Relaunched Jawbone UP Now Faces Competition. And That’s A Good Thing.
Jawbone, a privately-held company based in San Francisco with a $1.5 billion valuation, today announced the relaunch of its UP wristband, which it discontinued one year ago due to manufacturing problems. (An excellent article in Fortune from October details the "beautiful failure" of the product and CEO Hosain Rahman's decision to cease manufacturing and refund customers' money.) There's a lot to like about this company and its products. Jawbone is one of few companies that has successfully innovated the adjacent possible, as my colleague James McQuivey has written, pivoting from Bluetooth headsets to Jambox speakers to the UP. The UP is a wearable device that lives (on the wrist) at the intersection of fashion and the consumerization of health. The UP is part of an emerging phenomenon that we call Smart Body, Smart World, which we think will power the next wave of growth and innovation in personal computing.
Jawbone's willingness to withdraw its product from the market and refund sales won it goodwill from customers and the press, but its one-year absence puts it behind in a market it helped pioneer. When Jawbone first launched the UP, it had no real competitors; since January, Nike has been in the market with its successful FuelBand, and it recently expanded distribution and color options. Startups Fitbit and Lark Technologies have released new generations of their products, stepping on territory initially carved out by Jawbone. The wearables market is still nascent — hardly a "market" at all — but multiple research firms forecast growth in the billions of dollars over the next few years. Ultimately, Jawbone's competition help establish a category for its product. What could be better, from Jawbone's perspective, of having Nike do your marketing for you, driving awareness among early adopters? In a Forrester survey of 4,700 US online consumers conducted in August 2012, 17% said they were interested in buying a Nike+ FuelBand. Jawbone has the opportunity to tap into this emerging interest and possibly expand it.
There's another winner in Jawbone's reentry: Apple. The UP, the FuelBand, the Fitbit, and the larklife are all compatible with Apple's iOS platform, and they're all sold in Apple Stores. (Tim Cook has served on the board of Nike since 2005 and was spotted wearing a FuelBand during the iPad Mini event.) These wearables, though small in sales today, collectively differentiate Apple's platform from competing ecosystems. More devices are supporting Android (larklife is hiring Android developers now), and they may someday support Windows Phone and Windows 8, which come with the Bluetooth 4.0 with low-energy (BLE, or Bluetooth Smart Ready) standard built into the OS, but they're available first and best on Apple's platform. In the year of the UP's absence, Google has made a splash with Google Glass at the Diane von Furstenburg show, but lacks the here-and-now products that Apple has cultivated. We expect that will start to change in 2013, as Google capitalizes on innovations from Sony, Pebble, and WIMM with its own Google-branded smartwatch.
There's so much at stake in the smart body, smart world paradigm shift — health, commerce, finance, apparel, productivity, media, insurance, and retail are just a few of the industries we think will be transformed by it — that Jawbone's product, while meticulously crafted, seems like a bit player in a larger drama unfolding. Its goal is noble: to use technology to help people become more self-aware and to ultimately improve the way they feel. The UP name encapsulates that aspiration of self-improvement — and is also an apt descriptor of the direction of the overall wearables market.