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Posted on September 5th, 2013 by Darien Graham-Smith

Reasons why smartwatches’ time will come


Last night, Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Gear watch; and the general response was “meh”. Friends, colleagues and PC Pro commenters all seem to have quickly concluded that the device is a gimmicky, impractical gadget.

To which I say, hold on. The “smartwatch” idea is a pretty new one, and such ideas can take a while to show their full potential. My initial reaction to the original iPad was decidedly dismissive; even the first-generation iPhone attracted plenty of doubt, and not just from me. Yet as Apple iterated the hardware and invested in the software, we shortly all came to realise that actually these gadgets were just what our lives had been missing all along.

So even though the Galaxy Gear – and previous ideas such as the Pebble – hasn’t yet set the world alight, I’m cautiously optimistic about what the smartwatch might become. I certainly don’t think the objections I’ve heard are showstoppers. To be clear, these seem to boil down to three basic arguments:

“We all have perfectly good smartphones already.”

I frequently miss messages and phone calls because I fail to hear my phone ringing in my pocket (or fail to notice the vibration). A buzzer strapped to my wrist would be a much more effective way of getting my attention. Moreover, every time I do get a message on my phone, I have to rummage in my pocket, pull out the phone and swipe to unlock it in order to read the text. I’m not saying that’s an insufferable imposition, but would I prefer to momentarily glance at my wrist? Hell yes. Admittedly, the Galaxy Gear doesn’t permit this yet – it just shows a snippet of the message – but it’s an obvious improvement for future smartwatches.

“This isn’t for me because I don’t wear a watch.”

You’re free to start wearing a watch any time you see one you like. It’s not like watches are tremendously uncomfortable or unfashionable. For sure, sticking a smartwatch on your wrist is going to be less cumbersome and conspicuous than sticking a pair of Google Glass spectacles on your face.

“The battery will constantly need recharging.”

The Galaxy Gear promises a 25-hour battery life. To me, that sounds like you’ll have to take the thing off your wrist and plug it into a charger every night, and I agree that this is a problem. But you don’t have to look very far down the road to see future models slashing power consumption, and adding more convenient charging methods. For example, it might be possible to extend battery life via a combination of solar power and kinetic charging – a technology already harnessed by some “dumb” watches, whereby the everyday movements of the wearer drive a tiny internal generator.

I’m not saying that the Galaxy Gear is a solid bet. Like the original iPhone, it’s a first step in a promising direction, but to bring the idea into the mainstream will take further inspiration and investment; the device we saw yesterday will need to evolve into a Galaxy Gear 3G, as it were. It remains to be seen whether Samsung has the vision, and the will, to implement such a transformation.

Perhaps paradoxically, one thing that might help is if Apple were to finally unveil its own long-rumoured smartwatch. This would give the concept more legitimacy in the eyes of consumers, and, not to put too fine a point on it, might give Samsung some useful ideas to build on.

I do have to wonder, however, whether Samsung, having beaten Apple to the launch, might in fact now be in a position to obstruct an Apple rival from seeing the light of day. That probably wouldn’t be the best thing for smartwatches as a whole, but it would be a somewhat poetic act of table-turning.

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19 Responses to “ Reasons why smartwatches’ time will come ”

  1. Paul Ockenden Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I’d perhaps take issue with the smartwatch being a new idea. Seiko’s RC-20 wrist computer came out in the mid 80s. Then of course there was Microsoft’s SPOT and Fossil’s Palm based Wrist PDA. There was even the IBM Linux watch.

    The industry has had plenty of time to mature, but it seems it hasn’t. Of course, what’s really holding it back are two issues: 1) the laws of physics (especially WRT battery technology), and 2) the fact that people don’t want to look like dicks.

  2. Bookmac Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Basically it all sounds like it is not ready yet. Too many “it might be possible to” in the future type remarks. It also needs a phone to connect to, making it yet another device to charge. TCO gets higher.

  3. wittgenfrog Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    @Paul Ockenden – very nicely put!

    The ‘laws of physics’ will almost certainly be overwhelmed by technology insofar as energy density is concerned.
    Unfortunately this doesn’t make the gadget more useful, merely useless for longer between charges.

    The ‘lesson’ if such there is of the ‘post PC world’ is that evolved, specialised gadgets work well, and sell well. Tablets & Smartphones epitomise this.
    The ‘Smartwatch’ isn’t that smart, and isn’t a very good watch…

    True utility in ‘wearables’ will come when the graphics can be overlaid and manipulated(at will\on demand) into our visual field, and the sound likewise in our lugs.
    This will also require the development\refinement of some pretty sophisticated methods of interaction and control.
    My cash is staying in my pocket ’till that happens.

  4. TVJohn Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    What about reason no. 4: I spent quite a chunk of money on an elegant and very slim Swiss timepiece which goes for years between batteries and I’ve no desire to replace it, thanks.

    Wearable computers seem like the latest must have gadget but after the initial ‘wow’ factor has worn off I’m not sure they’re really that exciting.

  5. Christopher Hamer Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    I agree with TVJohn. I have spent quite a bit of money on a very nice vintage watch and much prefer the style of an analogue watch than some chunky thing like this. It doesn’t need charging as its mechanical and been going for 50 years! Doubt this will last that haha

  6. Pentlands Says:
    September 5th, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Paul Ockenden fact 2 says it all.

  7. DaveyK Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 9:36 am

    It needs wireless charging IMO. I take my watch off every night and plonk it onto my bedside table. If I could do that with the Galaxy Gear watch and have it charge without me having to faf with cables, it’d be a far less obtrusive way of charging it. Still, time will tell with it.

    As you rightly say, the original iPhone left a lot to be desired (no apps, no picture messaging, no 3G, etc). So it will take time and revisions to correct the original’s shortcomings.

  8. Kevin Parther Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 9:37 am

    “2) the fact that people don’t want to look like dicks.”
    ..and yet people take photos on iPads (my abiding memory of the Olympics is of the closing ceremony – athletes taking pictures of the crowd taking pictures: on iPads)
    …and wear those bloody stupid headphones that make them look like cybermen (and women – but mainly men).

  9. martin Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 9:49 am

    “people don’t want to look like dicks”
    They said that would scupper the Galaxy Note – too big to use as a phone as it makes you look stupid.

    And yet, stupid is as stupid does – it is what stupid people do that defines what looks stupid. So once ‘ordinary’ or even ‘intelligent’ or ‘trend setting’ types take to using/wearing whatever gizmo, de-facto it stops being seen as ’stupid’.

    Put it another way: I use a Galaxy Note :)

  10. Surefire Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 10:11 am

    ” athletes taking pictures of the crowd taking pictures: on iPads”

    Yup, and they looked like complete dicks.

  11. wittgenfrog Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 10:37 am

    The ‘photos with iPads thing is a real bête noir with me. I Went on a brilliant Nile Cruise last year, visiting most of the iconic sites of ancient Egypt. I took a good quality DSLR, my wife a very nice point ‘n shoot as well as our ‘phones. We had every expectation of snapping some great pictures of a lost civilisation.

    The trip was excellent, and the sites (and sights) truly breath-taking. I can’t over-emphasise what a difference there is between being there & seeing it on TV! Unfortunately our ambition to get pictures was far too often thwarted by our fellow tourists’ serried ranks of lofted iPads obscuring the artefacts and scenery. Luckily (for us, not Egypt) tourism was\is slack, so there was plenty of time to get pictures after the initial rush declined.

  12. Mark Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 11:25 am

    It’s gonna take a leap in battery life to take these mainstream but smartwatches are guaranteed to succeed.

    Why so confident? This is just evolution, not revolution, and most already wear a watch (even though these regular watches are largely pointless, a fact missed by those that can’t see attraction of the more capable smartwatch).

  13. Surefire Says:
    September 6th, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I’m pretty sure these will never become mainstream. The reason being that they don’t do anything that another device does perfectly well, and their sole edge – that you always know where it is and it’s literally ‘at hand’ is offset by the fact that its size will forever put it at a serious disadvantage in terms of both control and view.
    I don’t doubt that there will be a small number of people who will rave about them but I’ll be very surprised if they ever catch on in a big way.

  14. Muck Says:
    September 8th, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Great story wittgenfrog but what the hell has it got to to do with smart watches? Just a general dislike of tablets there

  15. Surefire Says:
    September 9th, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    He’s just pointing out that people do use inappropriate technology – even if it does make them look like complete plonkers. People will look pretty stupid trying to do things on a watch that would be done a lot more easily on something a little larger when virtually everyone carries something like that anyway.

  16. hjlupton Says:
    September 13th, 2013 at 7:44 am

    If a smart watch was to actually be a phone in its own right, ie SIM card, could make calls etc without having to pair it, then it would be more interesting.
    For those who don’t want an actual smartphone it might be quite popular.

  17. Nick Says:
    September 13th, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    In contradiction to the majority of the comments, I can really see a future for these. As smartphones seem destined to grow ever larger, it leaves an obvious gap for something that is so small as to be easily accommodated. Once Apple cracks it (size vs screen usability, battery life), this will be a big market. I’ll be an early adopter if they can get it right.

  18. joe Says:
    September 21st, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I think the quantifiable self. Where the watch will be measuring heartrate, bp, temperature, calorie in and calorie out, sleep quality. Will make a big difference. Look at the popularity of fit bit, nike fuel band. Add this to telling the time and text and email and calls.

    Apple I presumed will make this wearable technology cool and sexy asthey have done with all their otherproducts

  19. Ed Says:
    October 6th, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    The use of curved screens in smart watches is very near, It fits round your wrist and looks very very cool. Battery life would still be an issue having to remove the watch every time it needed charged. Still there is hope.


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