Thoughts on the Smart Watch
Smartphones, tablets, and Google Glass provide the blueprint for what to expect with the smart watch
We’re due for a device that’s going to take a major innovation leap, especially given the iterative nature of smartphone and tablet updates. Certainly, there’s some buzz about the television (between Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and XBox One), and Google got us excited about eyewear with Glass. However, the most likely candidate to both arrive to consumers and appeal to the masses is the smart watch, as evidenced by the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble, and to some extent, the increasing number of options in wristband-based health devices like the Fitbix Flex and Nike Fuelband.
I’ve read a number of articles and blogs from the press which try to project what features a smart watch will have, and whether it will appeal to the consumer market.
The general consensus is that the smart watch will be a companion device for your smartphone that will offer increased convenience for viewing notifications.
Samsung recently unveiled their take on the smart watch, the Galaxy Gear. I was disappointed — it’s aesthetically unpleasant, but more importantly, it does little more than what the press guessed it would. There’s no significant innovation leap.
Understandably, there’s been a lot of questions about whether or not consumers will be willing to pay for a device that only makes it more convenient to view their notifications. Samsung’s offering does little to convince consumers who were already on the fence.
Any smart watch that simply serves as a companion device to your smartphone will not succeed.
I think there’s already a blueprint in place for what the smart watch should be — this framework is very much evident in smartphones and tablets, and it’s already showing signs with some of the early users of Google Glass.
This framework is easier to convey by example:
On our smartphones today, we text, video chat, tweet, email, share, snap, and a whole bunch of other things. And sometimes, we call people too.
Let’s not forget though that smartphones are the next generation of the telephone, a device that only had one purpose: to call another person.
We may do a lot less of calling today, but there’s a very clear similarity and leap between the telephone and the smartphone:
Telephones might have been about calling people, but smartphones are clearly about connecting people.
The goal of the two devices essentially never really changed. What the smartphone did that got consumers excited was to expand upon the essence of connecting people.
Tablets enable us to do a number of things. Powered by the plethora of apps available, tablets fit naturally as a consumer device and as a functional tool for a number of industries.
The tablet has always been marketed as a portable computing device, even by some as the future of laptops. Because of a tablet’s form factor, it’s reasonable to see how it is also the next generation of books and newspapers (themselves very primitive “devices”).
The sole purpose of books and newspapers has always been to help people consume static content. Laptops on the other hand are full featured computing devices, better suited to assist in the creation of content.
Tablets have bridged the gap between creating and consuming content, made creating content a more tangible process via a device supporting touch, and made consuming it more dynamic and interactive.
Tablets are a success story because they expanded upon the essence of how we create and consume content.
It’s still very early to make a call on the success of Google Glass. It must still make it to the mass market, and consumers will need time to adjust to an unprecedented tech form factor.
That said, the blog posts and videos from the lucky few who’ve had a chance to experiment with Glass show the exciting possibilities:
How many times have you said, “I wish you could see this”? With Glass, you can using Hangouts.
With Glass, you can see exactly where you need to go by overlaying Google Maps directions in Glass.
I imagine that soon, Glass will allow you to focus on something, maybe a building or a painting, and Glass will tell you what you’re looking at.
The sole purpose of glasses right now is to correct vision. Glass expands your vision by showing you what you can’t see.
The framework above demonstrates a clear pattern: next generation devices need to innovate upon the functional category of their predecessors.
What does that mean for the smart watch? Looking at today’s watches tells us all we need to know. Obviously, watches tell time. Maybe they tell you the date. Perhaps it’s even got a stopwatch and a backlight. Watches are also a fashion accessory for many people. This point can’t be understated.
Taking a step back, what a watch is trying to do is to “capture the now”.
The telephone did connect people, but not in every way. Books allowed people to consume content, but not dynamic and interactive content. Laptops let you create content, but not touch and feel your content. Glasses help you see what’s there, but Glass shows you what you can’t see.
A watch tells you what time it is now, but it doesn’t capture the now from every angle. And that’s where the smart watch comes in.There’s an infinite number of things that are associated with any moment in time. Events, location, weather, news, disasters, decisions, transactions, health — all of these are fleeting, just like time.
This is the value add of a smart watch, to be able to show you information in a way that emphasizes its temporal context.
I have no idea what this will or should look like. In some cases, a notification you receive on your phone is important to see on your watch, but certainly not all the time. I can definitely see the value in showing instantaneous health information. Your location has the biggest influence on your current circumstances — your watch needs to have information about that.
But there’s one thing your smart watch isn’t: a communication device. That’s what your phone is, and it does a great job of that. Furthermore, there’s no reason your watch should be dependent upon your phone to work. The headline to Samsung’s Galaxy Gear press release indicates that they view the watch as a communication device — that’s a big mistake.
The device that is fully able to “capture the now” in an elegant watch-like form factor is the one that will win the hearts (and wallets) of consumers.
I’m excited to see what the other major companies dream up. Smartphones and tablets are simply receiving iterative updates now — it’s really time for a new device. Let the games begin.
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