Jawbone's demise heralds the end of the wearables industry

Jawbone's demise heralds the end of the wearables industry
From Engadget - July 7, 2017

A report by The Information claims that the company has begun the process of liquidating itself, at least in part. It's also believed that co-founder and CEO Hosain Rahman is launching a new company -- Jawbone Health Hub -- to continue part of his mission. Health Hub will apparently produce health-related wearable hardware and software, as well as servicing the existing Jawbone devices in the wild.

Whatever form the remains of Jawbone will take, the company will never again scale the heights as it once did. The wearables market, and the world, has moved on to the point where new entrants have a nigh-impossible journey to success. A variety of factors killed Jawbone the first time out, but there's no indication that Rahman knows how to get past those obstacles.

One lesson that many startups learn the hard way is that developing consumer hardware is far harder than it may seem. Even Jawbone, which had experience building Bluetooth audio gear, could not easily apply its knowledge to wearable technology. 2011's Jawbone Up promised the world a stylish fitness tracker that made the Nike+ Fuelband and Fitbit's belt-worn pedometers look outdated by comparison.

In reality, however, the first version of the Up was a disaster, with individual models randomly bricking and components liable to failure. The promised 10-day battery life never materialized, and vibration motors were prone to breaking at inopportune moments. Engadget's review unit broke after two weeks, and while the company began offering free replacements to buyers, its reputation was already damaged.

Unlike software, which can be fixed months, or even years, after it was originally released, hardware is a much trickier proposition. Whatever advantage Jawbone had in getting the first Up through the door was lost when the company had to claw back those devices and start again. If some of the richest companies in the world, can ship hardware with massive defects, what hope does a tiny startup have?

Jawbone's hardware chops did not improve, however, and my own Up 3 review unit broke after just three weeks of use. I charged it to full before going to bed, but the low battery alarm went off five times in a single night. Given that the company had talked up the prowess of its smart wake features, the failure was extraordinarily grating.

Jawbone might have been smart to prioritize durability and looks over function, but the follow-up device was hamstrung by what it could not do. A lack of wireless connectivity meant you had to plug the band into your smartphone's headphone jack to sync data, a bugbear rival wearables quickly eliminated. Its high cost also began to alienate users who were looking for cheaper devices -- a market that Fitbit was quick to embrace.

Then there's the fact that the watch industry itself is never going to be as big as that for other technology products, like Bluetooth speakers or smartphones. The advent of the mobile phone helped reduce people's need for a dedicated timepiece on their wrist, and not everyone wears one on a daily basis anyway. Those who do may want a device that can actually tell the time -- a feature that Jawbone's devices notably lacked.


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