It’s the year of wearables, that and 4K televison with a side of devices that make our homes smarter. Some of the big news coming out of CES has been about smartwatches, a continuing theme that started last year with the famed Kickstarter campaign of the Pebble and the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. None of these smartwatches are designed for the mainstream. If and when Apple does release an iWatch, here’s what not to expect.
Attention Walmart Shoppers
The big news from Pebble was the redesign of their product, which now includes an entirely new style. The original Pebble was constructed of plastic, with an assortment of colors. The bands themselves were either silicone or TPU rubber, not exactly the highest quality of materials, but understandable for a ‘new’ product. Those buying a Pebble, likely did so to be first among those enjoying smartphone apps on their wrist. There’s a certain level of ‘who cares what it looks like, watch what it can do’ and that’s perfectly understandable. The first Handspring Treo I owned didn’t gain me any style points, but man was it cool to be checking email on the go. Those early Pebble adopters are enjoying notifcations and more before the mainstream.
While the first generation was focused on bring smart features to wearable devices, the focus of their new watch was to make them more fashionable. The new Pebble Steel watch attempts to raise the bar, but in my opinion, it falls woefully short. Two of the watch straps are constructed of stainless steel, available in either silver or matte black. The price for the new Pebble Steel is $249. For that price, shouldn’t it look markedly better than a $16 Casio from Walmart. The designs also seem skewed toward a male demographic.
Good design is often an exercise in simplicity. The original iPhone, launched seven years ago, didn’t have a carrier logo anywhere on the device. The front of the device didn’t have a large Apple logo. Nothing but a black display, outlined in chrome. A wearable device that offers smart functionality is something you are going to look at countless times throughout the day. The manufacturer should give careful consideration from every element that is displayed. It’s unfathomable how they can include a garish looking Pebble logo on the watch face. Were they worried no one would know how to contact them to pick up the award for awful watch design? If they were looking for a ‘timeless’ look, at a minimum, drop the logo.
No One Wants To Wear A Phone
Neptune Pine hopes to follow in the footsteps of Pebble, launching a new smartwatch that promises to offer everything in a smartwatch, without the need for Bluetooth-tethering. It’s billed as a standalone device. Their website reads, “When you’re hands-on with your destiny, you’re always looking for the simpler solutions. The intuitively easy. The ingeniously practical. That’s why you love your Neptune Pine.”
In order to make calls with this baby, you need to insert your microSIM card. Does it come with paper clips? What about SIM card adapters? And how is this in any way easy. It appears to be a small Android phone that attaches to your wrist. Their website is filled with smiling, active people – none of which are wearing this watch? The below screen grab is from the pitch video shows this as a huge looking device. According to their CTO, they started looking at smartwatches ‘a year ago’, which doesn’t seem like a lengthy development period.
We all have smartphones, at least those who would consider a smartwatch. A truly innovative smartwatch should fit in seamlessly with our digital lives. Swapping SIM cards and using an Android 4.1 powered watch doesn’t sound ‘intuitively easy’.
Pebble and Samsung are among those first to market with this generation of smartwatches. It’s not hard to be the first to market with a product, even less so for a company the size of Samsung. Being first does guarantee sales from early adopters who desperately want smart functionality from a watch. The current crop of smartwatches still lack mainstream appeal. I’d go as far as to say they are damaging to the category, providing little in the way of excitement for consumers. Samsung’s ad for the Galaxy Gear shows someone answering a call with their watch, with their phone in hand. It begs the question, “why do I need a smartwatch?” I’m certain that’s not the message they were hoping to convey. Don’t use this giant phone in your hand, answer it with your watch.
The challenge is to create something compelling, both in design and function. A watch people want to wear, with capabilities that don’t mimic those of our current devices, but build upon them. The bar isn’t very high for Apple, but I’m hoping they go far and beyond my expectations. When the iPhone launched, Steve Jobs said it was 5 years ahead from anything available and he was right. Apple didn’t build the iPhone while looking at Palm Treos for design inspiration. If and when Apple releases an iWatch, I wouldn’t expect it to look anything like what we have seen thus far. It won’t be a tiny phone strapped to our wrist or a modern take on a $16 Casio.