I was excited by the thought of Apple Pay on my Watch. There’s a (childish) appeal that I can pay for stuff just using the device on my wrist. And it looks as if I’m not the only one. In June, mobile analyst, Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) Tweeted: ‘Apple Pay with a phone is still just taking something out of your pocket. Not transformative. With a watch it’s amazing. End of friction’. A report released in August from Writstly found that 80% of Watch users have paid with the system and 78% do so at least once a week. With such a high uptake, does that make Apple Pay a rip-roaring success? The answer is, probably not.
I am one of the 80% who have used Apple Pay on the Watch and it has been far from life changing. It is good enough, but far from the great experience that Apple has delivered elsewhere. Double clicking to ‘prime’ the card is fairly easy, although it’s effectively a two-handed operation. Tapping in to pay can be tricky at times. The biggest challenge is getting the angle right on the reader. They are generally set up on the right hand side and this is especially a problem on London’s transport network. If you wear your watch on your left then tapping in can be somewhat hit and miss. That’s not great on TfL where a nanosecond’s pause will cause havoc and loud tutting from other commuters. Another challenge is the availability in retailers. My UK experience is that very few outlets advertise Apple Pay. So for many shops it’s a case of tapping to see if it works. So even on the Watch there is still some friction.
In spite of the Wristly study, its difficult to know the true uptake of the payment system – we don’t know how many Apple Watches have been sold and there have only been a couple of broader studies in the US. One survey from InfoScout covering all Apple devices pointed towards a drop in payment adoption rates – from 15% in March 2015 to 13% in June. The second study was a Gallup Poll, which found that 65% of iPhone 6 users were aware of the payment system, but only 21% had used it. None of these show a comparison in take up with contactless cards, so there’s no baseline to gauge the success.
The Wristly study was a self-selecting sample of Watch users. It’s reasonable to assume that these are early adopters of the device who are likely to try out Apple Pay regardless of the experience. When it comes to a broader audience an experience that’s ‘good enough’ is probably not good enough to drive mass adoption. At the end of the day, Apple Pay is good attempt at mobile payment but it’s hard to see how it will achieve real scale. That said, I’m going to keep using Apple Pay on my Watch. Not because it’s any easier, but just because I can.
There is a theory that most sandwich toasters lie in the cupboard unused (I suspect that you could also include ice cream makers). A sandwich toaster is exciting (ish) for the first few months as you discover all of the random things you can shove between two bits of cooked bread. After that, it largely takes up space in the cupboard.
It looks like smartwatches could go the way of the sandwich toaster. Someone recently told me that he had a Motorola smartwatch but didn’t bother wearing it. The watch was decent enough, but after a few months of use, he realised that there was little need for it. He wasn’t alone. A study in 2014 found that 50% of fitness trackers were left in the drawer.
If smartwatches want to remain on people’s wrists they have a number of challenges to overcome:
- The devices can be very buggy – in some watches, the software has simply not been up to the job. Apple’s Watch will work superbly, but the predicted 18 hour battery life is going to make constant usage tricky
- Fashions change – unlike a phone, the look of a smartwatch is absolutely key to its adoption. They are firmly in the accessories market and the technology companies are competing against the likes of Fossil, Swatch and Tag Hauer. And all of them are competing with the fickleness of fashion
- Smartwatches are not essential, core devices – whilst I can’t imagine leaving home without my phone, I don’t see any real inconvenience if I forget to wear my smartwatch. Sure, some people get addicted to them but a combination of the small screen size and limited functionality puts them in danger of being novelty items.
Many commentators have pointed out that it’s the apps that will make or break adoption. Simply reducing phone apps to a mini screen is not going to hack it. Developers need to think differently for a more personal, wearable channel. Without some killer apps, there’s a possibility that smartwatches will become a short-lived fad. With the impending delivery of Apple’s Watch, it’s certainly exciting times in the world of wearables. The company has been a game-changer with their phones and tablet devices. However, it remains to be seen whether they can make the smartwatch enough of a necessity that it doesn’t end up languishing in the cupboard next to the sandwich maker.
At the recent tech shows, SES, MWC and now SXSW, the big talk was around wearable devices. However, they are not that new. We’ve had wearables for decades, in the form of:
Predictions for wearable sales show growing numbers:
Sounds like a lot? Compare that to smartphones, where 456m were sold in the third quarter in 2013, making sales of close to 1 billion per year. To give wearable uptake a bit more context, think about the rapid adoption rates of iPads or apps. There’s a long way to go for wearables.
I think there are three primary reasons why wearable uptake will be so slow:
This last point is the greatest barrier to adoption. Whilst online news and blogging sites are full of technologists who love all the gadgets, that doesn’t seem to represent the majority. Most people just aren’t that bothered. We love our smartphones, which have become the centre of our digital lives. Health is certainly one area where wearables can offer real benefits, but aside from specific applications, wearables have a long way to go before they become truly useful.