Smartwatches: The Awkward Phase
I’ve used Apple Watch and Android Wear and I still don’t know what they’re for
I was a product manager at a video messaging startup up until a few months ago and during my time there I was in charge of both the Apple Watch and Android Wear platforms of our app, so I’ve spent a few months wearing each of them. When they’re on your wrist they’re kind of fun - You don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket every time it vibrates or you just want to check the time and it’s nice to fiddle with it when you’re bored; but ultimately, despite how much they’ve been hyped by science fiction since we were young, smartwatches kind of fall flat as a product for several reasons:
Two gadgets are not better than one
When friends saw me wearing a smartwatch for the first time they were really impressed with it until, without fail, they asked, “So this replaces your phone?”. I would explain to them that no, it’s connected via Bluetooth and my phone is still in my pocket and before I could even finish that sentence they had already lost interest. Some would even follow up with “Well then what’s the point?” I honestly didn’t have a good answer.
What is the point? Most of my interactions with the watches were either checking notifications, which I could’ve done in an extra second by taking my phone out of my pocket, or looking at the time, which is not particularly unique to smart watches.
I think it would be great to have only one device on your wrist, but a smart watch alone just doesn’t make sense. The screens are way too small to contain real amounts of information, holding your wrist up so that the watch faces you is not comfortable for a prolonged amount of time (which is why Apple recommends interactions stay under 3 seconds) and typing can’t actually be replaced by speech-to-text, mostly because you’ll look crazy talking to your wrist and it’s not something you particularly want to do in public anyway.
Adding a second device to your collection of things you have on you at all times isn’t really such an appealing thought.
The technology isn’t quite there just yet
Interestingly, the battery life - which was the major concern (especially regarding the Apple Watch) - will pretty much last you all day, but it’s the more fundamental things which are lacking: Siri barely works, most Android wear devices don’t have speakers or microphones and apps on both platforms load… very… slowly.
Apps are useless
Besides the annoying loading time, apps on smart watches are reduced to the most basic functionality, sometimes to the extent that they’re not even worth using. All the apps I want to use on my watch are either not that great (one tweet on the screen at a time is really weird, especially given how much of my feed I usually just scroll past, though that might just be me.) or they don’t even exist (Umm, Facebook?!), so even the things that I actually want to do on the watch aren’t really feasible.
They’re not a must-have
Smart watches are a great (albeit expensive) replacement for a regular watch, especially for techies, but they’re far from essential. We’ve reached the point where most people will say that a smartphone is necessary for their day-to-day lives; that’s why the adoption rate is so high. Being new and sleek is nice but the difference between early adopters buying it and everyone buying it is needing it. Smartphones have a huge impact on the way we interact with the world around us. You could drop me off anywhere with a phone and an Internet connection and I will find my way around with Google Maps. That’s a game changer. Smart watches have… The time? Speech to text? Nobody I know is running to spend $300 on something that might make their lives a tiny bit easier.
Smart watches are in the middle school stage of their life, still a little rough around the edges, trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.
Maybe there just isn’t mass-market adoption in their future or maybe that killer use case is just around the corner. Only time will tell.
Until then, it would be great if someone gave me an Apple Watch because I can’t justify buying it for myself.