Beats By Dre Designer on the Jobs to be Done for Wearables

“The first thing is a wearable product is… It’s not so much about fit, as about how you feel about it and that expression that it makes. It’s part fashion and part personal representation.”

–Robert Brunner, Ammunition Design Group (Designed part of the Beats lineup)

Source: Bloomberg Video

Beats by Dre has been a phenomenally successful wearable technology brand. They dwarf the rest of the industry, with 59% share of headphones sold these days.

Any potential Apple iWatch will be about that personal representation to the rest of the world. The media will expect it to be about the technology, but technology is really not why you wear something.

Back To The iPhone

In wearables, I explored all of the wearable technologies that Apple has experimented with, and tried to list the “jobs to be done” of wearable technology. Despite the decline of the MP3 player market, Apple has been including fitness sensors in their single-function devices since the 6th Generation iPod Nano. They appear to have found some success with that job and Tim Cook wants to keep pulling on that thread. While most commenters perceive iPod as a dead product line (because the iPod Classic hasn’t changed materially in since 2007) Apple seems to use the iPod product lineup as an test lab for wearable technology, in accord with their stated belief how wearables function best: as “single purpose” devices.

Then at All Things Digital 11, we also saw Tim Cook make three statements:

  1. Cook indicates “sensors” and “fashion” are key jobs to be done for wearables.
  2. Cook denying the existence of a “general-purpose” wearable device that’s any good. (“Yet” is implied.)
  3. Cook agreeing that wearables will be “a new branch of the tree”.

Cook seems to have focused on these jobs without delivering an iWatch. While Apple will certainly have the ability to experiment further on single-purpose wearable devices with the iPod line, this week Apple revealed some very fashionable designs and new “sensor” experiments in their flagship device line: the M7 motion coprocessor and Touch ID.

M7 and Touch ID are innovative new sensors, and the possibilities for them are incredibly exciting. It’s easy to imagine these fingerprint sensors and motion trackers as new methods of user input that could find themselves in a future single-purpose device. A one touch “credit stick” that’s keyed to your fingerprint? Yes please!

And speaking of the “fashion”, Apple also broadened their new lineup out to a total of EIGHT different colors (from 2), and even discontinued the iPhone 5 to directly market the iPhone 5C heavily on nothing more than a new plastic case around last year’s internals. I want to think about the sanity of this decision, because you need some serious brass balls to re-release year-old hardware in a heavier, unapologetically plastic shell without an accompanying price cut in this industry.

Predictably, Wall Street thinks Tim Cook has gone insane. Four analysts downgraded the stock today as punishment for not tackling the China situation. I can’t say it’s any less of a punishment than Tim Cook has earned by playing the cards so close to his chest, but maybe it was the right play. Maybe the iPhone 5 was already plenty good enough internally, and what was really holding people back was something trendy, something new on the outside? People buy $2000 watches because they’re beautiful.

So when will Apple’s iWatch be released? That is all very speculative, unfortunately, because the Jobs To Be Done of a general-purpose device vs a wearable device–the two roles an “iWatch” must fulfill–may be something you just can’t combine. We don’t know whether Jony Ive can ever make a watch that isn’t both too big and too small. If not, Apple must tackle the problem a different way. Rolling the jobs of a wearable back into the iPhone will be much easier than trying to invent the iWatch that isn’t a piece of junk.