Photo credit: Tom Emrich

The Thing Is…We Don’t Want the Future

Why smartwatches will be the first step in our wearable tech future

When the Samsung Galaxy Gear was announced earlier this month, the internet moaned over the fact that the watch looked too pedestrian — clunky, chunky and not futuristic enough. Tech enthusiasts were underwhelmed with its functionality. Many were disappointed that it seemed merely a smartphone companion at the very least.

The Galaxy Gear isn’t alone. Smartwatches have a reputation of being extremely derivative in the wearable world. And I can see why. When people ask me to describe my Pebble smarwatch the first thing that comes out of my mouth is that “it basically takes notifications from my smartphone and makes them appear on my wrist”.

But after nearly six months of wearing my Pebble, I can honestly say I find myself freaking out when I don’t have it on. Almost at the same degree of panic when I can’t find my smartphone. But why is this the case?

The thing is that my Pebble watch doesn’t need to be anything more. Providing me with notifications I am currently addicted to looking at on my wrist rather than in my pocket is enough. This small but significant shift brings me seconds closer to understanding who is calling, who emailed me or if I should respond to a text. And in an age when every minute counts — shaving minutes off my day fumbling with my smartphone is valuable.

Some have argued that these watches are too invasive. Instead of “choosing” to check our smartphones for notifications, our wrist will now demand our attention. But I disagree. The watch isn’t any more demanding than our smartphone has become. Ask yourself honestly, when your LED light is flashing on your phone, are you really in control?

Moving the notification up to the wrist is the first step in moving us away from our learned smartphone behavior (pulling out a clunky big screen from our pocket when it vibrates to see what it wants) to become more reliant on wearable devices which have a much more human interface (simple glance down at our wrist). Of course, I suspect that we will become just as addicted to our wearables as we have with our smartwatches.

I have found checking notifications on my watch in a meeting or when at dinner is less rude (on a scale of rude to ruder) than with a smartphone. My Pebble has saved me from having to put down groceries I am carrying home by simply looking at my wrist to see if that call was important rather than having to put my bags down and take my smartphone out of my pocket. And just like my smartphone, when I am busy — I can choose to ignore the tiny vibration that used to be by my leg but is now on my wrist.

Moving what we are used to seeing on a smartphone to a smartwatch is, in my opinion, a completely necessary step for wearable devices to make their way into the mass market. Its a bridge for a completely new category.

You see, as much as we think we all want disruptive things from the future, at the end of the day we all crave the familiar, safe and easy.

The reason why the tablet space is growing so fast is because it is so similar to the smartphone (remember the bigger iPhone description the iPad got?). People got used to the touchscreen smartphone, understood its value and so when this new category was introduced, it wasn’t too unfamiliar to them. This same principle will be needed to help wearables get their footing. And so a smartwatch is just the thing.

This reasoning also helps to justify why these watches look like watches we have seen before.

I have to admit that I too am sad that we haven’t yet seen that flexible glass cuff we are all hoping would be the watch of the future. But how many of you are really willing to be the first in your neighborhood to walk around with this on your wrist?

As one of only 10 Google Glass explorers in Canada (only 5 in my city) I have witnessed firsthand how things that look “futuristic” won’t fly — even with early adopters. I’ve asked many people who have tried Glass on if they would be willing to wear this lens-less band around the city and the answer is an overwhelming no. But everyone is willing to give it a try when it looks like the glasses many of us are wearing today.

So a watch that looks like a watch but does so much more is highly appropriate for where we are right now in our wearable journey.