So, this is a debate I’ve been having with many on Twitter and Google Plus recently. I’m a huge advocate of any new gadgets that attempt to push the boundaries of how we use tech in our daily lives. I wasn’t as vitriolic about Google Glass’ privacy implications as some. I was cautiously optimistic about utilising fitness attire to track your regimes, and I was absolutely taken by the introduction of the Smartwatch. However, I’ve grown to ask myself why.
Let’s start at the beginning. Smartphones are mainstream now. Most everyone within the western/developed world will have a Smartphone of some description, be it of the Android, Blackberry, iOS or Windows Phone persuasion. There is now an even bigger push to expand into the emerging markets due to this saturation of the existing market, and OEMs and Software developers alike are determined to expand the sales in these demographics.
So with so many of the tier 1 markets a captive audience for the big 3-4 OEMs, it makes sense that we would, and have, seen an increase in inter-eco-system development platforms (and some cross device platforms too). Enter the Smartwatch.
From Pebble, to Sony Smartwatch, to Android Wear devices and the forthcoming iWatch, there is more choice than ever as to what Smartwatch to pair to your device. Therein lies the specific problem. There is little in terms of functionality gap that a Smartwatch manages to bridge, that a Smartphone cannot currently resolve is there?
Gadget freaks and tech-heads will have you believe that the Smartwatch and indeed wearable technology is the future; I for one can’t disagree. However, I remain steadfast in my opinion that that particular future is not now.
Looking at the progression of technology, there is a clear and present path in other industries that show an evolution from a generation one product, into a mainstream lifestyle accessory. Snowmobiles are one such comparison I’d make. The concept of a car has never really been improved. It’s a vehicle to increase the speed of travel and therein your accessibility to other areas. It’s evolved, become more expansive in terms of features, become much more fuel efficient and streamlined, but essentially, the concept is the same. Porting that analogy to the Smartwatch and the problems are evident.
Smartwatches are the latest attempt by stakeholders to create a niche in a market that doesn’t currently exist, upon which to attempt to deploy an evolving technology line. Smartwatches are yet to deliver, in my opinion, anywhere close to enough added value to warrant a) the introduction of them, and b) a whole marketing campaign around the prevalence of smart and wearable technology.
Let’s be honest here. We’ll no doubt look back on this embryonic stage in wearable technology in 15-20 years and smile. It will no doubt all make sense. That’s normally how these things work. The difference in this instance is the driver for the platform itself is not consumers, but entirely Corporations. Consumers aren’t and haven’t been shouting for decades about how poorly their Smartphones allow them to board planes, or how inefficient the process of making search engine queries is on their devices. As far as I can see, this technology currently adds no specific value above and beyond convenience. Convenience is, let me clarify, a perfectly acceptable reason to create a platform. That’s absolutely fine, but we need to ensure that convenience doesn’t become a vehicle to be hijacked by OEMs to deliver increased profits and revenue streams alone. There has to be an underlying problem being solved here.
Now, for clarification purposes, I currently rock a Pebble smartwatch. The reasons are simplistic for me. The device allows me to wear a watch that delivers me slightly more functionality than I’m used to on my wrist. The main use of my Pebble is to view notifications that arrive on my phone. However, I’m not adverse to pulling out my Phone when required to use it. If anything, it slightly reduces the need for me to do this. However, my phone is part of so much of my everyday life that I find it in my hands more often than not in any case, so how much time am I actually saving you might ask?
I’ve used Pebble devices, pure Android smartwatches (Truesmart by Omate) and also had hands on with Sony Smartwatch and Android Wear devices. Whilst all reasonably acceptable in terms of build quality and feature sets, they all share the same ailment. They all fail, currently, to find a problem to solve in today’s use cases. More integration with other technology markets outside of Smartwatch pairing might increase the chances of something taking, but until that day, no amount off polish or sexy design is going to ultimately divert attention away from the issue at hand: To expand on my rather loose analogy, why create a new form of transport that is both inferior and less versatile than the auto-mobile?
Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on Smartwatches, or the wider wearable discussion. Do we need these devices currently to solve a specific problem ailing our lives, or perhaps this is simply a Corporate driven market creation scheme to allow further development in the hope that something takes off?