It is one of the segments of personal technology that is growing the most, with new models, designs that recover the value of the wristwatch and add functions to complement the smartphone.
The last week, this week, the next. All are taking place at the pace of smart watches : those presented by Samsung and LG a few days ago ; that of Motorola , which this week will finally have a sale price and date; the one that -in theory- will reveal Apple on 9 .
They are not the first, of course. Pebble, Samsung, Sony, LG and Motorola (among others) already have several models on the market , trying to supply a public that -for now- does not seem to be entirely convinced of the usefulness of such a device, although sales are growing .
According to estimates by the consulting firm Canalys , the simplest version of the smart watch, the bracelet for monitoring physical activity, is the most popular, both for price and for the clarity of its function (counting calories, heart rate, etc.). Thus, Canalys estimates that worldwide shipments of these devices grew 684 percent between the first half of 2013 and the same period this year; Fit and Jawbone take the lion’s share, with nearly 4.5 million devices shipped, against just under 2 million smart watches, a segment led by Samsung, Pebble and, to a lesser extent, Sony.
Earlier this year it seemed that all manufacturers were going to come up with an exercise bracelet; Today the same seems to happen with the smart watch although, notably, traditional watch manufacturers have been cautious enough to enter this segment; Swatch in theory will do so in 2015; Timex presented a few weeks ago the Ironman One GPS + , a watch with 3G (that is, independent connection) and GPS for extreme athletes.
Pebble Steel: one of the most popular, it has many applications and allows you to see notifications from Android, iOSm Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10
But does a smart watch make sense? What is it for?
Smart watches, like bracelets, tell the time, measure steps, calorie consumption and, in some cases, monitor heart rate, while allowing you to see the notifications that come to our phone on its 1.3 screen. to 2 inches (SMS. mail, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.). And, in some cases, interact with those notifications.
Also, see who is calling us (and decide if it is worth attending to), control the music that the smartphone is playing, see map directions, work as a wireless handsfree or add functions linked to content provided by the smartphone. And they allow you to change the design of the dial, display the time using letters, unusual shapes, and so on.
In an extreme case (such as the Samsung Gear S) they can make voice calls and have a data connection independent of the smartphone. But they can also serve as help for patients with a disease (monitoring vital signs, reminders, etc.). And there are those who see them as an alternative to the mobile wallet or as an authentication method (to open doors, for example).
They are great, but the key feature is missing
We are now in the second year – at least – of modern smart watches; and it could be said that it is the second round after, a decade ago, Microsoft’s SPOT debuted .
As an idea, that of the connected watch is great, especially because it recovers a very convenient space to receive information, such as the wrist. A glance and we know the time, or who is calling us, or the sender of a message to determine if it is worth paying attention to the phone or not. But it seems to me that the smartwatch has not yet been able to demonstrate what is unique about it, what makes it not a moderately superfluous accessory. It is not clear what their killer app is, their application that turns everything.
Maybe it doesn’t; it must fight against the imprint of other devices that clearly showed – even with their initial technical impediments – their versatility. The laptop and the mobile phone have an obvious utility: they allow you to do something that the traditional, fixed version cannot. The original versions were heavy, of limited duration, very expensive. But the convenience was indisputable. The same with the MP3 player: a device that allowed to dispense with cassettes or CDs. The former had minimal capacity, but that resolved relatively quickly.
Jawbone UP24: measures steps, exercises, calories burned, hours of sleep, meal times; includes alarm, wireless sync
On the contrary: what can they offer that surpasses the cell phone that we carry in our pocket, half a meter away, and which is already designed to be light and compact? Especially when, if the notification shown by the watch is important enough, I will take it out of my pocket. That is the core point. Am I saying that smart watches are a failure? No way. I think they are great, but they lack some evolution.
Price : They are somewhat expensive, but that will change (and a decent watch is not cheap); The battery life is, for what we are used to, a fright: 2 or 3 days (and in some cases it only lasts a day) against a conventional watch that lasts … what lasts; It’s not even a point that you pay close attention to when buying a traditional watch. This will improve over time, although it is unlikely to exceed one or two weeks of autonomy in the short term.
Size : in the future they will be a little smaller, more in the style of a normal watch – the LG G Watch R seems to be on the right track – although complaints that they are bulky will continue. It is unlikely that we will see a “feminine” version, with those tiny dials that ladies usually use; there would be no way to display information (and since we are here: analog women’s watches already avoid complications precisely for that reason). Yes they are getting thinner, a welcome feature.
The display : A key issue is the display: the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live have poor visibility in direct sunlight; a better screen consumes more battery; Pebble manages to offer four or five days of autonomy by appealing to black and white and low resolution.
Fine control : some adjustment is missing; Pebble allows you to choose which WhatsApp contacts show in notifications, while the Samsung Galaxy Gear shows everything, including group messages; It’s not always easy to mute it so it’s not vibrating in a meeting or at the movies. What to show, what not, and how, is a point that is still evolving, to specify notifications of which contacts reach our wrist, for example.
Compatibility : Pebbles work on Android and iOS, and there are unofficial applications for Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10; early Samsung watches are only compatible with some Galaxy phones; the rest (LG G Watch, Samsung Gear S and Live, Motorola Moto 360, Sony Smartwatch, etc.) support any Android phone. All except the Gear S and the Timex require a smartphone; they only function as a basic watch without it.
But they are things that will be solved as technology progresses. The good news is that the newer versions, in addition to being more compact and waterproof, are paying attention to design, a key issue for a device that has long been used not only to see the time, but plays an important function in personal aesthetics.
Prices In the case of bracelets, the equation between utility, usability and price is more clearly positive; They are more dissimulated, more resistant, clearer in their convenience and cheaper: it is not the same to spend 60 to 100 dollars – in the United States – for a bracelet than 150 to 350 dollars for a smart watch. In Argentina, the Sony SmartBand bracelet is priced at 1,500 pesos; the SmartWatch 2, 4,000 pesos; a Samsung Gear 2, 6400 pesos; the Samsung Galaxy Fit bracelet, 4300 pesos.
What is missing, perhaps, is what makes it really superfluous to take my smartphone out of my pocket, that great function that adds an indisputable value, that is more than just a second screen. Perhaps voice interaction is the solution (very limited for now), although talking to the watch will be no less uncomfortable, socially, than talking to the phone without putting the device to our ears.
Or perhaps the destiny of the smart watch or sports bracelet is to be that, a junior companion, a useful but not necessarily vital accessory, such as the Bluetooth hands-free, as the physical keyboard for the tablet, while we incorporate more technology to other parts of our daily outfit .