Was I the only person who found the Apple Watch underwhelming? After so much speculation, I thought it would at least be beautiful in comparison to the chunky competitors which look like toy watches for 6 year old boys. But it’s just a tiny iPhone. Fair enough you can customise the clockface and have a few choices of straps, but everyone’s will still look the same overall. The payment option seems to be the biggest innovation, but do we really need to pay with our watches? With smartwatches in general there seems to be the need to fill them with as many functions as possible, even if there is a more suitable device. For example, if we are as surgically attached to our phones as recent studies show, do we need another device, and a smaller more uncomfortable one at that, which can make phonecalls and send messages? The same goes for mobile payment. If we’re soon going to be using our phones for this are we really so lazy that we can’t even reach into our pocket? Seems more innovation for the sake of it rather than in reaction to a need. A few of the other functions also erred on the side of the downright creepy. Sending vibrations and your heart beat to other people?!
With that in mind, I decided to have a look into what else is on offer, and think about what I would do if I was in charge. Looks-wise Google’s Android Wear options already bypass Apple for me as there is more than one shape to choose from. Pebble’s e-ink screen wins on battery life, but Apple’s wireless charging means there’s no need for a USB port. In terms of functions, nothing really stands out and most seem overpopulated with things I don’t think I need a watch to do.
The main thing that caught me was the style of the watches, or lack thereof. A few years ago we did a university project designing a wearable activity tracking device, and maybe it’s because we were fashion students, but a lot of our research focused on aesthetics. I don’t know about the rest of the world but I always thought a watch was 75% decorative and 25% function. It’s something people wear every day, it has to go with every outfit and not go out of fashion for many years. Quite frankly I think nearly all smartwatches fail every single one of these points!
In my mind, smartwatches should:
Be as customisable as possible. While more work would be involved in adapting the user interface for different base shapes, changing watch straps is definitely an easy way to let people choose a watch which suits them. In theory there should be no limit on styles, the same way you can buy custom phone cases with family photos printed on them.
Not just replicate ALL phone functions. We already have better technology for communication, do we really need another device constantly keeping us connected? Instead focus on time and activity; calender reminders telling you where you should be, helping you track and improve your activity and telling you when a traffic jam develops on your usual route.
Not be dependant on a phone. Apple is obsessed with locking things down. How about a smartwatch where everything is done through an online account. You log in and sync it to whatever calender you want, set what you want it to track and connect your travelcards.
Make use of new tech that hasn’t yet been fully exploited, where is the innovation that will make smartwatches stand out? Wireless charging is a must, no one is in the habit of plugging their watches in every night. NFC is the other area where I think smartwatches could set the standard. Imagine walking into a room, tapping an NFC sticker and your lights/ heating/ music react to a certain setting? Or even in the future using them as a digital key, which with fingerprint recognition would unlock your car/ house/ safe? So many possibilities! Yes your phone could also do these things but if you’re wearing your watch there isn’t even the need to search through your pockets.