Dick Tracy: These wireless phones will never catch on!

You may have noticed the hype surrounding Wearables unless you've been living under a proverbial rock or something. And, hey, the super-shiyn moto360 is out and in theory Apple will announce a smart watch (like they would the past few times).

There's a lot of "wtf do you need a smart watch for"; so here are my top 4 reasons why you shouldn't pay them much attention - from someone who wore a Sony SmartWatch 2 for about 6 months.

Reason 1: reviewers don't live with the device

I remember first getting my hands on the Sony SmartWatch 2; the colleague who handles incoming hardware played actually got it the day before and spend the evening playing: he wasn't impressed. After 6 months of living with it; I loved it.

I should take this moment to point out that the Sony SmartWatch 2 was not a great device: bad screen, poor responsiveness, poor selection of apps and it was fully dependent on the host phone. But, still, I loved it.

The difference between me and the reviewers?

Time.

Unlike a phone which has instant use, a smart watch isn't the same. It's something that sits there being unobtrusive until either it decides you need to know something or you want to check something. Smartphones are our windows into the web; we interact with them to achieve a wide range of goals including entertaininment, communication, etc. Smart watches, on the other hand, are point in time devices for specific tasks.

The reviews I read (and I've been reading a lot of them) often repeat the same mantra: "I can do all of this on a phone". Please, reviewers and commentators: a smartwatch is not a replacement for a phone. You'll still need it. Others are disappointed by things like pulse sensors giving poor results - I find these again to be short sighted opinions. I track blood pressure, weight & body mass and activity & sleep; I've found absolute values aren't so useful (go see a doctor for those), but trends are useful. As long as your measuring device is consistent within it's own value range (unlike this one for heart rate) then after a period of time you'll have useful and insightful data on which to make changes to your lifestyle.

And, by the way, if you think "a phone is fine" then you should see two things: 1st, my girlfriend hunting for her phone to check the time (it happens with great frequency - mine is in the same place). 2nd, me unlocking my phone (8 digit unlock code people - the g/f has touch ID). With an unobtrusive smart watch you have, on your person, in a 'socially acceptable' form (i.e. not Google Glass) a quick window into your smart phone.

Reason 2: you're just waiting for your personal killer app

Back to my colleague who originally processed the incoming Sony Smart Watch: he didn't like that reading emails on the watch was difficult. First thing: don't expect to read emails on your watch. I repeat: it's not a phone(/tablet/computer).

What you're waiting for, and thing that would make you buy a smart watch, is the killer app that fits your life.

At the time I had my smart watch, I was working for Centralway as the Head of R&D (hence the smart watch) and doing quite a few meetings. The smart watch's killer feature for me, at the time, was just being reminded of meetings. 10 minutes beforehand, the watch would vibrate and display the meeting, start time and location. And off I went.

A smart watch will fill a hole in your life that you never knew you had. And I admit it, at the price right now, you're unlikely to purchase a smart watch without knowing already. Now that I'm working for a tiny, pre-seed start-up I don't need meeting reminders. But I'm back in London, so I'm thinking the walking directions is going to be my killer app for the future.

Reason 3: They're getting better and prettier

I remember having a Casio digital watch many years ago; yeuch (I think my dad still wears one however...). And the Sony SmartWatch 2 wasn't much better. In fact, apart from the moto360, there's not much out there that looks very good.

So right now, you have to be a geek to want one and wear one. But they're getting prettier (the much aforementioned moto360) and they're getting more powerful. There's also more software and different ways of interacting with it - admittedly I'm hugely skeptical about voice commands (Dick Tracey I am not) but some sort of keyboard input is possible, especially via the awesome Minuum keyboard.

Throw in the continual minaturisation of electronics (admittedly with limits) and smart watches and other wearables should continue to improve.

Reason 4: Apple

(Disclaimer: I intensely dislike most Apple products, though I am writing this on a Macbook Pro - a great developer machine. I did regift the company christmas present of an iPhone 5S - bleurgh - to my g/f)

Today there's a big Apple announcement; there's rumours that an Apple smart watch or wearable device will be announced. Admittedly its been rumoured many times, however this time apparently Apple have invited fashionistas to the event, though this might just be because a new iPhone is as much a piece of style as it is technology.

Regardless, Apple are likely to be getting into the game sooner or later. This was obvious, and I would argue that the design and style of the moto360 and Google's establishment of Android Wear are acknowledgements that if/when Apple join the fray, they will join it in a way everyone will want. Their entry will force Google at al to up their game even further.


My prediction for the future

Based on no data whatsoever, I believe that the importance of (and dependence on) smartphones has the potential to reduce over the next 10 years. I imagine the following:

  • Ultra-light & flexible touch screen displays replacing the smartphone's dominance as graphical input device (like Sony's 13inch demo)
  • Interchangeable local communication & storage hub (say, built into wallets or watches!) replacing the smartphone's role as your interface into a network
  • Small, lightweight voice communication device (hey, look, just like Motorola's Hint device)
  • Easy to use & secure software & protocols (i.e. Personal Area Network) to manage access, transfer, etc.

Based on the above (the most fanciful being the wallet), what we view as a smart phone is broken up into a series of smaller, more convenient components working as a coherent network of devices that delivers the same functionality as a smartphone but with greater convenience and resiliance.

For me, the current generation of smart watches is one of the steps towards what I see as the vision of personal computing.