I want a smartwatch. I’ve been wanting one for years, in fact, but although the product category is growing by the day, I’ve yet to see a single product I’d be willing to strap to my wrist. Indeed, with apologies for making the obvious joke, current-generation smartwatches aren’t too bright.
I get that manufacturers ranging from Pebble to Samsung to Sony (with Apple rumored to throw its strap into the ring soon) are hoping to cash in on what could be the Next Big Thing in consumer electronics. The problem is, they’re going about it all wrong. Here are the three key problems with modern smartwatches—all of them easily fixed.
1. They’re ugly. No one wears a watch anymore. That’s because we all have smartphones, and if we want to know what time it is, presto, it’s right there on the lock screen.
So smartwatch makers need to entice us to re-adorn our wrists, and the way to do that is not with thick, clunky, plasticky-looking gadgets that no style-conscious person would ever touch. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is a perfect example of how not to design a watch: It’s big, square, mostly black, and just plain dorky. I don’t care if it can dispense hot chocolate; I’m not wearing it.
Even the famed Pebble, which arguably Kickstartered off the whole smartwatch craze, strikes me a gaudy, oversize piece of nerd-wear made for the same class of geek that used to wear calculator watches.
I think a smartwatch should be virtually indistinguishable from a standard watch, and designed to please the eye rather than disturb it. Think that’s impossible? Read on.
2. They try to do too much. The reason I’ve been waiting for smartwatches is this: When I receive a call or text message, I often miss it because my phone is in my pocket and I can’t hear it ring or feel it vibrate. Women who keep their phones in purses have a similar problem. What I need is something on my wrist that vibrates when a call or text comes in and shows me who’s calling or what the message is. That way I know instantly if I need to fish my phone out to answer or reply.
Similarly, I need to know when it’s time to do something that’s on my calendar or to-do list, with vibration-powered alerts so I don’t miss them. Maybe I’ll take a simple set of music controls, too: Play, pause, volume, etc.
And that’s it. I don’t need a watch that runs apps or updates Twitter or plays Angry Birds, and I definitely don’t need one that doubles as a phone. You know what doubles as a phone? My smartphone.
But smartwatch makers are falling all over themselves to pack more and more features into their wrist appliances, which necessarily makes the products bigger, thicker, heavier, more complicated, and more power-hungry. Speaking of which, the last thing I need is a watch that requires charging every few days. I won’t deal with that hassle. Not now, not ever.
Note to Apple, Samsung, and all the rest: simplify. Make the slimmest, easiest, longest-lasting smartwatch on the planet and watch the sales roll in. In fact, that’s also how you’ll solve problem #3:
3. They’re overpriced. It’s precisely because of this kind of feature-creep that current-generation smartwatches are priced through the roof—higher than the smartphones they’re meant to pair with, in many cases. Samsung’s widely panned Galaxy Gear, for example, retails for $299, while the Sony SmartWatch 2 currently sells for around $270 in Europe, suggesting something on the order of $249-299 when it goes on sale in the U.S.
The Pebble is at least more reasonable at $150, but even that’s a bit more than I’m willing to pay. If I’m going to be convinced to wear a watch again, assuming it does what I want it to without frequent trips to the charger, it needs to be priced $99 or less.
So, let’s recap. My ideal smartwatch looks like a watch, not a bulky piece of electronics. It’s insanely easy to use, requiring only a tap or two to access its few core functions. It leverages the latest technology to charge while I wear it (yeah, thought I’d slip that in), meaning I never have to take it off. And it costs under $100.
In other words, I’m not asking for more. I’m asking for less. To me, that’s what’ll put the “smart” in smartwatches.