This sponsored post is produced by Harry Wang, Director of Mobile and Health Research, Parks Associates.

The wearables market represents a significant market opportunity for device OEMs. But like any emerging computing platform, wearables still have to figure out where they sit in a consumer’s lifestyle. No question, consumer awareness and adoption have increased recently, but OEMs, developers, and device manufacturers still have to consider and overcome several market barriers. We’ve summarized some of the top wearable industry challenges below.

  1. OEMs still searching for and defining wearables’ value for consumers

It remains to be seen how much usage wearables can claim away from consumer use of smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and game consoles. Smart-watch brands understand the challenges but are looking for a magic formula that combines killer features with distinctive designs and marketing strategies. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook summed it up succinctly during the 2013 All Things Digital Conference. While he acknowledged that, “The wrist is interesting,” he emphasized that, “You still have to convince people it is worth wearing.”

Long-term success in this market will depend on a brand’s ability to build a loyal use base and a unique brand appeal. Creating an emotional connection with its target users will be essential, whether it be a sense of pride, individuality, nostalgia, extremity, or maturity. Users who identify strongly with a brand through this emotional connection are the ones who will become loyal customers.

  1. A mistaken focus on hard-selling tech features while overlooking style and status motivations

Tech companies are used to selling their products by impressing their customers with the latest bells and whistles from their innovations. Apple changed that practice by focusing on market-leading industrial designs and selling consumers an experience, not just a single product. For a new market like wearables, however, there is no successful precedent to replicate.

Industry players agree that wearables need to be marketed as fashion products. The winning combination involving both design and marketing for wearable tech remains elusive, largely because fashion is so abstract and driven by personal taste. Although fashion can be shaped by top-notch designers, prestigious brands, or a media blitz that evokes inspiring experiences, trial and error is common for new product categories, and success is not guaranteed.

  1. An over-reliance on smartphones reduces consumer value perception

Though increased smartphone adoption is fueling the mobile revolution that includes wearable devices, consumers’ voracious appetite to use smartphones in all aspects of their lives is actually hindering the market. This is especially true in the case of smart watches, since these devices are regularly marketed as companion or “tethered” smart products. Why would consumers want another device that that has similar, if not the same, capabilities as their smartphone?

Most wearables on the market today are offered as companion technologies, requiring smartphone and tablet apps to view and track statistics and progress. A native OS would allow wearables to break away from smartphone dependency — a robust OS can run applications on its own and support a diverse range of functions. However, not all device OEMs want to champion a new OS, and many believe that the companion model will be sufficient even for a smart watch.

  1. Failure to leverage software and services to encourage habitual usage 

At Parks Associates, we believe that a well-designed product is not enough for device OEMs to build scale and grow a loyal customer base. Fitness and health wearables in particular face an obstacle common to all fitness devices— they are at the mercy of users’ motivations. The device will be used only for as long as the user stays dedicated to his or her fitness or health regimen. Consumers using these devices want to see results, need feedback, and believe they deserve encouragement and rewards for their efforts. These elements cannot be dealt with by hardware alone but by hardware and software/services offered together.

  1. Poor user experiences

The wearable market’s success will depend significantly on positive user experiences. A common concern from both health and fitness device makers and healthcare professionals is that a consumer’s initial excitement about new hardware and software will give way over time to frustration if they have limited success achieving their health and fitness goals. Along with a lack of progress, they can feel disappointment, alienation, or even resentment — human emotions that can cost device manufacturers customer loyalty and future revenue opportunities. And if patients don’t progress as they hope, it can spell a blow to healthcare providers’ commitment to quality of care and efforts to stabilize financials.

For health and fitness use cases, the market is still hunting for the most accurate and reliable way to measure people’s metabolism that takes into account sources for calories in and out. Finding that magic formula and building consumer’s trust in that measure will help a brand establish a strong lead in this early market. This particular need, among many other new features and experiences, is where innovations in software will shine.

Parks Associates will address the wearables market at the upcoming Connected Health Summit: Engaging Consumers, Sept 4-5, in San Diego, CA.

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