Week In Tech: The Rise Of The Smartwatch

Watches. Most of us own one, and most of them do no more than just tell the time. But the Smartwatch is an idea which has recently been a focus of many of the major tech firms. With an iWatch on the horizon, we must ask: are they really worth the fuss?

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Watches, for many, are a fashion statement. An item of clothing which we commit to, wear every day, and may even be recognised for. Watches are often expensive and intricate, well designed, and have strong brand identities. So when all the major tech companies are allegedly working on their own smart watches, we wonder, how can they succeed when people buy watches for personality, as well as for their function?

Pebble Watches displaying multiple face options

Currently, most smart watches have been created by small independent companies and start ups. While the big names such as LG and Sony have introduced their own products, currently the Pebble Watch, funded through Kickstarter, is taking the tech world by storm, having sold over 275,000 devices to date. Its simple design, low asking price and straightforward functionality has made it increasingly popular. The Pebble watch connects through bluetooth to an Android phone or iPhone, and shows alerts for emails, texts, and allows you to control music using the buttons on the side. Custom watchfaces and apps can be installed through the phone, and come from a variety of developers. The Pebble watch benefits greatly from its cross platform capability – if Apple release the much rumoured iWatch, then it is likely it will be iPhone exclusive, and Google may restrict their wearable tech to Android.

The $150 Pebble watch is not an eyesore, but does not excel in the design department either. Made primarily of plastic, it fails to embody the idea of a watch as a luxury item. Pebble’s brand recognition, however, remains relatively small, so it is unlikely that the design will become common. In the case of a watch from Apple, potentially millions of people may end up with an identical (albeit iconic) watch design, and certain people will be turned away from the product as it becomes ‘mainstream’. Just as we wouldn’t all want to wear the same top at the same time, we may not take kindly to wearing the same watches either.

The larger companies who have taken early ventures into wearable technology have been met with little praise and minimal adoption. While Samsung is currently said to be developing an iWatch competitor, Sony have already announced the SmartWatch 2, a successor to their relatively unknown first iteration. Due out in September, the SmartWatch 2 is made primarily of aluminium, giving it a more premium feel than the Pebble, however its touchscreen navigation has been called a “mess” by Pocket-Lint, and Gizmodo (possibly overzealously) called it “Maybe the worst thing Sony has ever made”. Even the successful companies are struggling to differentiate themselves, and struggling to convince consumers that they really need a gadget on their wrists to save them the couple of seconds it takes to pull a phone out of a pocket.

An Apple Patent for a Possible iWatch Concept (via Patently Apple)

Causing the biggest stir is the potential Apple iWatch, rumours of which have been making the rounds for over a year. 9to5mac recently published an extensive report with information from a variety of analysts. It seems that the iWatch may have an edge-to-edge touchscreen, and rely on biometrics for both security and even health related features. Expected later this year, or in 2014, the iWatch is highly anticipated but will still suffer the same issues, and possible lack of adoption, as other watches.

Many of us suffer from a ‘phantom’ viabrating leg. I check my phones multiple times a day, thinking I have felt it vibrate – most of the time it hasn’t. A watch may solve that issue, and being able to read a text from your wrist is a luxury, and entirely unnecessary, but it’s still something which I would jump at the chance to do as an early adopter. Nevertheless, watches are an identity, just like clothes. All those people who have potentially invested thousands of pounds in a watch to last them their whole lives won’t be interested in a smartwatch to last up to a couple of years. Wearable tech is a risky business, but Apple and Google can be risky companies.

Promotional images sourced from the respective companies. Other images courtesy of ‘John “Pathfinder” Lester’ and ‘and one half images’.