Why is everyone making a smartwatch?

April 19, 2013
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Sony-SmartWatch-2

News has come to light recently that Microsoft is working on a smartwatch. If you’re keeping tabs, that’s Apple, Samsung, Google, and now Microsoft… all working on a smartwatch, or we at least have strong indicators that they are. This would make sense if the smartwatch had a proven history of success… but they don’t.

Not only do they not have a strong lineage, they don’t even have a device to tout as a benchmark. Smartwatches have historically fallen flat on their face, never achieving any kind of commercial success. Even those, like the Motorola MOTOACTV (which was pretty good), were dismissed by consumers. If we’re not keen on wearing a smartwatch, why is everyone trying to make one?

Google Glass hand

Glass

The reason manufacturers are trying to put something on your wrist is right in front of your face. Literally. Google Glass is next generation technology, meant to connect you to information on a very different level. If anything, it’s meant to keep you connected to the right things, at the right times.

If successful, we’ll not only be ushered into a new era of technology, but information as well. We’ve given up on having some sort of Android following us around as a personal assistant, but not on Android being our personal assistant. If Glass comes through, and it looks like it will, we’ll be on the precipice of a whole new era.

The Watch

Glass is one thing, so where does a smartwatch fit in? I’ve long made the assertion that a watch and Glass have a potential symbiotic relationship, but if we’re to think of why companies are creating smartwatches in general, that argument can’t really be heard. I really doubt Apple or Microsoft will jump on the Android bandwagon to create something to work with Glass.

So we consider the two technologies separately, and can realize they have similar potential. A watch, like Glass, can provide timely updates. If Google Now, which is heavily ingrained in Glass, comes in the form factor of a smartwatch, then the two technologies share functionality. At that point, the decision becomes whether or not you want to get updates in your face, or on your wrist.

google now widget

The difference

The similarities stop there, unfortunately. Glass is a capable of so much more, where the smartwatch is limited. Those limitations are inherent, and cannot be readily overcome. If I want to shoot video with Glass, I just look at something. If I were to have the ability to take pics or video with a smartwatch, the action becomes clumsy. I’d have to point my watch at stuff, and it would just look silly.

There are a variety of ways in which a smartwatch is limited versus Glass, much less a smartphone. If a technology is a proven failure, and can’t conceivably stand up to the competition, why is everyone interested? The answer is as simple as it is confusing.

Trending

All indications are that wearable technology is the newest trend in mobile, despite it’s checkered past. Companies like Microsoft or Apple can get into the game relatively easily, too. They’ll probably attempt, in one way or another, to pare down their current OS into something that works on a smaller screen.

It’s an easier method that Glass, and provides a more immediate reference point to their place in the market. In terms of hardware, a smartwatch can be a very limited version of a smartphone. Though it lacks things like radios or a robust processor, it has other features we’re accustomed to. Things like a screen, a touch interface, or even hardware buttons are all familiar to us, and make it more approachable to use.

This is also the only real hope for manufacturers other than Google for success, building an intuitive OS for a device we can find approachable. With wearable tech, Google Glass picks up where the smartwatch fails… but that game really only works for Google. Nobody else has a Glass alternative, and we have no reason to think they’ll attempt one.

Kinetic_Smart_watch

Conclusion

Smartwatches have a dismal past because nobody considered the future. Wearable technology has, until now, been considered a novelty item. Only since the advent of Google Glass have we all begun to consider it a real alternative, if not the next step.

That’s perhaps the most troublesome aspect, too. It seems as though Google is the only one of the lot who is intent on wearable technology being a success. Nobody else has sunk the time or effort into their wearable tech as Google has with Glass, which will probably be followed up by a smartwatch. Even Apple, who is notorious for taking their sweet time developing tech, is rumored to be rushing their smartwatch. This leads us to believe everyone is in it for the short term gain, as with most trends.

History has a way of repeating itself, and the smartwatch will probably be no different. Trends rarely stick, and the difference between a smartwatch and Glass is that factor alone. Glass has been positioned as the next step, and all feedback suggests that to be accurate. A smartwatch is trendy, whereas Glass could be timeless. It may be easy come, easy go for smartwatches once again.

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