Love or hate them, smartwatches are a growing thing.
Many of us here at Pocketnow have or will soon own a Pebble, and Michael Fisher also has a soft spot for the Galaxy Gear. And Joe and I share similar theories on the future of smartwatches, wearables, and the personal area network.
But it’s not just us those of us who are obsessed with technology either. As new generations of devices have come out and they become more visible to the general public, they have grown in popularity. For instance, while sitting in a coffee shop writing last week, I saw two random customers wearing Pebble. A Pocketnow reader also asks me about Pebble and Galaxy Gear every time I see him. And the flight to CES was … sort of comical – I saw at least a dozen Pebbles while squeezing down the narrow aisle to get to my seat.
My mother and random passersby have asked me about the Pebble on my wrist, surprised by the seemingly normal watch that unexpectedly buzzes and rattles (loudly, if you have a metal band attached).
Rather than pure excitement from everyone or pure, unfiltered hatred like on the Internet, reactions to Pebble and smartwatches are about evenly split down the middle. Half seem deeply interest and want to know more, like how it works, what it does, and how its useful. The other half’s eyes either roll into the back of their heads or gloss over. Then they usually proceed to snort back to consciousness and call it a “fad”, “useless piece of technology”, or “pointless.”
The go-to counterargument which non-believers think pokes a hole in the entire smartwatch concept is: “I can just reach in my pocket and pull out my phone.” Or they usually ask, “How is looking at your wrist and navigating a smartwatch any more efficient or helpful than a smartphone?”
I can confidently say those people miss the point, and it’s safe to assume smartwatches weren’t made for them.
Jut like tablets, smartwatches are a questionable, luxury technology. Not everyone needs a tablet or a smartwatch. And if we get down to the nitty gritty, no one really needs a smartphone either. But let’s get out of the weeds and make something very clear:
Smartwatches will not be a fad, so long as OEMs continue to innovate.
Although a hefty portion of tech enthusiasts – and likely a larger percentage of the general public – can’t wrap their heads around why Pebble and like-minded devices are useful, or even why they might be helpful in the future, the earliest model smartwatches show great promise for a very young industry.
Pebble is the frontrunner. That’s difficult to refute. And it’s not only because Pebble has been around longer or because its constantly in and out of headlines. But the people behind Pebble have been at this longer than anyone, originally creating the Allerta inPulse smartwatch.
The inPulse smartwatch actually featured a nicer display than the Pebble and was made of nicer materials. It was actually more in line with a simplified Galaxy Gear at the time of its announcement. But the team behind inPulse had to go back to the drawing board.
People knock the display for being low-resolution, black and white, and even having some longevity issues. Lest we forget that it isn’t touch-sensitive.
But let’s be realistic here. If a device like Pebble doesn’t offer the highest level of user experience, it’s a non-starter. DOA. Just look at the Sony SmartWatch. The SmartWatch 2 was an improvement, but the mass media and public are mostly disinterested in Sony’s wearables effort.
And that’s what will dictate the future of wearables and, more specifically, smartwatches moving forward. User experience.
We’ve seen time and time again what poor user experience has done to products. The Galaxy Gear was an unpolished product at launch – the company paralleled it with an unripe fruit shortly thereafter. Imagine what it could have been if Samsung had just waited a few months to launch Gear, instead of rushing it out the door to launch alongside the Galaxy Note 3. From a marketing standpoint, it was smart to immediately pair the Gear and Note brands. But pairing a half-baked product with what most consider to be the pinnacle of oversized smartphones was a short-sighted move.
Samsung is already working on its second iteration of the Galaxy Gear just months after the first Gear’s release. I doubt Samsung will make the same mistake again.
But what about the future? What will keep the smartwatch space relevant and prevent it from becoming a tiny blip on the map?
Smooth, steady progress.
Samsung has a knack for cramming every last feature into its products, necessary or not. My fear is Samsung will carry this trend over into the smartwatch category, and we’ll relive the Dark Years from Android’s history (Eclair until Ice Cream Sandwich), where focus was solely on specifications and appearance, not performance or user experience.
People have slammed Pebble for not going big with their second-generation hardware – not “big” in terms of size, but in terms of upgrades. Steel was an unexpected – yet very much needed – upgrade in aesthetics, but most of the internals and 100% of the user experience remained the same. And as little as it may seem, it was perfectly calculated. Hardware and appearance were the biggest complaints about Pebble. And the forthcoming Pebble appstore update will appease the rest.
It’s nice to keep hypotheticals of the future in mind, such as a standalone smartwatch. And it’s not bad thing to want such a thing. But wanting it right now, when the technology simply isn’t there to support it, is what leads to unfinished products, too-short product cycles, severe drops in quality, and UX. And it could be what ends the smartwatch market prematurely.