How long should a smartwatch last?

July 12, 2014

It’s still the early days for smartwatches. With the first few Android Wear devices on the market and a 3rd one on the horizon we have a pretty good glimpse of what wearables might be like. Android Wear is exciting and feels generations ahead of what came before it.  But like any burgeoning technology, the hardware and software are going to grow exponentially with each generation.

As somebody who would want to buy a smartwatch, it might be important to consider how long they will last before becoming obsolete. After all, $200 being the low end, it’s hardly an impulse buy for most people. Just how long will a generation be for smartwatches? That’s a difficult thing to determine for a new category but the best way might be to look at other similar markets.

What came before

The most obvious comparison to make is to other existing smartwatches. The original Pebble came out in early 2013 and a year later the Pebble Steel was released with a software update for both.

While Pebble released two devices in one year Samsung has done it at a considerably faster pace. The Galaxy Gear came out in late 2013 and the Gear 2 arrived six months later in conjunction with the Gear 2 Neo and Gear fit. The Galaxy Gear ran a version of Android while  the sequels ran Tizen-based software – only to be usurped by the Gear Live running Android Wear two months later.

While most tech companies make new hardware yearly, the true generational shifts often come when the latest software doesn’t support old devices. That’s typically when a product becomes obsolete because there is no longer a promise of improvement. So while there have been two Pebble watches, functionally they’re so similar that there hasn’t really been a true second generation. Contrast this with Samsung and there have been two generations of Gear watches that have become obsolete in that same period of time (although Samsung could continue to support the Tizen software simultaneously with Android Wear).

The business of longevity

So much to choose from, how can you lose?

So much to choose from, how can you lose?

But not all product life-cycles mimic such short and erratic schedules. Smartphones are generally replaced every two years because of contract pricing and early termination fees, both of which are carry overs from the dumb cell phone era. On the positive side this allows phone makers to iterate and refine their phones as well as providing some guarantee of value to customers who would like their brand new device to be updated over the course of it’s life. In recent years though, more manufacturers are designing cheaper, off-contract options, that allow much more flexibility so that, in the future, that model may well change.

Laptops and desktops tend to have longer life-cycles simply because of price. Most people spending a grand or more on a computer would probably want it to work for as long as possible and while future proofing is impossible, you can reasonably expect to get four or more years of value from your purchase provided you temper your expectations over time.

The role of consumer expectations

But even beyond strict contracts and up front price, some products have life-cycles determined by traditional consumer expectations. Video game consoles tend to last as long as 6 or 7 years, extending well beyond the hardware’s capability and driven mostly by software sales.

The best part about this system is that consoles also gain more software improvements than just about any other technology over their lifetime. Remember the original dashboard of the XBOX 360 with the blade menus? It’s is almost unrecognizable compared the Windows 8 style tile interface of the later years. The bad part of the longevity is that while developers are allowed to squeeze every last ounce of power from the well known hardware, at some point, the games themselves become limited by it.

Similarly, what may end up being the most important aspect for determining Android Wear life-cycles is simply what consumers expect from their $200 or $300 purchase. The common wisdom is usually to never buy a first generation device and judging from early feedback about the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, that might be the smart choice for now. The market is still in its infancy and we haven’t figured out what is acceptable functionality from a hardware or software perspective.

Betting on the right horse

Smartphones stacked Android best iphone apple samsung LG HTC

Again, this will ultimately be determined by you and me. The smartwatch is unique because it must straddle the line between two finicky markets – fashion and technology. Today the Moto 360’s circular display, leather strap, and metal bezel might look refined and chic, but trends might dictate a different feeling in two or three years. By the same token, the colorful display and card interface taken from Google Now might reflect what is best in today’s hardware and UI design but could become archaic within a few years.

What is awesome about new gadgets, like smartwatches, is that they give us a possible glimpse into the very near future. The problem is that the future is always in motion and what seems like the right prediction one day could be proven wrong very quickly. Whether or not the life-cycle of a smartwatch will be one year or five years, Android Wear has shown us Google’s vision of a wearable-centric future. The only question is, will you bet $200 on it to make it a reality?

Comments

  • MasterMuffin

    I thought this was going to be about battery life. Well it wasn’t, but I still want to say: smartwatch should last a week. It isn’t that big problem if it doesn’t because you can charge at night, but I think 1 week should be the target

    • dogulas

      Given the types of things currently implemented on smartwatches though, it will truly be impossible to get them to last a week until a major battery technology breakthrough.

      • MasterMuffin

        I know, but a watch should last more than 1 or 2 days :/

      • margaretjkoester

        as Thelma
        explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
        on the internet . more info here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

    • BruceLeeRoyJenkins

      Pebble and SOny have his pretty decent battery life for their watches.

  • Luka Mlinar

    Well i am expected to pay 3 times as much as a solid Casio yet a Casio will out live a smart watch ten times over. I expect longevity will not be an issue with users. As more and more apps are coming i expect the first wave of smart watches will lag like a FM withing 6 months. So basically you are paying over 3 hundy for something that will be useless in a year.

    • Wolfen

      I’ll pick Casio any day over smartwatch. Can’t beat 7-years battery life.

      • http://dribbble.com/nickchamberlin Nick Chamberlin

        When it only tells time, yes, you can beat it, beat it hard.

        • Luka Mlinar

          Do you hear yourself? One day you’ll be here debating plain toilet paper because it does only one thing.

          • Rick

            We never settled on toilet paper.

            Now we have baby wipes, bidets and ass powder.

            But you’re right. Let’s just stop innovating. Let’s stop moving consumer tech forward.

      • renz

        i would do the same.

    • TheCrusader

      someone has to buy the first two generations of smartwatches however, otherwise there won’t be a market for it and thus no improvement and no further generations at all.

      however i believe there are many many people out there looking forward to buying those devices as soon as they launch. i personally wanted to gift myself a Moto360 for christmas ^^ i didn’t have a nice watch for years and this beauty sure looks promising.

      • renz

        you’re right. if no one buying or it did not sell as good as OEM hope it the hype will die and OEM will stop investing further. just look at 3D TV

        • TheCrusader

          3D was kind of a different topic. At one point it was impossible to buy a decent TV without 3D … that’s the same what’s happening with cinema nowadays. If you want to see a specific modern movie at prime time you have to see it in 3D … at least the cinemas in Austria hardly offer 2D versions of 3D films in the evening … –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjGmzejmvo0 ^^

    • T.J.

      I could make the argument that the old dumb phones outlast any smartphone yet most people made the switch. How is this different? Different watches have different features, different styles, therefore different prices. A Rolex costs more than a Casio, but doesn’t do anything more.

      • Luka Mlinar

        Everyone that bought a phone pree S3 can shelf it. Samsung galaxy S3 still runs as smooth as the day it was bought.

        • Mvrcel Lgt

          I once bought a Nokia 3310 and it still runs as smooth as the day it was bought.

    • Margaret Leber

      My Kickstarter Edition Pebble is still going strong, and cost half that.

      • Luka Mlinar

        The problem is Android OS. There’s no way these smart watches will work smooth in 6-12 months.

        • harrison_peter

          I disagree. These operating systems do slow down over the years but because the apps start being more optimised for current and future hardware. I noticed this a lot with iOS. My Nexus 4 is still buttery smooth so it’s doing fine but I agree that in another year or two it will be slower. Again, it’s because of the software and the hardware not getting along by that point.

          Android Wear main functionality is displaying phone notifications and allowing you to act upon them. Even “OK Google” does the hard work on your phone. Do you really think that Android is so bad, and the hardware is so poor, that in 6 months notifications will be noticeably slower to display or swipe through on these smart watches?

          • Luka Mlinar

            I think they put just enough power to do what it’s supposed out of the box. Android slows down by some 30% after long use. Will this thing have a factory reset? Also more demanding apps for smart watched are on the way. We’ve been trough this with smartphones.

  • Mohamed Hashem

    You didn’t talk about Sony smart watch 1 , it came before galaxy gear!

    • Margaret Leber

      Then we need to include the Fossil Wrist PDA too. :-)

      • John Michaels

        The Fossil MSN Direct watch has been my favorite smart watch so far…display readable in any lighting condition, battery lasted 7-10 days, kept constantly updated through FM radio transmissions, even supported instant messaging through MSN/Windows Messenger. RIP MSN Direct…that watch lasted me many years!

  • wm T Wagner

    I have the gear 2, like it alot. Of course I’m a tech nut anyway. It’s a matter of personal choice. Someone told me they dont want to talk to there wrist. But that same person has a phablet that she talks on. She dont want to talk to her wrist and I dont want to hold a 7 inc device up to my face and talk on it. Also im getting 2 + days with moderate to Hi use all my notifications and yes I do us it to talk o when im driving or busy. I look at itas a Watch with many features. Signature Samsung. excited for the new possibilities of this techn0
    ology

    • NOAIRPLAY

      I just received the Gear 2 Neo has a gift…. I must say that outside of notifications…. It’s pretty useless. Tizen apps are few and pathetic…. I’d like to see more android integration like Google Now…. Ssmsungs S voice is HORRIBLE and rarely recognizes what I say.

  • renz

    just buy regular watch and you don’t need to worry about it being obsolete. no need to worry about battery life either.

  • Brandon Power
  • Eric Reyes

    For $250 you can get a regular, automatic watch that you will have for quite possibly the rest of your life. You may need to buy a couple bands for it, but the beauty of a nice watch is that it becomes a piece of jewelry you have forever. An Android Wear watch will last a couple of years at the most, especially as the replaceable battery degrades. I have the LG G Watch since I want to toy with it, but honestly I can’t see how anyone would really want to buy this. It needs to be a nice watch for and then a smart device second, but as it is, it’s crappy watch with a few novelty functions.

    • JaniceHopkins

      Google is paying 80$>>CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND HELP

      • Jayfeather787

        bad spammer

  • Arturo Raygoza

    Technology that won’t catch on is technology that won’t catch on.

  • Kolyan24k

    It would be nice if watch had a SIM card and somehow it was linked to your phone. This way you can use one or another. Go to gym, ski, bike, leave it at your desk or whatever and you dont need to bring your phone with you everywhere u go

  • Blowntoaster

    Smartwatches should last at least 2 years, regardless of what OS they are running.
    Yes, few people like the Samsung Tizen duo, but Samsung should still support them, regardless of whether the OS is going to live on or not. Do the same with them as it did with the original Gear, swap the OS via an update.

    And these Android Wear watches should last 2 years or more depending on when the hardware will eventually start to degrade (battery, screen etc) Wear should stay a lightweight OS and should be able to run on the oldest of Wear devices long enough into the future.

  • Harry

    3 days would be good. 5 would be great. Any longer, I would forget to charge :).

    The above would also allow sensor data during sleep that seems to be the craze.

    Personally I think the battery issue with the android wear is the os and processor, not the display and BT communication. The first can be easily fixed to get the three days easily even with the current gen device ( g watch for sure). The watch currently drops from 100 to 85% in disconnected state and the display being of overnight. That doesn’t make any sense.

  • s2weden2000

    2days so there is some marginal for one days use…

    • IsaacLHawk

      Google is paying 80$ per hour! Work for few hours>>CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND HELP

      • s2weden2000

        would be pretty cool if it was true …

  • EvenInTheDarkestHour

    “Smart” watch. A layer of interface between a smartphone user and the phone? A device that for several hundreds of dollars will tell me the time, and that the vibration and alert from my phone was a calendar event? My phone, that the “smart” watch can’t run without, has a larger, easier to read screen, grants me direct accessto whatever I want to do. Thanks, but…. Now replace the phone, maybe.

  • xoj_21

    min 3 days

    average 5-7days
    why? they are only a screen for notifications. its a pain to removing the watch every day especialy when u are using to track sleep , counts calories, pedometer etc.

    at sunday u should be resting

    also charge time be fast less than an hour

  • Paul

    No thanks. My phone is my tech. I don’t need something that looks like it came out of a cracker. Short battery life and as tech moves on short lifetime for models. What a waste of money. My breitling is timeless. Something a smart watch will never be.