Innovation Strategist & 2x Entrepreneur

The 3 Killer Apps for Wearables

Wearable devices, particularly smart watches, have the ability to achieve 3 major disruptions. If I’m right, these killer apps will change the way we live. 

In a previous article, I talk about why I believe in wearables. I believe an iWatch could become the most intimate piece of technology I own, a device that represents a portal to my immediate environment, to my ‘progress’. They will leverage a superpower – effortless ubiquity – to give consumers powerful new capabilities, and create a new $100 billion industry.

The big question is: what would we use a wearable device for? The market is asturated with early concepts and products, but nothing has really nailed it yet. There are some standout products – Google Glass, Pebble, Fitbit and Fuelband, and more recently, Coin – but these products still sit at the periphery of society enjoyed by the early adopter community.

There has to be more to it.

So what are the Killer Apps?

The conversation has heated up again in the past few days with the revelation that Apple is planning to develop a mobile payments solution.  In Apple’s most recent earnings call, Tim Cook acknowledged that mobile payments were always in Apple’s mind when developing TouchID for the iPhone 5S. When the combination TouchID, iBeacon and 575 million credit cards in iTunes are considered together, an Apple-designed mobile payments solution could be just around the corner.

What shocked me is the news covered seems to show a limited perception of what this revelation really means. People are fixated by the phone – but there is much more to it than that.  Perhaps that’s why Tim Cook was so blasé in his statements. Paying from your phone is not the main game, it’s the appetizer, a prelude to what is really about to happen.

Rather, I see this as a signal of 3 major disruptions on the horizon, powered by an Apple iWatch.

The Answer is in Your Pocket

Take a moment to think about what’s in your pocket and the first two killer apps immediately emerge: (1) Payments, and (2) Access to your physical world. With the right wearable device, I will leave my wallet and keys at home.

Irrespective of whether you’re female or male, carry a purse or fill your pockets – you are unlikely to leave your home without your wallet, keys and smartphone. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, you take your wallet, keys and phone with you. Interestingly, 2 of these 3 objects are analog. But why are we still carrying analog objects around with us in 2014?

The world is ready for a change. The crowdfunding successes of Pebble, and now Coin, show us that the market is ready to fully digitize our pockets. Is it possible that wearables will become the key technology to enable this transition, permanently? Coin digitizes our cards, but we still have to carry a Coin. What happens when the Coin is in the wearable? With the right device, you wouldn’t need to remember – your wallet and keys are always with you, on your wrist.

Killer App #1 = Payments

The news this week signals that Apple has already well underway with a payments solution. In June 2013 they released iBeacon – the bluetooth proximity receiver that can communicate with your smartphone when inside the iBeacon’s bluetooth geofence.  With an iWatch, you’d walk up to the cash register, an iBeacon would sense your presence, the POS would send you the bill, you tap your fingerprint, and you’ve instantly paid.

Boom. The wallet stays at home.

Killer App #2 = ‘Access’

Similarly, what about my keys? We are seeing the internet of things becoming a commercial reality. Sonos lets you connect to your speakers; Hue lets you connect to your lights; August lets you open your doors. Just last week, Google bought Nest for $3.2bn.

Imagine that moment when you arrive at your door with an armful of groceries. Do you really want to dig around in your purse – for your keys or your phone – while juggling 10 pounds of fresh food in your arms? Or would you like for your home to sense the wearable on your wrist, automatically or easily allow you to authenticate yourself, and just let you in? Just as easily, it can brings your home to life – speakers, atmosphere and lighting – in an effortless instant?

Wham. No more keys.

A wearable device, on your wrist not on your face, is a perfect solution for this. Perhaps an iWatch is the missing piece to the overall technology puzzle that will bring the Internet of Things and the Smart Home to life.

Killer App #3 = Passwords

Let’s take the idea of “access” a bit further.

In a highly digital world, what’s one of the biggest problems we all face on a daily basis: remembering our passwords. Password are the major vehicle through which we ‘access’ the digital properties that power our lives.  Other times, you produce your ID to prove who you are (also in your wallet).

Could our wearable allow us to authenticate ourselves in the electronic as well as physical world? If our wearable device is secure enough to allow us to pay, will it also be secure enough to access our laptop? What about email, Facebook, Twitter or the security gate at Bloomberg? If Apple has found a way to manage our money, has it also found a way to manage our identity?

There are complimentary signals in other parts of the wearable ecosystem. Wearables frequently distinguish themselves by the sensors they hold. Let’s look at the Basis fitness tracker. It has a camera which detects and monitors your heart rate while you wear it. The Nymi specifically uses heart rate to identify you and connect you via bluetooth to your laptop so you never need to remember a password again.

It is a very small step to think that an iWatch could use our biometrics to support authentication. The combination of fingerprint and cardiac rhythm could become an incredibly robust authentication measure. Put such an authenticator in an iWatch, and your passwords will be the presence of your body.

You sit at your desk and your laptop senses your watch.  The iWatch authenticates your fingerprint and/or heart rate, then communicates with your phone/tablet/laptop via bluetooth as a universal password to all your cloud services.

Blam. No more passwords.

Tell me you wouldn’t LOVE a device that could help you with that. When these capabilities arrive, we’ll wonder what we did without them.

We still need the Platform

What is missing from this picture is a platform, the glue that will hold all these parts together.

I do not believe the wearables industry cannot take off in the way existing players are currently imagining it. At best, the current ideas are experimental prototypes, highly fragmented across many use cases.

This leads us to a fundamental question for the wearable tech industry. Will the future of wearables be defined as a collection of thousands of individual devices, each with their own hyper-specialized purpose – or – will it form as an ecosystem based on a small number of large and powerful platforms just as mobile has concentrated around iOS and Android?

Today we have fragmentation – but I doubt that is the future. What we have not yet seen is a good platform play, and the best platform company in the world is Apple. They sit silently, as crowd funded startups like Pebble and Coin prove small pieces of market demand, and competitors like Samsung make an early attempt at market leadership. Apple sits quietly, watching and waiting for the time to enter.

When Apple enters, it will do so with killer apps that seem so compelling we will think we were stupid to not imagine them ourselves AND a platform to support the massive community of developers ready to create new apps to expand their usefulness.

What’s the Opportunity for Entrepreneurs?

In keeping with the theme of this blog, what decisions making opportunity for entrepreneurs? For those interested in the space, the decision to make is where to place a bet in the evolving ecosystem.

Personally, I don’t think it’s to develop hardware. I believe the place to play is software backed by offline services, where the solution solves a human problem which exists today, but is solved imperfectly by existing products and companies. Instead, the problem is better solved with a wearable device, better even than by a smartphone. Just like the ‘mobile-first’ startups that have disrupted industries (e.g. Uber), there will be ‘wearable-first’ startups that do the same in the next wave of innovation.

My bet is the savviest entrepreneurs already have ideas.

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Tell me what you think. Post a comment or connect with me on Twitter.

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Kosta Stavreas

Innovation Strategist & 2x Entrepreneur