Weren’t watches out of fashion?


I just finished reading an article about wearables by Markiyan Matsekh (Matsekh) called The Who, What, When, Wear, and Why of Wearable Technology. I recommend reading it, especially if you are interested in learning more about the subject and the current products out there. Over the last few weeks, this topic has been trending in all kinds of blogs from technology to design, from fashion to business, and it is not coming to an end any time soon. Especially, after the launch of the Apple Watch. However, every time I read a new article about wearables, more specifically Smartwatches, I can't stop but question myself: Weren't watches suppose to go out of business since no one was going to be using them anymore?

I recall last year's movie, The Internship, where Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn played the role of two watch salesmen who were put out of business because of the "digitalization" of things. Since no one was buying watches anymore, they decided to embark in a new adventure and intern at Google. I wonder if there is going to be a sequel to this movie? And if there is, will they playing the role of salesmen for the Android Wear?

I stopped using a watch ever since I broke its strap. Even though at first I wanted to fix it, I soon realized that it was as convenient to check for time using my Smartphone as it was having a watch strapped around my wrist. I mean, I carry my Smartphone everywhere I go. And as Smartwatches start to get more advanced (than just telling you what time it is) I question myself if I really need to buy one. As I stated before having a Smartphone today is as convenient.

In Bill Moggridge story of the digital watch he bought his son, he tells us that it took him "20 minutes of concentrated effort" to set the alarm so his boy wouldn't miss his paper route. Then daylight savings time came and the younger Moggridge gave up his early mornings. Dad was enlisted to cancel the alarm and reset the time, but at the point in time the instructions were long gone. Of course, technology has come along way since 1983 and performing a simple task as setting an alarm in an Android Wear, Moto 360, Apple watch or any other Smartwatch should be a piece of cake. However, with new technologies embedded in this (what was once an analog) interface, some tasks might be as difficult to accomplish. Especially as new interactions and functionalities emerge. I can only imagine my parents trying to figure out how to pick a song using one of these devices. It will probably take them "20 minutes of concentrated effort".

That being said and before I go on, I want to establish that I am not against wearables or Smartwatches, but just like many others out there, I am reflecting on the main use and context for this type of technology. Bill Buxton argues that it takes around 20 years for a new technology to become an innovation (The Long Nose Curve), and I think it is safe to say we are just in the early years of Smartwatches and wearables as a whole. These are indeed exciting times, where we will start seeing lots of people hacking different wearables and using them for things we probably never imagined.

Matsekh describes that there are three groups of wearables: 1) Activity Trackers, 2) Smartwatches and 3) Smartglasses. Each with its own purpose, usage and characteristics. However, they all have one thing in common today. They all must be connected to your Smartphone in order for them to work. Thus, our design challenge is to make Smartwatches or any other type of wearables as relevant as our Smartphones. We once used our phone to make phone calls, today we use them to book our next trip. However, in order to get to this level, we need to define (using Matsekh text as a base) their 1) purpose, 2) usage and 3) characteristics.

We need to identify their main purpose. What is their value proposition? If no other type of technology existed, what would their main purpose serve? Should they remain true to their core purpose (which is to tell time) before including other functionalities? Or should they serve a different purpose, other than telling time? What will make them relevant and useful to people?

Furthermore, we need to understand their usage. What are people using these devices for, is it to navigate through traffic or cook dinner? Is to track their workout or to listen to music while commuting? Should it do all of them at the same time? Or should it only focus on certain depending on the context?

And finally, what are the characteristics these devices should embody? Can I customize these Smartwatches depending on the type of activity I am engaging in? Is it enough that Smartwatches are context relevant? Should they do more? less? Are they the extension of another product? Should their product form be the same it has always been (a strap with a circle or square as the main interface)?

I think that as we start to understand their usage, purpose and characteristics better, we will come up with more appropriate designs and hopefully the answer to my question will be “no, watches are still in fashion”.

One more thing, if you are still interested in reading more about this topic, Harry McCracken (McCracken) from FastCompany just published an article called The Wrist of the Story: A Brief History of Forgotten Proto-Smartwatches, 1975–2004. McCracken does a really good job at going through the history of "Smartwatches" and pinpointing their different purposes, usage and characteristics.

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