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The biggest smartwatch fails and flops of 2023
As the year draws to a close, it’s a great time to take stock of the pivotal events and devices that shaped the last 12 months. 2023 has largely seen some sizeable positives for the smartwatch industry, with the Apple Watch moving forward, the Pixel Watch 2 surprising us with its refinement, and Fitbit proving that it’s not dead under Google’s leadership. But not everything was worth remembering; there have been some notable failures, too. To this end, here is a list of the biggest smartwatch fails and flops of 2023.
Apple forced to halt Watch sales
Apple had a fairly good year by all accounts and nearly avoided inclusion on this list. But that all changed in the final few weeks of December.
Due to a patent dispute, Apple was forced to halt sales and import of the Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 in its home market. The dispute relates to these two devices’ blood oxygen monitoring technology, which, according to the US International Trade Commission, has infringed on patents filed by medical tech firm Masimo. The news broke abruptly, leaving prospective Apple Watch buyers just days to get their hands on one of these new wearables.
It might not be all doom and gloom for Apple yet. The company is now awaiting a Presidential Review, which could allow the company to circumvent the ban. However, beyond the minor green tint issues we detailed earlier in the year, this is by far the biggest smartwatch fail of 2023.
Fitbit Charge 5’s broken update
The Fitbit Charge series is arguably the company’s bread and butter. Its affordable, simple, and reliable devices revolutionized the fitness tracking industry. The Charge 5 was not the best entry, but it at least ticked the last box.
In July, Fitbit rolled out a long-awaited update to the fitness tracker. The changelog was promising, bringing new clock faces, a more extensive list of exercises, and smarter text notifications to the wearable. But when it arrived, users soon found glaring issues. The patch, numbered v194.61, instead brought high battery drain, unresponsive wearables, and, in some cases, it bricked many Charge 5 units across the globe. To add insult to injury, Google and Fitbit acknowledged these issues but still haven’t pushed a new update as of December 2023.
Fitbit’s bad app redesign
The Charge 5 issues weren’t Fitbit’s only fail in 2023. Under Google’s wing, the company introduced a redesigned Fitbit app for Pixel Watch and legacy Fitbit users. Out with the familiar interface and in with the Google Fit-like aesthetic. Many users hated (and still hate) the changes made.
While the app looks great, and I quite like the reduction to three main tabs, it hides data fields that were once easily accessible behind additional taps and menus. The amount of information displayed on the home screen and subsequent sections is hindered. The change was mainly for aesthetics rather than functionality, which never seems to go down well with users.
Worst of all? You’re forced to adopt the redesign, as the old app is no longer functional or available. This, along with Google stripping a host of community features and Challenges from Fitbit, were among the more notable smartwatch fails of 2023.
Flawed Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 bands
I liked what Samsung did with the Galaxy Watch 6 series. Not only did the company grow the device in all necessary areas, but it also reintroduced the Classic model with its physical bezel. It was also the first series to feature Wear OS 4 — even ahead of Google’s Pixel Watch 2. However, the pair introduced one apparent flaw that the pre-release phase seemingly didn’t uncover.
The Galaxy Watch 6 series uses a new band fastening system that ditches the push pin in favor of a one-click button. This makes switching out watch bands much more convenient (and requires shorter nails). It also made the watch more likely to fall off users’ arms, while some users found that you can release the watch by applying pressure via your wrist bone. You can understand why this would be a problem while working out.
This isn’t a game-breaking flaw on Galaxy Watch 6, and users can easily switch to an older push-pin band without fuss. Still, it’s ridiculous that no one at Samsung noticed this issue before launching the new band design.
Citizen cans smartwatch sales after launch
Citizen’s second-generation CZ Smartwatch debuted with plenty of promise. It packed hardware similar to the Fossil Gen 6 and included an alertness monitoring feature developed by IBM and NASA. However, a few weeks after its launch in May, the product was unceremoniously pulled from stores after reviewers highlighted performance and battery life issues with their devices. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Some users, like The Verge‘s Victoria Song, received a unit that struggled to record exercises, with wonky data logging and a GPS that struggled to connect.
Granted, Citizen handled this well, but launching a device in this state is inexcusable. The CZ Smartwatch remains unavailable on Citizen’s official store, but the CZ Smart Hybrid is plugging the gap to some extent.
The unrepairable Google Pixel Watch 2
The Pixel Watch 2 impressed me and my colleagues with its sweeping improvements over its predecessor. It’s now competing with the Wear OS elite from Samsung and more established players from Garmin and Apple. But, if there’s one thing Google failed to address with this iteration: its repair policy.
The watch’s dome design makes it susceptible to damage, but Google has no official or self-repair program. If you damage your watch, that’s it. Contact Google Support for replacement options or buy another one. In 2023, when many companies focus on reducing e-waste, this is a remarkably short-sighted move from Google.
Notably, the Right to Repair law adopted by several US states may change Google’s stance on this in the future, but for now, the best way to keep your Pixel Watch 2 safe is with a case.
What do you think was 2023’s biggest smartwatch failure? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below.