We are teetering on the brink of smartwatch design. From fitness tracking, to notifications, we are just now learning what’s possible in the wearable, and especially in the smartwatch field. Wearable technology is still in its infancy and we get to watch it grow up, crawl and take its first steps. If this were a baby, these would be really exciting milestones. Unfortunately, this is technology and we want our tech to grow up fast and awesome and if at all possible, yesterday.
With a virtual avalanche of smartwatches ready to fall into our midst, we wanted to take some time and talk about what we want our wrists-riders to do. There are a lot of solid possibilities and all within the realm of possibility – well most of them anyway. I gave our team a day and a half to come up with concepts that companies’ R&D departments have had half a decade to think of – you know, no pressure. So let’s round up the editors with a big old “Yee-ha!” and see what they’re calling for.
“Windows. Freaking. Phone.”
I want a lot out of my smart watch. I want voice commands. I want notifications similar to what graces the tops of our phones. I want them to be actionable. I want text input and output too with a combination of Minuum and Spritz. But as much as I want all that, I want one thing more than anything.
I want the darn thing to work on Windows Phone. I want a Microsoft smart watch with flipping tiles and Cortana. And I want it to work without needing to have an app running on my smartphone, like the unofficial Windows Phone Pebble app. We’ve seen rumors of Microsoft applying for smart watch patents, so here’s hoping I get my wish. Someday it will come along, the watch I’ll love.
But I don’t want this watch to only work on Windows Phone. I want iPhone users and Android users to use the same device and get the same experience. This “only supporting one platform” stuff (let alone only one phone, ahem Samsung) is only limiting a customer base, which last I checked was not good for business. One watch to rule them all.
“I will wear a smartwatch when it replaces my phone.”
My ideal smart watch would be something that replaces a smartphone completely. I haven’t worn a watch since before I even owned a mobile phone because basically, the smartphone I had in 2002 replaced everything my wristwatch did (calculator, tell time) and it also replaced everything the iPod MP3 players, mobile phones, and PDAs of the time did. Taking a small screened electronic device out of my pocket to look at the screen is not a whole lot different than twisting my wrist to look at a screen. Still, if I were to start wearing something on my wrist again, I would want it to free up pocket space and not require a connected smartphone.
It would need internet access and phone capabilities built in and a speech interface far beyond anything we have today in order to be functional enough to replace smartphones. A tiny removable wireless earpiece for private interaction would be important too. Remote display connectivity would be good too. It should recognize when I’m sitting in front of a larger screen or using a heads-up-display in my motorcycle helmet and automatically display pertinent information on those other screens so that I don’t have to look at the small wrist screen. When no authorized secondary screens are available, it should communicate via speech. If I wanted to carry around a larger screened device, that should get its connectivity from the smart watch, not the other way around. Oh, and the smart watch should have a holographic projection display that floats in the air when I raise my wrist.
“It’s a convenience, not a necessity.”
My biggest problem with smartwatches is really the fact that they’re really just more convenient, but not really something I could call a useful tool that can do things better than any other gadget I already carry around. For example, the fact that even though it saves me a few seconds in pulling out my phone to see a notification, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I wouldn’t be able to live without my smartwatch, the way that I currently can’t live without my smartphone. It’s hard to tell what the killer feature would be, that would make me feel a desperate need to never leave my home without a smartwatch. I’m personally very inclined to fitness, and I still don’t think that fitness is that killer app. It must be something else, but I personally don’t know.
“Round is the new square.”
Smartwatches aren’t just smart because they say so in their name. Smartwatches provide a second screen to which important and time-sensitive information is sent. This helps you keep your phone in your pocket or purse (or “fashionable” hip-holster) and out of your hands. This serves several beneficial purposes. It helps you save battery life by not turning on your phone’s screen as often, and it helps you be more socially appropriate — checking your watch is much preferable over turning into a zombie and excluding the world around you.
Today’s smartwatches aren’t perfect. My Pebble presents pretty much all the information that I need when I need it. Sometimes it has some challenges staying connected, and sometimes the notifications I expect don’t come through. Some notifications aren’t very helpful (“New email received” doesn’t tell me much). There’s still room for improvement — which is a good thing.
In my next smartwatch I’m hoping for a round face, “always works” connectivity, more useful notifications, a color screen with a bit higher resolution. However, including all these features (without losing any that I already have) can be a challenge. After all, a smartwatch must first and foremost be a watch.
Chief News Editor
“With great power comes great responsibility…and a great smartwatch”
There’s a lot not to like about current smartwatch designs, but as far as I’m concerned there’s only one issue really worth addressing: power. Until we can solve the power problem, everything else is a secondary concern.
I don’t think we can really rely on being saved by efficiency, especially if we want smartwatches to break their reliance on a smartphone’s data services (like that rumored Gear Solo), so I’m most interested in a watch that innovates in the areas of power storage and charging. All those next-gen battery techs we keep hearing about, with exotic anode materials and all that? What better trial by fire than employing them in the demanding world of wearables?
But I think the smartwatch I end up loving will make its mark when it comes to charging: how does it get its power? Rumors about a wireless system the Moto 360 might use sound very intriguing, because I worry that the idea of having to physically plug-in a smartwatch to be charged is going to turn a lot of people off – maybe not at first, but then they forget to charge it a few nights in a row, it goes dead, and eventually they’re not bothering at all. Much more than with smartphones, charging a smartwatch needs to be effortless.
Would it be possible to capture kinetic energy? Oof, that might be a tall order, and besides the physical components that would need taking up precious space, I worry we might be orders of magnitude off when it comes to the amount of power we could hope to generate. Then again, if the solution was easy and obvious, someone would have implemented it by now. But one way or another, I want a smartwatch that never has me worrying about its charge.
“I want Google Now. And Google Now. Maybe Google Now too. Did I mention Google Now?”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Google Now is the sole functionality a smartwatch needs for me to fall in love. And I’m not talking a read-only state of Google Now, but rather deep integration with interaction – voice searches, package tracking, contextual awareness on my wrist.
Having worn a Pebble for upwards of a year now, I love wearables, especially smartwatches. But Google Now on Pebble, while possible, is not nearly the level of integration I expect out of Android Wear. I want my watch to buzz with information when it feels I need to know things, not only when someone sends me an email or text message. I want automatic package tracking to happen on my wrist; I want to see how long the commute home will take with real time traffic estimates; and I want more information about the things I’ve been researching lately straight on my wrist.
In case you missed my point, I want Google Now on my smartwatch.
“That’s all great guys, but here’s what gets my juices flowing.”
What about you? What features will wrest you away from some hard-earned dollars to wear a fashion accessory most of us haven’t worn since we were riding skateboards in bell bottoms? Sound off in the comments below and tell us, each other and the world what power you want just a few inches above your fingertips.