The sad state of the 1st generation of smartwatches

Attending the GSMA Mobile World Congress, one of the much hyped wearables were a string of smartwatches. Owning and using some of the earlier models, including the Intel Basis and Motorola’s Moto360, smartwatches are still figuring out their place in the wearable ecosystem, and leave a confusing impression at best.

Looking how enthusiast marketeers are praising the latest generation of smartwatches, often the size of a brick, is simply embarrassing. Nobody can be paid enough to be praising bad aesthetics so vigorously.

The biggest disappointment was how the Huawei Watch looked awesome on the poster-sized wrist of a well groomed business man, but experiencing it in reality, it feels more of a metallic copy of the Motorola Moto360. And don’t get me started on Samsung’s attempt at a smartwatch.

If there is one thing that #MWC15 has proven, it’s that turning a smartwatch into a timepiece will take a whole lot more than simply slapping on a metallic band, as it’s another fine example of what happens when engineers start creating wearables.

Instead, let let fashion and timepiece designers continue their ancient tradition, rather than engineers. But there is something more fundamentally wrong with smartwatches: their confusing purpose and role in the wearable ecosystem.

The first, ugly, and lost, generation of smartwatches

After using a smartwatch for over six months now, it leaves me the following impression:

  1. You look like you’re always in a hurry. Constantly looking and swiping at your smartwatch while it keeps buzzing with notifications is even worse than taking out your smartphone mid-conversation. It’s rude.
  2. Nobody wears a watch anymore. Unless it’s a Breitling. Point is, younger generations are using their smartphones to quickly glance at the time. Even while I’m wearing a smartwatch, I still use my smartphone. As time has become a commodity, wearing a watch has become obsolete. You can get the time on your laptop, smartphone, clocks, cars or anywhere else. And unless it’s a timepiece you can wear with pride, you don’t actually need a watch.
  3. An additional channel that interrupts my flow. In an age of near constant notifications, having a few minutes or hours of uninterrupted time to concentrate is a luxury. But now my smartphone and wearable are bugging me with notifications in a slightly desynchronised unison. Distracting.
  4. Stupid smartwatch. So far, smartwatches have been nothing but an extension of a smartphone’s notification center. It’s redundant and has no additional utility for users to shell out money.

But unless we rethink the role of a smartwatch, I believe this first batch of smartwatches are on the same slippery slope as SPOT devices.

The second generation of smartwatches: a stepping stone into Personal Sensor Networks?

All this talk about smartwatches is completely and utterly missing the point. The real debate should be on wearable tech in general, and how they are the fundament for a personal sensor network.

We need to revisit the whole notion of smartwatches, so they are not a redundant functionality on someone’s wrist, or a remote window on my smartphone, but as an element that ties in with a more holistic approach of measuring my body and interacting with my environment. I want my next generation smartwatch to provide me with pertinent and new information about myself and the world around me.

What the smartphone did for messaging, I want my smartwatch to do for my health: enabling me to tap into a continuous stream of insights of my health data and notifying me when something’s wrong. For example, dropping blood sugar levels. Imminent epileptic seizures, and much more. I don’t need a copy of my email on an even tinier screen.

Future generations of smartwatches

If manufacturers start to understand that building smartwatches is not about building redundant functions on another body part, but rather a complimentary sensory device that supports apps, makes sensor data accessible, and compliments a consumer with additional data he didn’t had access to before, then consumers would be willing to pay for this.

While I’m waiting for the Apple Watch to be revealed tomorrow, I hope Apple might be the first company that gets it right. Even if the design won’t dazzle, as long as the vision for the Apple Watch kickstarts a more mature wearable tech strategy, they might raise the bar for an entire industry. Once again…