Has the smartwatch failed again?

Thomas Wellburn
June 3, 2015


With the Apple Watch only tipping a million sales and the Android Wear still lagging behind, have the big two heralded the end of the smartwatch era before it’s even began?

This is now the third time that the technology industry has tried to convince users to buy a smartwatch. You may not realise it but the wearable devices actually date back to the mid 90’s, when Steve Mann invented the first Linux-based wristwear. Before then, most of the ‘smart’ watches on offer were simply datalink devices that would connect to a PC.

Apple proudly revealed their smartwatch to a roar of applause but it was bogged by poor battery life and potential issues if you happen to like tattoos. Pebble proudly announced that their smartwatch had sold over 1 million units in February but thats still only a minuscule drop in the water when compared with smartphone sales.

Peripheral vision

The truth is that most people don’t want peripherals which are inferior to their counterparts. Smartwatches are not standalone products, they need a host device to get any use out of them. Even then, the features on offer only mirror that which can be accomplished on a smartphone. They don’t offer anything radical enough to make the average consumer to part with their cash.

Then there’s price. Premium smartwatches are absurdly expensive for what you’r actually getting. An Apple Watch will set you back £750 if you buy it from Expansys, which is ludicrous for a dumbed-down smartphone with an unreliable heart-rate monitor.

The fitness band

An offshoot of the smartwatch is the fitness band – a kind of primitive, wearable device for health monitoring. These have seen a huge surge in popularity because they are affordable and simple. While they are still slightly more expensive than a standard fitness watch, they offer the integration that our modern social-media driven society craves. That is their niche and they do it with a cheap price to boot. Unlike a smartwatch, they don’t try to do too much. They pair with your phone and monitor your workouts. That’s it.

If the smartwatch wants to survive and become a must-have device, it needs to follow in the footsteps of the humble fitness band. Pick your areas and excel, don’t try to be a device that can accomplish everything. That’s what we have our smartphones for and it’s not going to be usurped anytime soon.

Sensors for everything

Biometrics and health features are the obvious future of smartwatch devices, as they allow the product to develop itself as something worth the purchase. The current crop of watches don’t go deep enough on this front, offering only basic information such as heart rate, step counts and calorie burns. This does nothing to really separate it from the cheaper fitness bands and fitness watches. To put this into perspective, I can get calorie counts, step counts and heart rate on a standard sports watch from Amazon which costs roughly £25. Even my Nintendo 3DS does step counts (it also plays games and features a full internet browser).

Products such as the Samsung Simband offer a glimpse into the future, with modular sensors that can be removed and upgraded at will. Imagine a watch that could be tailored to the users ailments. With the Simband, you could potentially pick what sensors were most appropriate to you and walk out of the store with your own personal health device.

Things to improve

There is no doubt that with some refinement and innovation, the smartwatch can become a success in its own right. However there are a few things that need to be added and tweaked before it can take off as a major success.

  • Firstly, increasing battery life is paramount with any device that you intend to wear for long periods. The Apple Watch lasts a mere 3 hours when answering calls and 7 while working out. This needs to improve.
  • The aesthetics need a major overhaul. The current smartwatches are not trendy to average people. They look like garish, overbearing bling. the LG G Watch R and Moto 360 are the closest to a real watch and definitely look the best. Understated is always better!
  • Adding a front facing camera that can offer Skype calling and FaceTime would be a hugely popular feature. For the first time, face-to-face calling would become fully accessible when on the move. You could even call your doctor and allow him full access to your monitored health information, all in realtime.
  • Add some unique sensors that really innovate the market. Iris scanning, vein scanning, something that can monitor blood sugar. There’s even emerging technologies such as HemoLink, which allow blood tests without using a needle. If these can be refined to fit on a premium smartwatch, then the prospect of wearing a true health benefiting device suddenly becomes very tempting.
  • Make them standalone. I can’t stress this enough. A true smartwatch needs to work on its own. These are not fitness bands, these are supposed to be fully fledged computers on your wrist. The technology is there, so give the consumers what they want.

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