Can the Apple Watch Win the Wrist?

Wrist-worn smart devices are not a new idea. They’ve existed in various forms since the mid-1980s, and several companies, including Microsoft’s SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) watch, made a significant push into the smartwatch category nearly a decade ago. But none of these devices have stuck. Why?

The Apple Watch, which the company recently unveiled, is discrete, functional and even beautiful. But will you buy it? Can Apple change customer behavior when it comes to purchasing wearable technology?

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For almost any purchase decision, consumers consciously and subconsciously consider tradeoffs between what we’re giving vs. what we think we are getting in return. Quite simply, if the “get” is greater than the “give,” we’ll decide to choose that product or service. No smartwatch on the market has yet found the correct balance.

The Apple Watch is well positioned to win the give/get battle. Consider its opportunity against three questions.

1. Is it fashionable? Apple’s technology has always been known for premium usability and aesthetics. Its products are simple and approachable, yet beautiful to a wide range of people. But aesthetics are even more important when we visibly wear or carry something on our body -- we are making a statement about ourselves.

This is part of the reason why early-generation smartwatches have failed, because they did not sufficiently address the critically important fashion and social expression needs of a wearable product.

Creating a "one-style-fits-all" solution that addresses a variety of fashion needs is a daunting challenge. Given the implications of these devices as accessories, we’d also argue for a shift in naming them “fashion tech.” But by making a different watch to suit various tastes (34 styles in the sporty, classic and modern categories), Apple neutralized this problem.

Apple has often taken such steps to make its products more personalized. The iPhone 5C, for example, was intended to appeal to those who like a wider color palette from which to select their phone.

Choosing a brightly-colored phone is an intentional way of merging your electronics and your fashion -- you consider what color would match the rest of your wardrobe, and you choose a phone that will seamlessly integrate itself into your life. You treat the iPhone as an accessory, and you strive for it to match, even if subconsciously.

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2. Does it provide a service you want or need? Apple has a strong history of redefining technology categories and dominating those markets. MP3 players existed long before the iPod, and many critics thought Apple was crazy to introduce an MP3 player that was larger and significantly more expensive than the other products on the market.

But Apple was successful because it addressed customers' real needs. For the first time, people were able to bring their full music collection everywhere they went and easily access new music to add to their collection. With the iPod, Apple combined a simple, usable device with a music service ecosystem, and successfully set a new norm.

The solution that the Apple Watch provides is allowing wearers to carry connectivity with them 24/7. Of course, you’ll be able to take off your Apple Watch whenever you want, but the technology represents another step toward becoming seamlessly connected to the world. And Apple needs to seriously consider this behavior change “give” for a tipping point to occur -- not just in favor of its smartwatch, but any smartwatch.

Apple will likely find adopters by creating an extremely intuitive user interface with functionality that we didn’t know we needed until we experience it -- such as the functionality to toggle between apps with the watch’s dial, which may improve usability since a user will not need to block on-screen apps by using traditional pinching and scrolling gestures.

3. Do you get more than you give? Consumers are already comfortable sharing their wrists with a useful accessory. With the Apple Watch’s promise of a digital crown to respond to movement, sensors to monitor fitness activity, connection to Apple’s new payment system, Apple Pay, and six customizable options out of the gate, the device is giving quite a lot. And if you agree, then maybe Apple has already won as the owner of the wearable device category.

Fashion electronics ask more of consumers: a physical spot on their body. In the battle for the wrist, the race to the top is all about combining design with the ideal user experience, blending a fashion aesthetic with functionality that meaningfully connects to an experiential ecosystem, thereby seamlessly fitting into people’s lives.

Traditionally, this is where Apple has excelled, but this concept can be applied to any new smart devices being developed. In the end, the products that will succeed are those that correctly balance the give and the get. They provide a meaningful connected experience that improves lives in ways that consumers never imagined.

Related: Sorry, the Apple Watch Is No Game Changer