Smartwatches: Not The Next Big Thing Yet

by Donald Lam | Photo Credits: web images with reuse licenses | 22 March 2014

Smartwatches are all the buzz these days. With the announcement of an official android wearable SDK from Google, we can all expect even more of them cropping up around. The question is, will people really buy them?

Much Too Expandable

Optimists believe that consumer markets will widely accept owning smartphones and smartwatches at the same time.

The smartwatches today neither empowers or make it more convenient significantly. It asks for the comparison between squinting at a tiny screen on your wrist, and reaching for your phone. A bluetooth enabled smartwatch that cannot live without a smartphone will just always stay the vanity bluetooth accessories that you can live without. A product that only the population of rich geeks would buy can only be so successful.

It was really lazy for Samsung to push out an unusable product that belongs on the drawing board and call it a revolutionary product. Ugly bulges everywhere, horrible battery life and almost no unique functionality from a smartphone, the first generation of Gears was not a great example of smartwatches. The UI also looks much inferior to what Google is offering now.

If they want to make a good accessory-grade gadgets that does limited things, they should really just let Pebble do its thing. Qualcomm’s oddly named Toq also did much better in terms of battery performance.

collageSamsung Galaxy Gears I, Pebble and Emopulse Smile

Convergence vs Divergence? No, Replacement.

A recent proposition I have heard was: maybe it is time to move functionalities away from the phone to wearables. Gadgets can share the workload, right? After all, we are always running out of juice on our gadgets that tries to do too much.

I think this line of discussion is pointless when in a very near future, smartphones and smartwatches will essentially be the same thing in two form factors. Think flip phones vs sliders vs candy bars. Or tablets vs PCs.

I would say the true goal of innovation has never been divergence. Divergence is only out of necessity. It has always been empowerment, convergence, and replacement.

The Right Form Factor (According to me)

Therefore, for smartwatches to survive, they MUST have the ambition to overthrow smartphones. Basially, we don’t need watches. We need wearable smartphones.

We need to see more products in the category of Emopulse Smile. Or even something similar to a sleeve, or a medieval forearm armor guard.

As the rise of phablets told us, people crave big screens. We have fat fingers and poor eyesight. A tiny screen wrapped in an ugly square awkwardly attached onto our wrists in the least ergonomical way would not do.

Ending Note: Glocalization is Slow For Many Other Embedded Inventions

Intel’s recent debut of the Edison chip and Google’s purchase of Nest made me rethink smart home appliances. Not a new idea exactly.

In the US, they are everywhere. But in most parts of Asia, even in Hong Kong, if I wanted to get an expensive weight scale or a pet monitor that pairs up with my smartphone, I couldn’t unless I ship them in from the US. If I wanted to get a functionless smartwatch though, I can do that in almost any shop here in Hong Kong.

Many more foreign markets in this area are simply underexplored. Here is why: smartwatch makers are big global giants. Makers of bluetooth scales and remotely operated coffee machines are smaller companies and startups, usually based in one country. The former has the global reach to launch everywhere, the latter do not, and their products are not localized to suit alien markets.

For inspirations, check out, mainland China’s own Kickstarter clone.

About the Author

Donald Lam

Editor in Chief

Author: Donald Lam

Editor in Chief A second year student in Computer Science at HKU. He owns a Nokia phone and is a bit of a Microsoft fanboy in denial.

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