The hype will likely be as unbearable as the device will be unwearable.
“Smart” watches are the Afghanistan of technology. Many companies have felt they have the key to win this seemingly strategic piece of territory lying between desktop, laptop and tablet and phone, and yet all have failed.
It’s no wonder, as the wrist has proven to be very inhospitable territory ruled by its own rules of culture and habit. Every smartwatch so far has proven to be a really dumb gambit for reasons that are so simple they seems to be beyond the reach of the geniuses who run tech companies.
First, every smartwatch put on sale so far looks either nerdy, pretentious or ridiculous. Most women of certain amount of means, who make up more than half the buying power in the universe, are never going to buy a watch that looks like it was built for a 17-year-old gamer to consult between rounds of “Plants vs. Zombies,” “Call of Duty” and dashes to warm up Kraft macaroni and cheese.
Second, men of a certain amount of means consider wrists to be one of the few places they are socially permitted to wear what amounts to jewelry. This is the territory of Breitling, Rolex and Tag Heuer — not Samsung, Microsoft or Apple. The technology companies are looking at the wrist as the next frontier, but unless they can come up with a smartwatch with the mechanical magnificence of a Swiss timepiece, the time will never be right.
Third, most people don’t want a health monitor on their wrist. They already know they are out of shape, have high blood pressure and have erratic heartbeats. They don’t need to be reminded of that every time they look at their hands, and they certainly don’t need some bratty engineers in Silicon Valley who live on Red Bull and instant coffee to shame them into adopting better habits.
Fourth, the size of the watch precludes anything but the smallest of batteries. A watch battery has very few demands on it, and can last a couple of years of tick-tock-tick use. But a smartphone has a lot of power-hungry applications inside, and when you crack open the hood you’ll see the battery to power them is huge. Unless there is an amazing breakthrough in battery strength, a smartwatch will be forever relegated to simply being a transmitter of information to a smartphone. Yet no one likes devices that have dependencies; consider the fact that the TV remote control is probably the most hated item in every household. It gets lost, it needs batteries, it gums up. Frustrating.
And finally, the size of smartwatches makes setting and programming them an unpleasant experience except for the most ambitious of partisans with thin fingers and loads of patience. Consider that most people still only use the most basic functionality and apps on their smartphones and even tablets because they consider the programming and settings too time consuming and difficult. Now add the fact that all smartphone movable pieces will be teeny-tiny, and you can see that it’s a huge and possibly insurmountable human engineering problem.
In summary, the smartwatch is a solution in search of a problem. Tech companies like Apple want to sell them because they have run out of other ways to sell you their schlock, but that does not mean there will ever be a mass-market demand for them.
I have a feeling I will still be writing about the smartwatch frontier ten years from now, when Apple releases v5.0 and swears they will get it right this time after repeated flops on the wrist.