On the iWatch

I honestly don’t get the wearables craze. Or the “phablet” craze, but that’s for another post.

Oh, I fully understand the allure for device makers to dip their toes on a potentially large market (even though most market size estimations are laughably over the top) and diversify their revenue streams.

And I’m rather intrigued by the sports/health possibilities (never mind the potential quagmires those tie-ins may bring).

Yet as an end user, I simply don’t care. I stopped using wristwatches a little before phones shrunk down to the size of the Nokia 8310, for two reasons: they became redundant (duh) and were a nuisance when you spent a long while typing on a laptop – even very thin watches like the Swatch Skin (of which I have at least three different models gathering dust someplace) started chafing after a while.

Not to mention maintenance – once I outgrew calculator watches (and pimples), I favored flywheel mechanisms rather than battery-powered ones, so why would I want to use something with, say, less than a month of battery life, or fiddle with yet another different charger?

Besides activity tracking (again, I’m intrigued), the only selling point for me would be better notifications (for an arguably hazy value of “better”).

I occasionally miss calls or SMS messages because I’m moving about or engrossed in conversation with people and fail to notice my pocket buzzing at me, so something that nagged me a little more visibly would be nice.

Which is why I’ve looked at the Pebble more than once, to be put off by its battery life and bulk. But given that I use an Android phone during weekdays (and quite enjoy Google Now after tweaking it to a “low creepiness” setting), the Pebble (or Android Wear) does have some intellectual appeal.

All the devices running Android Wear are expensive, bulky and hardly last a day. They’re all perfect examples of 1) why the technology isn’t there yet, and 2) how industry competition “works” through iterative cloning (and failure).

Furthermore, I’d very much like such a device to work independently of my phone – in the sense that it would be useful to, say, read NFC tags on its own, or receive notifications from my desktop computer (or even my appliances) over Bluetooth Low Energy.

Relatively smart people keep going on about the Internet of Things, and everyone else, myopically, goes and builds a smartphone app (hint: it’s not about the phone, dummies.)

But I digress. In short, current smartwatch fare seems like a colossal waste of time, money and resources1.

The only buttons they press in the collective unconscious are those that cater to social status – we’ve turned big, expensive wristwatches into status symbols, and anyone who can afford to waste money on the current offerings is most likely doing it out of ennui rather than actual benefits.

Mind you, given Apple‘s usual catering towards the high end of the market, that’s a perfect market for them. Toss in HealthKit, mix in some lifestyle marketing, and they’re probably going to make a killing – plus they’re sure to have a moderately credible2 approach to battery life (not to mention their own take on what a “watch” is).

In the end, I’m constantly reminded of Douglas Adams‘ great sentence: ”[…] so amazingly primitive that they still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.”

  1. Except if you consider them as operational research of some kind – to further technology advancements, etc. And believe me, that’s sure to be a C-level justification for beating this particular dead horse. ↩︎

  2. By which I mean “better than a day”. I don’t think we’ll be seeing truly useful battery life out of any wearable until battery technology moves up another notch. ↩︎