Do we really need Smartwatches?

September 10, 2014 in #opinion #apple #iPhone #smartwatches #pebble #android #samsung

After having discussions about this on more than one occasion on social media ( and given the hype of the newly-announced Apple Watch) I figured it was probably time to lay out the case for why we don't not need to buy smartwatches.

iPhones

You already have one right now: In your pocket

Your smartphone lock screen already provides the time and all the same notifications you can get on a smartwatch. The only trade off is you have to put your hand in your pocket to see it, which takes 3 seconds more effort than glancing at your wrist.

Smoking chimneys

They're expensive & ruin the planet

Smartwatches need to be charged overnight (rather than using a standard watch battery which needs to be replaced once every couple of years) which doesn't seem particularly efficient.

Essentially you're paying for someone to dig up rare earth minerals and burn oil just so they can assemble and deliver an ancillary device that doesn't do anything you couldn't do already (monitoring heart rate/health data could already be accomplished with much cheaper accessories). This doesn't seem very smart financially or ecologically.

Also, aside from the notable exception of the Pebble smartwatch almost every mainstream smartwatch is tied to a specific smartphone/ecosystem (which means you may have to replace your smartwatch as often as you replace your smartphone and/or if you switch between Android and iOS). This restricts consumer choice, adds to the expense/increases the carbon cost of upgrading.

Cartoon of man watching another with a big telescope

Privacy issues

Not only do most smartwatches now collect health data such as your heart rate/pulse and statistics on all your physical activity, anyone nearby can see all your latest emails, texts and app notifications at a glance on your wrist. While before onlookers may have had to peep for a while to glean information, your smartwatch now delivers that same information in a short, sharp bursts. Whoops!

Smartwatches can also function as listening devices (otherwise you wouldn't be able to use them to take calls) and there are already models with embedded cameras. This means people with smartwatches could be filming you or recording what you're saying without you even realising, and then syncing those recordings to other devices/cloud services with varying degrees of security.

Ordinary digital watch

Do they offer a better experience than an actual watch?

If you leave your smartphone at home, your smartphone's battery dies or you misplace it then your smartwatch suddenly becomes very stupid. It'll be like a watch ...only worse. Because it'll drain power more quickly and won't keep time too well because it doesn't have a smartphone available to sync with.

Also, as Pebble has discovered using screens akin to a smartphone doesn't work too well in real world operation. Glare from the sun could make your screen utterly unreadable, your watch will be damaged more easily by impacts and (while some models are splash-resistent) will not be waterproof. Which makes the device less than ideal for cycling/jogging outdoors or leaving by the pool while you're on holiday. It also means if you try and wash some dishes without remembering to take your smartwatch off, that could be quite an expensive mistake!

Horse-drawn car

Do people still wear watches?

Yes, I get it - watches and smartwatches can be elegant fashion statements that convey an air of sophistication and education. But for many of us we actually stopped buying watches when we started buying smartphones. When you can check the time on your smartphone's lock screen it doesn't make much sense to have an extra timepiece strapped to your wrist.
Perhaps it is just this writer, but surely the idea of buying a device for your wrist that's already been made obsolete by an existing device in your pocket seems a little strange. The conversation the tech industry has had with manufacturers about this seems akin to the following situation:

Blogger: "I'd like to buy a horse to drag my car along!"

Device Maker: "You realise your car already has an engine that can get you from A to B in a fraction of the time a horse can, right?"

Blogger: "But... But... the convenience of having a horse IN ADDITION to my car would totally be worth it and would also open up whole new markets in horse grooming, horse-shoeing and road-cleaning! If you don't make it, I'm sure someone else will and I'll be their customer instead because I like shiny things, but if you make it I'll tell everyone how super-awesome you are."

Device Maker:  "Erm... Okay! if that money's burning a hole in your pocket..."

End of Rant

Let's be honest here. Apple, Google, Samsung, Pebble, Motorola et al aren't daft. They have substantial marketing departments, a dedicated following and hype on their side so

I'm sure millions of these devices are going to get sold regardless of the opinions of people like me. However, for the reasons outlined above my prediction is smartwatches will be a niche fad that'll disappear over time (in much the way Bluetooth headsets and Netbooks did), rather than a craze (like Beats headphones).

Of course, I may yet be proven wrong. Particularly if over time smartwatches come to have similar hardware power than smartphones (i.e. something that would actually make them useful replacements rather than an ancillary device). If there's something I missed or you have a rebuttal for any of my points, feel free to bug me on Twitter!

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