Not far enough: Niche wearables need to go all out - or not at all

Be so good they can't ignore you
The niche wearable dilemma

As wearables grow in popularity and a few jack-of-all-trades devices - like the Apple Watch, for instance - rise to the top of the heap, it's only natural that companies start focusing in on more niche uses cases. Why try to pack in everything but the kitchen sink when bigger, and better financed, companies can do it better? There's benefit in focusing down on one area and doing that thing really well, especially in this increasingly saturated market.

Take, for example, the Fantom Band, a wearable for soccer fans that I wrote about this week. You put on the band and get round-the-clock access to your favorite club - and only your favorite club. You get news, interactive polls and match times. You also get to find other people wearing the band. And that's it.

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There's nothing inherently wrong with niche products like this, unless your niche product doesn't do enough to keep you wearing it. And when you do take it off, it doesn't do enough to get you to put it back on. This is the predicament these companies face, and they need to find a balance that keeps people in either camp.

As Biostrap CEO Sameer Sontakey recently put it, the wrist - and your other body parts - are valuable real estate. You can't wear two wearables on a wrist, or two pairs of sunglasses, or two pairs of pants. That creates a tough situation for companies who are tempted to add mass-market features like heart rate and step tracking to appeal to more people, but at the risk of diluting their focus and taking attention and development time away from their USP. Sontakey told us that the Biostrap wearable, which focuses solely on heart rate variability, may have to compromise with other more mainstream (but possibly less accurate) biometrics in its second iteration just to give it more mass appeal.

Not far enough: Niche wearables need to go all out - or not at all

Smartwatches are a good example. They do a lot of different things, but 0ften not a lot of them very well. The LG Watch Sport, for instance, isn't as good at fitness as something like the Garmin Fenix 5, which can support a whole lot more sports modes and gives you much more detailed statistics than what most smartwatches can give you.

Products that want to go niche are better going all-out, and you could argue that Garmin is so strong in the market because its focused has been very lazered. Or take something like the Nadi X yoga pants. Designed to help you correct your posture, they give gentle vibrations to guide your legs and hips in the correct position. Going back to a world where your pants don't inform you that you're doing downward dog wrong actually feels like a step back. Or take something like the Revolar Instinct, a safety wearable that's absurdly easy to both carry on your persons and alert loved ones and emergency services to danger. When you fear for your safety, the last thing you want to do is fumble through the UIs of a smartwatch or smartphone; pressing a button is much more convenient.

The Nadi X and Revolar are products that recognize they're in a niche and fully embrace that. Biostrap is similar, and something like the Fantom band needs to remember that. Become so essential to a day at the stadium for a game that no fan would want to go without it. Put your tickets on the device and tap it on a turnstile to enter, use it as payment for food and merchandise so you can leave your wallet at home, help make fans feel like they're a bigger part of the experience.

Finding a segment and hitting it as hard as possible could be the key to success as the rest of the market crowds with me-too devices. Whether it's some of the specific use cases mentioned above or more in-depth biometrics, like (hopefully one day) glucose tracking or even something that does sleep tracking far better than anything else out there - if it's too good to be ignored, I'll happily put it on each night before bed. Make that device as indispensable at what it does as possible. Otherwise, it's going to quickly find its way into dark and sad drawer, collecting dust until cleaning day.



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