic uncertainty across Europe and the onerous regulatory infrastructure of Europe that inhibits local startups as well as entry from abroad. The message from European and US consumers is clear: This stuff will help us and we want it.
James McQuivey, Ph.D. is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the book Digital Disruption. If you’re quick, you might see him buying one last rocher from Fauchon on his way to the airport.