The Smartwatch- Your Guide.
The smartwatch is slowly coming in to our lives. We want to cover why they exist, what are the options and what you need to know to get started.
A brief history of the watch.
You will be surprised to know that the first recorded use of wrist watch was in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth I. Watches have for a long time been the pinnacle of technology. You could say that it was the pinnacle of the original tech movement. It hold many similarities to technology today. It was designed to help you with your day. It is man made. Each year the technology would get more advanced. Each year they would look to make it smaller. Over time there would be a predefined place in the world that would be the hub of this technology, Switzerland.
Wearing a watch become more and more of a common place over time it self. As with many great innovations in history, war was a catalyst to this. Signalling to each other held the disadvantage of giving away your position. Having a watch that everyone synchronised too meant we could start to operate as one. Craftsmanship has always been at the heart of a great watch and over time that craftsmanship has only evolved and improved.
In the 1940s watches became so synonymous with our every day to day lives as the pinnacle gadget piece that comics like Dick Tracy would imagine a world where technology tells more than just the time. It becomes the central piece of knowledge and connectivity. Then the 1960s arrived and re-wrote the rules to the game of watches. Quartz watches meant that you no finger needed any moving parts, it became a process that was systematised and allowed watch manufacturing to be inexpensive. Accuracy was also greatly improved as it now relied on a battery that could last years as oppose to group of moving parts that could be affected by magnetism and our movements. Quartz brought the watch industry to it’s knees. From it the traditional watch industry re-invented itself as a luxury and artistic sector. They understood the market was out there for people who wanted to invest in traditional watches. Along the way many great watch manufacturers had to close their door, either due to poor change management, lack of marketing, little heritage or unfortunate timing. Quartz changed the entire industry and introduced digital to the masses. For a long time a quartz watch was the most advanced digital product that masses would own.
Microsoft’s Spot One
When we look back in time we are able to identify that Microsoft have had a great ability to identify future trends, unfortunately people don’t just buy software, specially with something as persona as a watch, they buy in to hardware. Microsoft has only recently really started to establish itself as a formidable hardware capable company. In 2004 Microsoft launched what it called the Spot One. It was a service and platform that companies such as Seiko and Fossil tried to adopt. The issue was that owners had to pay a subscription fee, something people weren’t prepared for and it didn’t look that great. Needless to say after 4 short years Microsoft gave up what is arguably by todays standards the first smart watch. It would take close to 10 years for some one to come along and try again.
Enter Pebble. The most successful company in this new phenomenon called crowd funding. They were able to secure funding of $10 million dollars, with an original goal of $100,000, in 30 days. Pebble is a Smartwatch with a very clear purpose and USP. It’s purpose was to replace your phone’s screen as the new notification device. We take out our phones and glance at them an average of 400 times per day. It also allowed some basic functions like changing the music you are listening to. The really smart choice they made and foresight they had been that more than launch a smartwatch they launched a whole new platform creating a new ecosystem for developers to get in to and build apps for. Technologically it also took a different approach to what people would expect. It launched with an e-ink display, much like the technology you would find in a Kindle, which meant two things. One) It would be always on and not affect the battery of the watch all that much and two) it meant that it could be read easily in the daylight. The most important thing is that opting for an e-ink display, they could assure days of battery use. As it was also open to both iOS and Android it meant that it could have really fast adoption from smartphone owners. It sold 1 million watches in it’s first year and has already launched a new kick starter campaign for the new Pebble Time smartwatches. They continue to use e-ink but also introduced colour displays and a whole new the of interface. They are also relatively well priced.
Downside to Pebble is that they look a bit like a toy. Many people have referred to them as tamagotchis on your rest. As a design they have a very big bezel (space between the screen and side of the device) which makes the screen look even bigger. Had they made a bigger screen that would have been great. They are now going through the same issue that Samsung incurred which is that it is made of plastic and therefore doesn’t feel like a high quality product. Considering that it isn’t a product many people see as something they need, the kind of people who will buy one do so as a much as a fashion or visual item as anything else. They tried to address by launching the steel, which is a step in the right direction. Time will tell how people take to them. The Pebble starts at $99 for the original Pebble, at that price it’s tough to go wrong.
Google has been dominating the Smartphone market for some time and it saw the next front tier could be on smartwatches and didn’t want to be left behind. There was a lot of rumours circulating around an Apple Watch so Google decided to pre-emptively strike, Google Wear was announced mid 2013. Google Wear would be the OS that OEMs could use to install on a Smart Watch. It could be designed either with a round or square watch face. The introduced a beautiful interface that aligned with its new Lollypop OS. It had a great idea of using their existing card system and google now, giving you the right information, at the right time before you even ask for it. It continued the idea that Pebble championed as a device to be your new notification screen, but with Android wear you would also take action from with in the watch, reply to messages and even make calls. It would also work on technologies more aligned with smartphones, using AMOLED displays, and many manufacturers announced the use of metal circular bodies. What Google Wear introduced were the first truly beautiful smart watches, with the Moto 360
leading the pack and setting the standard for other Google Wear OEMs. The Moto 360 also introduced a device that not only looked great but had some great features including a built in heart rate sensor and wireless charging.
Downsides of Google Wear could be put down to lack of developers, differentiation and defended purpose. Google Wear developer adoption hasn’t been all that high.The ecosystem around Google Wear isn’t growing anywhere close to the rate that Android did in its early days. For consumer to really tell the difference between the different companies is tough, they all look so similar as they all run the same OS and they are now mostly circular, with some that are square. It is still a young platform with much potential to grow, and as competition heats up that should help the rate of innovation and iteration. A Moto 360 starts from $249.
The Apple Watch was 4 years in development. It is a crucial product release for Apple as they are at the top of industry and sustaining that kind of status is even tougher to grown on when so many people are looking at what you are doing. The Apple Watch is also the first new product category release since the passion of Apples late CEO, Steve Jobs. It is sadly something you could tell on the day of it’s release. When Apple launched the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone and iPad, Apple was very clear about what it is that they would do better than other devices and above all why we needed them. When the Apple Watch was launched it wasn’t quite so clear why we needed this in our lives. They leaned a lot more that ever before on the fashion industry and they spent a lot of time talking about the functions that it could do. With the Apple Watch Apple understood that wearing a watch was a very personal experience. They understood that it needed to be personalised and not lacking in choice, with the mixture of faces that come pre-installed and customisable on the apple watch, Apple says there are millions of configurations. The Apple watch was launched with support to approximately 3,000 Apps. They nailed the design, look and feel. The way that Apple implements technology is not always the fastest, but they aim to do it best. NFC integration took some time, but in the watch with Apple pay it makes complete sense and is better than taking out your wallet. The way that they respected some old watch making traditions through the inclusion and education of the way they “digital crown” works and through it’s selection and implementation of “complications” shows the amount of research and understanding to watch making and it’s rich history. Instead of using an already natural interface, which they lead through the introduction of the iPhone, they decided to create a brand new one. There are awesome some really great new, more personal ways to communicate with other Apple Watch owners.
Downsides of the Apple Watch is its App experience, personalisation and compatibility. App developers did a great job to release updates to their Apps without ever having used an Apple Watch, However, many apps do not run very well, are very slow or heavily dependent of the iPhone that they are wirelessly connected to. It’s a shame that you can’t build your own watch face from scratch. I know people have asked me if it is possible to have the background showing their loved ones, unfortunately they can’t. The Apple Watch only works on Apples iPhone 5 and above, meaning a billion people can not own an Apple Watch. The Apple Watch starts at $349.
Why own a Smartwatch.
The first and most powerful reason is notification and action. You phone is quickly becoming a device where you go to take action, and the smartwatch is establishing itself as the device to go to for notification of what is happened. You got that email you were waiting for, your watch will let you read it, your girlfriends wants you to remember to pick up the milk, your watch will pop up that message. Some one just stated to follow you on Twitter? Your watch will share that information with you. This alone is very powerful and can help you have less need to keep taking your phone out. There are moments when this is very useful, when you are on a bus, in a meeting, it’s raining as you are walking down the street, when you are working out in the gym. Exercise is another big one. It helps you understand a lot more information of what you are doing. How much you are sleeping, how many calories you have burnt, how often you have stood up, even the places you most move. It’s a also a very young platform with many new applications that haven’t yet been discovered. In the future it could very easily become the device that can tell you if you are developing diabetes, early signs of cancer and so much more. It has a very powerful potential. It can also look great as a wearable piece.
You may not need a full watch now, just some kind of wearable device. Check out our piece on wearable devices and our Apple Watch review.
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