In the Nick of Time

Being a wearables analyst takes me to some interesting places, but one of the most unexpected so far was the matinee showing of the SpongeBob SquarePants musical last week. It’s not my usual scene, but this was part of the launch event for a new Nickelodeon-branded kids’ smartwatch.

Outside China, the kids’ smartwatch market has yet to take off. A small number of companies have found limited success in convincing parents to put a connected watch on their child’s wrist, but too often the approach has been just that — convincing parents. Crucially, this means that the devices don’t appeal to children all that much. Furthermore, data from our recent smartwatch user survey shows that the high upfront cost of these devices is a big hurdle for potential buyers, and that there’s much confusion about the usefulness of a kids’ smartwatch, with many respondents saying that they don’t see the point.

Offerings from the likes of Xplora and Spacetalk have managed to carve out a niche by marketing directly to parents about the safety and well-being benefits of their watches. Although they do make an effort to make the devices fun for kids, it doesn’t seem like it’s the top priority.

This is exemplified in the landing pages of the product websites. Xplora’s landing page (shown in Figure 1) is clearly designed for adults purchasing a smartwatch for their child through the tagline “your child’s first phone”. Also, the security functionalities of the device are prioritized over the entertainment features that would most excite children.

Figure 1. Xplora’s website home page, advertising the X6Play kids’ smartwatch

Source: Xplora

This parent- or buyer-centric approach to marketing has so far been unable to achieve the mass appeal that regular smartwatches have with adults. This is something that manufacturer WatchinU is hoping to solve with the NickWatch. The device has all the expected features of a connected kids’ smartwatch: GPS tracking, two-way messaging and calling and a camera. However, the main difference between the watch and most of its competitors is the approach to marketing and design.

The NickWatch landing page, shown in Figure 2, is colourful, showing a video of various Nickelodeon characters and icons in the face of the smartwatch. The graphic then flashes words like “play”, “entertainment” and “fun”.

Figure 2. NickWatch website home page

Source: NickWatch

We’ve seen previous efforts to tie a kids’ smartwatch in with intellectual property that kids already enjoy. For example, Vodafone’s Neo was released in 2021 in partnership with Disney. Although the smartwatch used characters like Minnie Mouse, Buzz Lightyear and Elsa in the user interface, it didn’t get the marketing push needed from Disney to make a real impact.

This is where Nickelodeon seems keen to bank on its connection to its audience through its TV programmes and online presence. It’s also carried through to live events like the SpongeBob SquarePants musical. Not only did I get to enjoy some musical theatre, but a stage invasion by Patchy the Pirate resulted in one lucky audience member being given a watch for free — undoubtedly much to the envy of every other child in attendance. There’s a decent chance that many of them will have pestered their parents for a NickWatch after the show.

I think this is a fascinating approach by Nickelodeon. Yes, pitching to adults is important, as they’re the ones who will be buying the devices, but it’s essential to remember that the wearers will be children. This sets the NickWatch apart from its rivals.

Also, the watch is keenly priced. It costs £79.95 at launch, so with a subscription for 12 months priced at £89.95, the total cost for the first year is £169.90. In comparison, the X6Play from Xplora costs £179.99 for the device alone, and the Spacetalk Adventurer 4G costs £189.99. Importantly these prices are excluding the data subscription needed to operate features like GPS, calling and texting.

Ultimately, I think that the kids’ smartwatch market needs an injection of something more exciting for users. Safety, privacy and the ability to be tracked by their parents aren’t all that attractive for a child. Other watches also provide entertainment features, but the NickWatch is tearing up the established marketing formula and bringing kids into the equation. I think it’s a fascinating approach, and one to watch.