Wearable Tech
11 January, 2016

4 mins

How Successful Wearable Tech Companies Find Their Killer Use Cases

Slack recently put $80 million into a fund to enable developers to build apps that fit their platform. They’re way more than just an instant messenger or email killer. They’re trying to become a control panel for your job.

They realize that to achieve that goal, they’ll need their team to focus more on developing Slack’s core functionality than ever before. To avoid Evernote’s fate, they’ll still need killer use cases to maintain their momentum.

It’s not just Slack that’s moving towards the platformization of their core product. Hardware companies like Oculus Rift, Thalmic Labs, and Recon Instruments invest heavily in their own developer communities through app stores.

Many successful hardware (and software) technology companies share two main traits:

  1. Their core team solves a very specific problem.
  2.  They focus on building a thriving developer community. The community turns their product from a device into a platform with vast possibilities. It enables their product to solve many other specific problems. At the moment, wearable companies are failing at this. Only 21% of developers are interested in developing for wearables.

The best hardware on the planet falls flat if the apps that enable those killer use cases don’t exist. The stats speak for themselves:

Anywhere between 33% to 50% of users lose interest in wearables after just months of usage. A healthy app ecosystem engages users more effectively. This level of app ecosystem is a result of a strong developer community.

Some wearable technology companies have been unable to find their “killer” use cases. Wearable use cases need to be compelling enough for users to keep coming back. They must have a 10x benefit over the same use case on a smartphone or tablet. So, how do you breed that level of creativity?

“App stores are the glue that connects developers and users. App stores reduce the effort it takes for users to find a suitable solution for their needs, and makes it easier for developers to get discovered,” Vision Mobile senior business analyst Stijn Schuermans tells me. “But it’s more than just convenience.”

“Having this discovery, promotion and sales mechanism is a key element of starting network effects, where developers and their apps attract users to the platform, and users provide an attractive addressable market for developers. Network effects are the dominant economic driver of app platform success.”

So, the million dollar question…

How do you build an app platform?

According to Wareable, “A third of developers working on apps for wearable tech consider themselves ‘explorers’ who are learning about this new category of device by experimenting, collaborating and working on side projects.”

You can harness developers’ passion for exploration to crowdsource use cases for your app. Having a high quantity of different use cases isn’t important for its own sake. Rather, it’s a key part to figuring out what your hardware’s killer functions are.

Blocks Wearables co-founder Alireza Tahmasebzadeh says in an interview with Wareable, “There’s always one killer function for each person that makes it something they need to have. And this killer thing is different for different people.”

Similarly, Endeavour Partners principal Dan Ledger says in an interview with TechRepublic, “The wearables that are very successful are the ones that are designed to solve a very specific problem for someone that a smartphone isn’t doing.”

Simply put:

You succeed by attracting developers to your platform. You convince them to give it a try, and show them the potential an app has on it. You support them as they start experimenting with it. You inspire them to stick with it, and reward them well for their efforts (with a combination of revenue and social capital). If you want to learn more about building a developer community and app ecosystem, check out OpenChannel’s blog.

That’s the sequence most successful app stores work on. That sequence is also why Oculus, Thalmic, and Recon each have many apps that are crucial for their various audiences.

One Killer Use Case, for Each User

You might choose to use an app platform. You might figure out another solution to drive innovation. Either way, you need to crowdsource your use cases.

Even if you’ve found one killer use case, you need to find other killer use cases for other audiences.

That’s where your app platform will thrive, and why you need to crowdsource experimentation and creativity. Slack sees the potential in it, which is why it’s investing millions to attract and reward developers. You might not have 80 million dollars, so you’ll have to get a bit more creative.

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