Smartwatches Need to Get Smarter

The Current Generation Fails to Excite, but Upcoming Devices Are More Promising

Smartwatches are a hot area at the moment, partly because of the many new products this year and partly because of the persistent rumours that major manufacturers are developing such devices. Specifically, rumours about Apple’s “iWatch”, the Windows Surface Watch and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear have gained a lot of attention. Yet smartwatches so far have unfortunately been rather underwhelming and many observers are hoping that upcoming devices will change that.

sony smartwatchIt was timely that my colleague recently lent me his Sony SmartWatch to try. Released in late 2011, it reflects efforts in this area over the last 12 months. Given the rapid development of mobile technology over the past two years, it’d be unfair of me to judge all smartwatches solely on this device. Nevertheless it did a good job of showing me how the basic features of this type of device could fit into my day-to-day life.

I don’t wear a watch — mainly because I have no need for one. I always have my phone with me or I can see the time on my laptop. Despite my limited knowledge of wristwatches, it’s safe to say that a lot of current smartwatches (including this one) aren’t too pleasing to wear or look at.

Current models have to be tethered to a smartphone to receive texts and e-mails, among other features, which can vary from one device to another. They’re great for checking those notifications on the go, but the small screen means you inevitably end up looking at your phone anyway.

martian passportMartian’s Passport smartwatch tries to tackle this problem by enabling you to access Siri and even make phone calls. Even then, I’m not convinced that people would be comfortable talking to their watches like Buzz Lightyear when they’re on public transport.

Another concern is the drain on the smartphone’s battery from a constant connection. This problem is being addressed with development and support for Bluetooth 4.0. Also known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), it enables compatible devices to run Bluetooth at a low consumption rate. Earlier this month, Android followed iOS and added official support for BLE with its Jelly Bean 4.3 update. Such support emphasises the recent push towards smart accessories.

But will watch-wearers ditch their beloved timepieces for an electronic gadget? And will non-watch-wearers adopt smartwatches? Aesthetics aside, I’m not convinced that the features of current smartwatches outweigh their shortcomings and high prices.

At the moment I don’t think we have a need for less-capable mini-smartphones on our wrists. However, upcoming devices might bring interesting new features and completely change the way smartwatches are used. As smartphones are get bigger and bigger, using smartwatches might well become more convenient than constantly fumbling with a phablet.