The concept of a smart watch is far from a new but it does at least seem to be gaining a bit of traction. This is largely because, up until now, there’s been so little clarity as to what exactly it should do. Historical attempts were driven by romantic ideals formed whilst watching spy movies. These were generally received with a lot of laughter and head scratching. More recently, the crowd-funded, Pebble made a very good stab at it but it fails on so many levels. This is not the end of the world for Pebble. They now have over a year’s worth of moaning from those early adopters, which should put them in pole position for the coming battle.
The latest wave of wearable tech has allowed both users and developers to start to hone in on some of the features that will form the basic functions of any smartwatches that will succeed and Samsung appears to be ahead of the curve on this, with build-in pedometer and HRM.
The fact remains that a watch, for many people, is essentially a piece of jewellery and for the rest, it’s for telling the time. For the under 25’s, watches are becoming something of a rarity, so how can any smartwatch manufacturer expect to succeed. So, what does a smartwatch need to be, to entice the largely smartwatch-resistant public.
The ‘smart’ bit, generally refers to the watches clever functions but don’t be fooled into thinking brains are a substitute for beauty. Both mobile phone and wristwatch manufacturers have accepted that looks mean everything. Though, this doesn’t appear to have filtered through to the smartwatch people yet. The greatest chance for success will come from those that provide a range of styles, which is perhaps why Apple have had the head-hunters roaming around Switzerland. Different shaped faces as well as colours, that can be enhanced by a choice of straps, will make the proposition a lot more enticing. I would never wear my Pebble into a serious business meeting, it’s just plain ugly, which means it often gets left on the bedside cabinet.
2. Battery Life
As a bit of a watch-geek, my collection is made up of both fashion and practical watches. Until the Pebble took centre stage, for everyday use, a solar powered G-Shock, which just never gives up. The Pebble’s 3-5 day battery life, took some getting used to but ultimately, it’s just a question of changing habits. I think a daily charging habit would be easier to adopt but I’m not sure whether people would buy into that. One option to improve charging options would be to integrate an interchangeable power pack into the the strap. This, coupled with different watch styles, would enable the wealthier, more fashion concious, to match their watch with the occasion.
3. Bluetooth connection support for multiple peripheral devices
If the smartwatch is connected to a smartphone, then it makes sense that phone, with it’s greater power and battery life, does the hard work of shepherding all the connected device. But if that is to be the case, let’s dispense with the expression smartwatch and call it something more suitable, such as slavewatch or companionwatch. For it to truly become ‘smart’, it has to be able to work independently of any companion apps. That doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to have its own Internet connectivity, merely that it needs to be able to act or record internally. If I have to lug my phone around all the time, the only benefit of the watch is that I don’t have to reach into my pocket and retrieve my phone, in order to read an alert or click a button. The best example of this independence I can give is exercising. (I know not every smartwatch user will be a health nut but theirs enough of them out their to make a difference to the success of any device.) Whether you go running, cycling or workout in a gym, the process of strapping on your smartphone is a chore. What these people need is a smartwatch that is able to store a limited amount of recorded content, (music or podcasts,) run a choice of heath apps, connect to other Bluetooth devices, such as an HRM, speed/cadence sensor and headphones. Once reconnected to its companion app, it could then synchronise all the recorded data and produce all the pretty graphs it likes but during exercise, it simply needs to display the current metrics for that session. Once the session is synced, the app and recorded content can be replaced by whatever is needed for the rest of the day.
4. Social Media friendly
Amongst the inevitable plethora of apps, there will need to be many aimed at the Social Media savvy. Even if they only allow users to filter the updates they receive, from the various platforms, it will be a major step in the right direction.
5. Multi-OS support
Probably the most significant factor, will be the device’s ability to connect to whatever phone you have. A seamless transition from iOS to Android (maybe even Windows Phone, if it ever takes off,) will mean the potential market is more than doubled. I doubt many non iPhone users will be interested in Apple’s new smartwatch but at they’re even less likely to swap phones to buy one.
6. Price concious
In an ideal world, the price should present no barrier to entry. This means making different versions available at various price points. Indications are that Apples smartwatch will be at the premium end but I think this will be a mistake, because it leaves the door open for others. If they look at the long game, they’ll make it as cheap as a basic Casio. They can make bucket loads of cash from the apps and shut out much of the opposition from day one. Whatever Apple’s price, Fandroids will probably buy one of the many Android Wear offerings but competing manufacters and resultant lack of customer numbers, will make it difficult for any individual device to gain any real traction, with the possible exception of Samsung. If anyone can upset the Apple-cart, it will be Samsung but they need to ditch their current effort and get to work on a complete range, that integrates as well with the iPhone as it does with the Galaxy.
And on the subject of price, although some retailers may well bundle watches with handsets and airtime contracts, the number of potential buyers is going to drop dramatically once their outrageous credit charges are applied.
Is the world ready for the inevitable tsunami of smartwatches?
Just have a look at the number of wrist-mountable health devices currently available, all for more than the average watch and most with far less function or form. But I think you’ll find the overwhelming evidence says yes.