I bought my first smartwatch in 2004, having spent around $140 for a Microsoft SPOT Watch. It pre-dated smartphones so the information my watch provided came Microsoft’s $59 MSN Direct subscription service over FM radio waves. Now Microsoft is back with the $199 Microsoft Band, a health-focused wearable for your wrist that does pair with a phone to show incoming calls, texts, emails and more.
Between the SPOT Watch and the Band, we’ve seen dozens of similar devices come to market, and with few exceptions, they always had some lock-in factor; not just to a mobile operating system, but (even worse) to brands of devices. I think [company]Microsoft[/company] is taking a very smart approach here by supporting [company]Google[/company] Android, [company]Apple[/company] iOS and Windows Phone with its Band; perhaps offering a bit of leadership in the mobile market, which it hasn’t done for a few years.
The biggest two recent examples, of course, are the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices. Both are tied to their respective mobile platforms: The Apple Watch will require an iPhone according to Apple, while Android Wear watches require an Android device for their information and connection. I doubt Apple has any intention to change its approach, but Google has at least hinted that it might bring Android Wear support to other platforms, such as iOS. It’s worth noting that Google Glass actually is supported on iOS through its MyGlass app.
Why is this even a big deal? Because it limits device choice and that could negatively impact sales of these smartwatches.
Take the Motorola MotoACTV, for example; a smartwatch that debuted in 2011. I bought one for myself but not until 2012. Why? Because when the watch first launched, it only worked with Motorola smartphones even though it runs Android itself and connects wirelessly through a standard Bluetooth connection. Why buy a nice new accessory when it locks you in to a brand of phone that may not be the one you want?
Motorola quickly realized that by limiting the accessory to work only with its own brand of phones, it was severely limiting potential as its phone sales were starting to decline. Yes, Apple is taking the same approach with its Apple Watch but it’s doing so when iPhone sales are growing. And it’s not using a licensed operating system but instead is using its own.
Pebble is another example in this story but one that demonstrates the good part of being a cross-platform device. The company has sold more than 400,000 watches to date. How many would it have sold if it only supported iOS or Android instead of both? We’ll never know but it’s obviously less than 400,000.
I’m likely in the minority here but I use various devices throughout a given day ranging between all three of the major mobile platforms. So the Microsoft Band is actually a little more appealing to me than either an Apple Watch or Android Wear device right now.
After all, smartwatches generally all have the same basic “table stakes” functionality: Some health tracking with sensors, app notifications and messages from your phone. Other differences are almost like add-ons to me and may have to be specific to a particular platform. Microsoft’s Band will work with Cortana but the voice assistant software is, for now, only supported on Windows Phone 8.1 devices.
I don’t think I’m the only one who doesn’t want to be locked in to a platform simply because of a wearable device, however. I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments and — if you plan to buy a smartwatch — see the results in a simple poll question on the desire for cross-platform support.
Regardless of the poll results and commentary, I suspect Google will add iOS support for Android Wear before or at its developer conference in mid-2015. Why not get an iPhone accessory to work with the many Google services and apps supported on the iPhone?