Back to Analogue: Why I Stopped Using a Smartwatch

A circular face, that was all I wanted. I was intrigued by the possibilities presented by Smartwatches, the next evolution of wearable technology and potential lifestyle game changer. But it had to have a round face. I loathed the early Smartwatches with an intense passion, with their chunky, rubberised straps and ugly, square faces.

The Moto 360 was what answered my prayers, with its delightful round face and traditional leather strap. It didn’t look like a tri-corder strapped to my wrist, but like something approaching an actual watch (ridiculously thick screen aside). It was a shame about the severe lack of functionality that Android Wear offered in its early days, but it performed well enough.

Following that came the Samsung Gear S2, an improvement in functionality (also my first introduction to Samsung’s Tizen) with a pleasantly sporty design. The rotating bezel for navigation was just icing on the cake. Then the rubber snap broke, and I was reminded that I was wearing, from a design perspective, a sub-standard piece of work. After a few months messing around with a Fitbit Charge HR (something that now acts purely as a pedometer from inside my pocket), my Marc Jacobs analogue time piece is firmly back on my wrist.

So why did I, a committed tech evangelist, leave the Smartwatch behind? There are two main reasons, both of which allowed me to make such a decision without fear that it will be proved wrong. Having experienced life as a Smartwatch user, I can confidently say, I don’t ever see it having a mainstream future.

  • The first reason is the one that put me off getting a Smartwatch in the first place – design. Smartwatches are not well designed. I realise this is a subjective statement, but I still make the point with confidence. Even by today’s standards, many of them look like tech pieces, and while that trend is changing, the choice of genuinely good looking pieces is still very, very slim. It goes beyond selecting a pleasing watch face (more or less the extent of individuality on more or less all Smartwatches), the timepiece design is still limited and still sub-standard. The round faced watches are some of the prettier ones out there (I think the Apple Watch remains one of the most distinctly ugly pieces of design the company has ever put out), but even they are limited in the range of styles and options you can pursue with them. Because these are technology devices made by technology companies with enormous and varied product portfolios, I don’t expect this lack of choice in good design to change.
  • The second is more fundamental to the purpose of the Smartwatch – functionality. When I sat back and truly thought about it, what did being able to read email from my wrist actually add to my life? Yes, it trimmed seconds from the time that it would take to reach into my pocket and pull out my phone (the device I would most likely need to respond with anyway), but are those seconds all that valuable? Does it really benefit me in anyway to have saved that time? No, it doesn’t. Nothing the Smartwatch does actually enhances my quality of life. None of its apps do anything better than a phone could do either, hampered as it are by interaction and screen limitations. It provides no genuine benefit to me, and in helping reduce my impulsive, razor thin attention span down even further, actually becomes a detriment.

So the form doesn’t work for me, and neither does the function. The lack of options in style and design limits me, and the entirely superfluous, sub-par functionality comes nowhere near close to giving me a better experience than could be had on my phone. (The fitness tracking stuff can be delivered by equally poorly designed but functionally useful, dedicated fitness trackers).

The choice then, was simple, back to something dedicated, that did what it was designed for exquisitely well, and actually enabled me to express my personality and preferred style in its design. I don’t believe I’m the only one who has felt this, and the sharply declining sales figures (32% drop year on year in Q2 2016) seem to confirm that belief. It may work for technologists, but I don’t believe the Smartwatch will ever catch on. It had its mainstream moment, and it missed it.

Never has rejecting modernity felt so liberating.

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