Smartwatches are among the newest device form factors out there, and needless to say no single manufacturer has dialed in the right combination of features just yet.
Many consider that Apple’s entry into the space with the Apple Watch signifies that the age of the smartwatch is here, but lets save ourselves that bit of speculation.
Even a small percentage of Apple’s 700 million iPhone users buying into the idea of the Apple Watch will assure its success, but only initially. Function and features will assure the success of the device in the long run, and who better to learn that from than Apple?
IDC estimates that only 800,000 Android Wear devices were shipped in the year 2014. Despite the launch of numerous devices sporting Google’s software, including the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R that received high praise from the public, sales traction is clearly lacking.
There’s no getting away from the fact that wrist borne devices are subject to the gaze of the fashion police. Bracelets and watches have traditionally been a part of the wearer’s outfit and its no different for a smartwatch.
There will always be room for developing new styles of devices, but with smartwatches the boundaries between industrial design and fashion are further blurred. Devices that ‘look great’ will eclipse those that don’t, and the public with its support for the Apple Watch, Moto 360 and LG G Watch R have already shown us this.
Not Just Notifications
Notifications on the wrist are great, but not always. Smartwatches solve the problem of delivering important information to users when they’re unable to glance at their smartphone screens – maybe while driving, running or while engaged in some other activities.
Trying to replace the smartphone screen with a tiny display on a user’s wrist however isn’t a very bright idea. Notifications will always have their place on a smartwatch, but smartwatches will never be the easiest way of responding to them. Smartwatches therefore need to offer more than just notifications in order to find their place on a user’s wrist.
The use of smart devices to track health and fitness of users has to evolve, but largely from a software and services perspective. The number of parameters that can be tracked with today’s sensor array in a smartwatch or smartphone are simply huge, however not too many apps make sense out of any of this data.
Simply representing activity in terms of footsteps, or the distance cycled isn’t compelling enough for the average user to buy into. Building platforms that set tangible goals for users to achieve based on medical and fitness research, along with a less data centric approach of quantifying activity is the way forward.
Humans long to communicate with each other, and are forever in search of new ways in which they can do so. Calling, texting, sending emails and video chatting are what smartphones are great at, but not so much when it comes to wrist borne gadgets.
Manufacturers trying to make smartwatches better at sending emails is a loony idea, replying to a text when you’re hands are full, now that’s much better. Technologist really need to come up with new ways people communicate with each other using smartwatches, ones that people will want to use.
Smart devices aren’t just about the native features built into them, but also about the innovative way app developers come up with to use them. It’s was true for the smartphone, and it’s also true with the smartwatch, which is why Apple could once again build a lead over the competition.
Apps are the life and blood of device, but just like manufacturers, even developers need to re-imagine the way users will utilize their service on smartwatches. Evernote lets you make quick notes by talking into your watch, great! But a service dedicated to note taking on the wrist is bound to fail.
It’s easy to write off the argument of many that charging a smartwatch daily is hardly convenient, saying that they’ll eventually buy into it. People gave up the prospects of multi-day battery on smartphones because there was a tradeoff between battery life and productivity, but when it comes to smartwatches the drawbacks outweigh the benefits so far.
The inconvenience of charging yet another device daily, coupled to the cost of owning that device far outweighs the benefits of a smartwatch offers. Moreover, everyone’s understanding of a watch is something that just works always, and changing a century old perception isn’t going to be easy.
It might help if manufacturers focus first on developing smartwatch features that work independent of a smartphone, without trying to cannibalize on the strengths of the latter. Infusing notifications and other features that are primary on a smartphone will then be the easy bit.
Google’s take on putting a notifications hub on people’s wrists received a lot of negative feedback, but it’s also what Apple has done. However, the latter brand has also worked to introduce a communication realm on its smartwatch, a move that might fail, but at least they’re trying.
Android Wear’s support for GPS modules built into smartwatches was great. It allows users to leave behind their phones when going for a run, while still gathering their location data. Standalone calling facility which Samsung offers is another idea that might just work, but not in a way where it looks to replace a smartphone.
Apple’s Sketch, Tap and Heartbeat sharing features may be gimmicky, but they’re new ways of communicating using a watch, as opposed to calling and texting.
Despite Apple’s entry into the market, smartwatches still have a long way to go before we have a definitive set of ways to use them. For now it’s going to be about crazy experiments to find out what users might want.