The competitive future of computing

Tags: Op-ed
The competitive future of computing
Bloomberg
WEAR YOUR TECH: The Google Glass is nothing but a wearable computer. Tech giant Google entered in a partnership with brands like RayBan, to offer additional frame designs for their smart glass
Wash and wear garments were a novelty once. But the new revolution in innovation is in the ‘watch’ and ‘wear’ computing devices. Deloitte, the company I work for, has come out with a study on ‘wearables’. It contends that smart glasses, fitness bands and smart watches would sell about 10 million units in 2014 generating $3 billion. Initially, the smart glasses would be the ugly duckling and a niche. But the sale of smart glasses is likely to surpass 100 million units by 2020.

The Google Glass, for instance, is nothing but a wearable computer. Google entered in a partnership with brands like RayBan, to offer additional frame designs. Google started selling Google Glass in the US on April 15 for a limited period of time for $1,500. It looks like a normal glass except that this one has optical head-mounted display (OPMD).

Google Glass takes photos and videos, sends text messages, engages with Facebook, makes phone calls, searches Google, and gets turn-by-turn navigation with maps. It can show the weather, the time and headlines from the Financial Chronicle once it has been pushed to the device, (with headline summaries in audio too). When offline, it only takes photos and videos.

It is predicted that the initial commercial price of smart glasses would be between $300 and $600, which may keep them out of the mainstream demand in countries like China and India. However, it is also predicted that millions of people across the world would buy these devices such as Google Glass despite the steep price because of their ability to make a style statement and their cutting edge image. This is not a bottom-of-the-pyramid product. Remember, the tip of the pyramid consists of 12 million people with wealth in excess of $1 million. Hands-free operation is its unique appeal. You could trigger a photo or a video simply by winking!

Another device that is gaining popularity is the smart fitness band. It is a form of wearable computing device which is worn on a wrist. Smart fitness bands measure a range of activities from paces walked to hours slept, which would help people to plan their activities and lifestyles. There are likely to be two broad categories of buyers for such devices. The first would be sports enthusiasts who already do rigorous exercises but are unable to measure them easily. They will constitute the premium segment of customers. The second category, though less exacting in their requirements, would be more in number. It would comprise the aam admi who would use the device to calibrate their exercise or activity regimen.

Now we turn from ‘watching’ to ‘watches’. Who knew that the future of computing would conjure up the two terms ‘watch’ and ‘wear?’ If you are to believe ‘smart’ speculators, the next blockbuster for Apple is the iWatch. You think it is a freak gadget, which will carve out a niche for itself? Not so if you listen to investment firm UBS, which is betting on it. UBS believes the ramp up in sales could be similar to the company’s wildly successful iPad, hitting 21 million units in fiscal 2015 and 36 million units the following year.

The cognoscenti are betting on huge sales of iWatches when it is launched this autumn. “We are more confident that Apple will be introducing the iWatch before the holiday season,” says the report. If that happens, it would add $6.5 billion in revenue to Apple’s projected fiscal 2015 and about $11 billion in revenue to the company’s fiscal 2016.

According to the Deloitte study, smart watches will sell about two million units as they would be typically priced between $150 and $300. But the study comes to a counter-intuitive conclusion. It is commonly believed that smart watches will sell more. After all, people have worn watches from time immemorial. In comparison, wearing a pair of glasses and talking to it may seem to be an unnatural human behaviour. But the Deloitte report predicts that over the long run, smart glasses will outsell smart watches.

The logic is simple. The smartphones are not going to go away anytime soon. Therefore, the device that integrates with the smartphone better is likely to be a winner. While folks of my generation wear watches and look at it to tell the time, the next generation does not even wear watches and check the time by looking at their phones. Today smartphones perform all the functions of a watch and synchronise time with mobile networks that rely on atomic clocks.

Integrating a smartphone’s functionality into a device that fits into a wrist is difficult. Therefore, a smart glass that is integrated with a smartphone is likely to be the winning combination and it is unlikely that the smart watch will replace the smartphone anytime soon. Thus, in the battle between smart glasses and smartphones, the study says in a brilliant play of words, “The eyes have it, the eyes have it.”

(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These are his personal views)

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