Saturday, December 7, 2013
Every review of smart watches like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear that I have read so far concludes that smartwatches do not offer anything new. You can take a picture with a smart watch, boast the makers. We can do that already with a smartphone, respond the critics.
But they are all wrong and it wouldn't be the first time. Nobody will need a computer in the home, they argued in the 1970s and nobody will use a blogging site that limits you to 140 characters, they said in the noughties. And they were wrong then, too.
Where they go wrong this time is that they compare a smartwatch and a smartphone side by side on a table; in this scenario, yes, I would agree that the watch doesn't do anything that the phone cannot. But that is not a fair comparison. To understand why smartwatches will be useful you have to compare a watch on your wrist with a phone in your pocket – a much more realistic scenario.
The watch on your wrist can take a photo; the phone in your pocket cannot; The watch on your wrist can show you that the email that just came in is just a routine update and nothing to worry about; the phone in your pocket just vibrates, leaving you stressed until you get a chance to look at it. And the smart watch on your wrist can also work like a handsfree Bluetooth headset, allowing you to answer calls without stuffing a headset in your ear, which is very handy when you are driving.
And that is just for now. Meantime the smart watch makers are listening to your complaints and adding new features to address issues. For example, Samsung already responded to complaints that the first Gear smart watches could not handle third party notifications; in the latest update this has been added. More importantly, so far I have not seen any clever new micro apps that leverage the unique advantages of smartwatches, but I have great faith in human creativity and I am sure that these are going to be coming soon. At the very least they are going to integrate sports and wellness functions from standalone devices like the Jawbone Up.
I also hope that the makers of these devices apply some more creativity to choosing a name. "Watch" seems perversely inappropriate when telling the time is only an incidental function and one which could become completely irrelevant when it can offer more value to users by noting when it is time to do something. Mounting a smart device on the wrist seems a sensible enough thing to do, but we really need a better name.
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