Smartwatches have been around for some time with numerous smartwatch products currently available on the market. The main recent development is the range of smart watches that connect and integrate closely with smartphones. Samsung, LG, Sony and Pebble have all made increasingly advanced devices over the last year. Even Switzerland’s largest watch maker, Swatch, and the Japanese giant, Casio, are looking into smartwatches.
Despite all the activity from manufacturers, it is still early days and widespread adoption is some time away. Consumers are still learning what it is that a smartwatch can offer. The unveiling of Apple Watch on the 9th September has no doubt been significant. Apple has a long history of making technology appeal to consumers. It drove forward the market for MP3 players, smartphones and tablets and will surely make a similar impact with the smartwatch.
Apple Watch incorporates many of the features familiar to the iPhone such as Maps, Messages, Calendar, Weather, Photos and – the new for iOS 8 – Health app. The way the user interacts has had a significant rethink though. Similarly to Google with Android Wear, Apple has acknowledged that its watch can’t simply make do by showing its existing operating system on a smaller screen. The home screen along with all of the standard apps have been completely redesigned for Apple Watch.
Apple has gone a step further though, looking to reduce the reliance on the touch screen itself. Apple has recognised the greater importance of keeping your fingers out of the way on a small screen. It almost feels like a step backwards, but Apple has re-introduced physical controls. The most significant being its “Digital Crown” that allows scrolling and zooming without obscuring the screen. Another advantage is tactile feedback, you can feel your inputs – something sorely missed on touch screens.
An area where Apple is looking less to disrupt and more to fit in with in the world of watches is choice. It was years before there was any significant choice in the iPhone range. Apple Watch however is launching with two sizes, three case materials, six case colours and six band designs. Clearly Apple feel people will place a high value on the individuality of its watch, more so than its phone.
Apple has also introduced some new communication approaches, sharing sketches and your heart beat. Time will tell whether these are new intimate ways to communicate or just a fun gimmick. The least predictable aspect of how smartwatches will be used is around the opportunities they open up for developers.
We are going to see many innovations that utilise the convenience of a connected screen on your wrist. But what does this mean for the future of smartphones? Most of the current smartwatches aren’t very ‘smart’ without a nearby smartphone to do the heavy lifting. Even the Samsung Gear S, which is the most advanced in this area with its 3G connection, requires a smartphone to install apps.
With the push for larger screens in the smartphone arena, something that couldn’t practically be achieved on a watch, it’s unlikely the watch will come full circle and replace the phone anytime soon. It’s going to be interesting to see how far glancing at your wrist will go to replacing a reach for your pocket.