While they were never the headline stars of Mobile World Congress last week, smart watches are rapidly becoming the accessory to have, both for manufacturers and consumers. Strapping a second screen to your wrist, with either a touchscreen or some well thought out buttons, is the new geek fashion. The Fossill Wrist PDA and SPOT watches failed to capture enough love, but the current crop of Samsung Gears, Sony SmartWatches, and Pebbles, are ready to win over the general public.
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I make no bones about the fact that I’m happy to try out every bit of early adopter technology that is going. From the early days of the PDA, through smartphones, and the rise of the tablets, I’ve been out there on the edge. Having a smartwatch is something that fits with my tendency to experiment with the latest technology.
The last few months have seen more people interested in my smartwatch. The chirps and alerts from my social networks, breaking news from the BBC, and the fitness applications are all starting points for enlightened questions. Smartwatches are no longer branded with the pocket protector or the propeller hat, but are becoming fashionable and mainstream. This change in attitude will help drive sales over the next year, and this will be helped by the utility that the current crop of smartwatches exhibit.
Thanks to my smartwatch, I’ve found myself picking up my smartphone far less during the day. There’s no need for me to keep checking my social networks, my email inbox, or any of the important connected services I subscribe to. If there is something important, then my smartwatch will give a little chirp (and in most case a quick vibration) and a quick glance will let me know who is reaching out to me, and I can decide very quickly if I need to interrupt my current task and switch focus. The advantage of the smartwatch is I only have to deal with that single interruption, there are no further distractions, alerts, or graphics trying to catch my attention. For the majority of alerts, my smartphone stays in my pocket and I can keep writing, reading, or researching. The time to make the decision on an incoming alert on a smartwatch is typically less than a second, which is a magnitude faster than checking my smartphone’s screen.
The smartwatch gives me a feeling of connectedness coupled with independence. It puts me back in control of the messages that are coming at me throughout the day. It’s all very well saying ‘just have some discipline’ but it’s human nature to be distracted and to see who is reaching out to you. I can be confident of not missing anything important, while removing all the other distractions that soak up my productive time during the day. The smartwatch unchains me from all but the most important moments online.
There there is the smart watch application scene. Smartwatches are already being used by the fitness app suppliers. RunKeeper supports the Pebble smart watch, Runtastic works wonderfully with Sony’s SmartWatch, and Samsung has highlighted the in-build sensors in the Gear 2 range to measure your heart rate, count steps, sleep, and stress levels. I might not be the greatest runner in the world, but having my MP3 controls on my wrist is far more accessible than pulling out the latest five-inch screened smartphone. Developers are only just getting to grips with the smartwatch revolution, so these wrist based apps, while being incredibly useful, are still on touching the tip of the creative iceberg.
It’s not just the technology, because smartwatches are now entering an era where fashion is just as important as function. With the launch of the Pebble Steel at CES this year the smartwatch moved out of square boxes and into a more acceptable look. While the smartwatch class of 2014 will improve on the software and functionality on our wrists, the biggest impact will be in the design of the watches and an adoption of a contemporary look from the manufacturers, from all-encompassing macho metal designs to taking on the explosive colors of the Swatch range.
I’ve never been one for fashion, so I’m going to claim the ‘retro’ label and let everyone else get on with it.
The point is this. Although smartwatches have been trailed as the next big thing for a few years now, they have finally reached the point where the physical hardware such as screen technology and battery usage; the software, both the first-party watch OS and apps, the smartphone clients, and the third-party apps; and the practical designs for the modern world are all meshing together to create a compelling package that has a positive impact in the real world.
SmartWatches are now at the tipping point of being genuinely useful. As 2014 continues, this situation will only improve. Now is the time to start enjoying yourself on the new frontier.