The cascade of smartwatch rumours — be they iWatch, Surface or other — increases daily. By this point, smartwatches of every shape and stripe seem inevitable. But there are so, so many reasons why they shouldn’t happen. Not any time soon at least.
To get a sense of the sheer volume of smartwatches on the horizon, you can look no further than Quartz’s exhaustive rumour roundup. It’s an extensive lineup of companies, each and every one of whom may want to seriously reconsider where they’re headed. Here are just a few reasons why.
The wrist is valuable accessory space. Watches aren’t just watches anymore, if they ever were. They’re fashion statements in a way that today’s gadgets — ooo, a black rectangle! — aren’t. One-look-fits-all isn’t going to cut it, and colour variations don’t count (looking your way Apple).
Too many sizes. In fact, one size doesn’t fit all, either! Men and women wear different-sized watches. Beyond that, watch size is another aesthetic choice that people who wear things on their wrists care very much about. How many SKUs are these companies prepared to manufacture?
Which makes for terrible UI problems. Adding a micro-sized display to your platform’s lineup is problematic enough on its own for apps. Allowing for displays with multiple degrees of tiny is guaranteed chaos. Scaling horrors, ahoy!
But mostly one giant size. The obvious answer to that would be to stick with just one display size, which iWatch and Samsung and Microsoft rumours currently peg at 1.5 inches. That is a very big thing to lug around all day.
Battery life will be horrid. The sad thing is, it still won’t be big enough to fit in all of the internals it needs alongside a battery that’s worth a damn. While there’s no way a smartwatch will be as battery-intensive as your phone, you’re still going to have to plug the damn thing in every few days.
Imagine input on that tiny display. Making your smartwatch do what you want is going to be a royal pain, unless you’ve got needlepoint fingers, or until voice command technology advances so far beyond where it’s at today we might as well be talking about getting a few more feet of lift out of our hoverboards.
They’re going to be ugly. Big might be a necessity for a smartwatch, but it’s also garish in an accessory. Even the nicest-looking iWatch renders are sort of gross. And existing e-ink products aren’t much better.
Speaking of which, this already exists.
It’s pretty awful.
Even Apple sort of had one. The iPod nano was the closest we’ve gotten to a real-deal iWatch in terms of size and functionality, especially when paired with a clever watchband. It was so popular that Apple ditched the hardware after a single generation.
In fact, we’ve been doing this since the ’80s. And they’ve all been bad. Could someone come in and reinvent the category, like Apple did with smartphones? Sure! But it’ll have to be a once-in-a-generation re-imagining. Maybe someone manages it, maybe not. The only guarantee is that nearly every smartwatch will be terrible for a very long time.
How much will these things cost? Oh man, are you really ready to drop $US150 on yet another gadget that already does things your preexisting gadgets can? That’s how much the Sony SmartWatch runs you. Even if an Apple iWatch manages to match that, it’s a whole lot of change.
And how often will you have to get a new one? Product refresh cycles are variable, but it’s safe to say that your average handheld gadget — phones, tablets, etc. — don’t last you much longer than three years at most, if only because of the (non-replaceable) battery. So look forward to having to get a new watch at least that often.
It’s another data eater. Not to mention that a smartwatch that only runs on Wi-Fi would be effectively useless; when you’re in your house or a coffee shop or another Wi-Fi accessible location, you’re using other devices. So get ready to tack yet another gadget onto your data plan, unless it’s pure Bluetooth (there’s that battery life again) or some sort of Airplay-like ad hoc wireless hookup with your phone.
The smartwatch identity crisis. Is a smartwatch a souped-up activity tracker or a dumbed down iPhone? If it’s the former, are we really sure that people want activity trackers on a large scale? If it’s the latter, won’t that be redundant? If it’s a combination of both, do you go with a leather band or a rubber strap? Why are we doing this, again?
Honestly, it’s the gadget version of 3DTV. All of this smartwatch build-up sounds incredibly familiar if you’ve been around a while. It sounds almost identical to the drumbeats that lead up to 3DTV, another product for which there was no clear demand, but companies didn’t have any better ideas, so why not? Smartwatches are that.
Dick Tracy would have used a smartphone. Ever get the feeling that we’re all still chasing that dumb Dick Tracy watch-phone? Forget it. If Dick Tracy were alive today he’d be using an iPhone, because it does all of the things that watch-phone did, but better. If you’re going to resurrect a Dick Tracy accessory, make it the fedora.