Smart watches are attempting to break into the mainstream. The massive marketing machines of Apple, Google and Samsung are trying to push their appeal beyond geeks and early adopters and get everyone wondering whether there’s a smartwatch for them. One issue many have is that smartwatches don’t portray an aura of luxury. For many, this is a dealbreaker. Understandably, you want your watch to appear as a piece of jewellery on your wrist, not a piece of equipment. This is why brands like Hublot are craved at stores like WatchShopping. There is simply no comparison. Maybe if the class of a watch like a Hublot was incorporated into a smartwatch then the issue could be overcome and more would be willing to commit to ditching their artisan watches for a smart one. Nonetheless, there are signs in the present that this could occur in the future.
Smartwatches have existed, in various incarnations, for 10 years or so. Last year saw Pebble launch the second iteration of its successful smartwatch; Samsung unveil its fourth, fifth and sixth smartwatches; and Google enter the game with Android Wear.
But as with the tablet, the smartphone and the MP3 player before it, the launch of Apple’s first smartwatch has thrown the whole technology into the spotlight. So how does the new iwatch stack up?
Before the Apple Watch, only 2% of the British public was aware of smartwatches, despite their being available in store and online, and few people were convinced of their need for such a thing, according to data from Ipsos Mori.
Apple’s marketing around the watch focuses heavily on two things: health and fashion. With a plethora of straps, watch faces and case combinations, it is, in Apple’s words, its “most personal technology yet”.
But at its heart a smartwatch is all about putting notifications on the wrist, transporting them from a buzzing phone to an at-a-glance location more readily available during the day.
They are inherently for the notification-obsessed. If you don’t feel the urge to reach for your phone the moment it demands your attention, then a smartwatch is likely to add little value to your life.
Even Google’s head of design, Matías Duarte, agrees, recently telling Bloomberg that “the smartwatch is like an electric can opener”: often bigger, more complicated, and ultimately not necessary.
If, however, your life revolves around the constant ping of emails, texts and notifications, which sees you reaching for a phone every two minutes, then a smartwatch could save you time.
You could argue that something is wrong if you’re that glued to the constant happenings of a smartphone. Do you really need to know about everything? Can’t it wait? Is it even healthy?
But the truth is I am that obsessed and there are many like me. By moving the ping, bing and bong to the wrist you can remove at least some portion of phone-digging.
For email you can immediately archive with a swipe, evaluate what needs attention and only break out the smartphone if necessary. That effort saving increases with the size of the phone. Today’s smartphones are significantly larger than even a few years ago. The average screen size of a new smartphone in 2007 was 3in; last year it was just under 5in. Now it’s not uncommon to be using a larger screen. Even Apple now sells a phablet – a smartphone with a screen 5.5in or bigger.
As the screen size grows, so does the difficulty in storing the device. Where should it be kept? Does it fit in a pocket? And if so, can you actually get it out again? Invariably the answer is a bag or a deep pocket, which means actually getting to a big phone is difficult.
In the adoption of the Apple Watch, one interesting anecdotal observation is that women are often the most appreciative of it, as they don’t have to fish it out of a bag.
You could argue that without needing to have pocketability, maximising screen size for consumption of content is the logical next step.
For those who are notification-obsessed, smartwatches can also act as a filter, with the ability to restrict which apps send alerts to your wrist, the types of notifications that can come through and who you allow to contact you. You can tailor an experience where only important notifications disturb you.
The same thing can be done on most smartphones, but the slow creep of notifications has meant many people have yet to restrict them. Notifications on the wrist can feel more like an invasion of privacy than those on a phone, and so the impetus to actually do something about it is greater.
So who is a smartwatch for? Anyone with the money to spend on something totally unnecessary, an arguably unhealthy obsession with notifications and the will to tolerate the daily annoyance of charging yet another device. Is it for anyone else? Probably not.