11 ways Apple and Google can save the smartwatch
21st Oct 2013 | 12:03
It's not smart enough...yet
Anyone who's anyone is getting in on the smartwatch game right now, determined to prove that wrist-worn tech can play a valuable part in our lives.
It's not the first time the smartwatch has lusted after our arms, but with the power of the smartphone it really feels like we're closer than ever to hitting the nail on the head.
The offerings so far haven't blown us away. But Apple's (probably) got one in the works and we're pretty sure we're about to see Google drop its own. We reckon they could be about to send the smartwatch into the big time and we've got eleven handy suggestions to help them out.
1. Stay passive
Sony definitely got one thing right with the Smartwatch 2: it isn't gunning for your smartphone's job. If the smartwatch is going to hold a valid place in our lives, it needs to be an extension of our phones and little more.
Typing on a watch face is going to be more hassle than it's worth, and speaking into our watches like Dick Tracy is always going to feel weird, despite how cool we used to think it would be.
The smartwatch needs to focus on being a notifications receiver and leave input for things like controlling music playback and jumping around the interface, but leaving the main tasks to our smartphones.
2. Be smart with notifications
A lot of people don't think that smartwatches bring anything useful to the table right now, and you can see their point. But then you think about those times when you're on a crammed tube and feel your phone vibrate with a message. Or perhaps when you're out on a jog and someone tweets at you.
These are the moments when the frustration of digging into your pocket could be relieved with a simple glance of the wrist.
But wrist-based notifications also need to be smart. When we've read a text on our smartwatch, we don't want to have to deal with the same notification on our phone when we pull it out - and vice versa.
We also need total control over the information flow, which means our wrist won't be vibrating every five minutes to tell us we're being outbid on that eBay listing. Unless we really want it to.
3. Less is more
A big problem with the Samsung Galaxy Gear is that it tries to cram in every feature under the sun. So keep it simple: texts, tweets, call notifications, GPS mapping. Beyond that, it's difficult to think of much else we might want a smartwatch for.
We're bound to see more ideas down the road so opening these watches to app developers will be important. But very little should be baked into the smartwatch from the off. Setup should be simple, the interface should be simple, and dealing with notifications should be simple.
4. Lose the camera
We just don't need it on a smartwatch. No one's going to use it and, let's face it, taking pictures with your watch makes you look/feel a little creepy. By extension, viewing pictures on a smartwatch seems almost as pointless. Same goes for YouTube videos.
If you're going to have a camera on a smartwatch it needs to be a high quality one. And we'd much rather lose the lens and get a cheaper product in turn.
5. Be smartphone agnostic (or as open as possible)
This is a tricky one because there are a number of obvious business and technological considerations to think about. But then you look at the popularity of the Pebble, and having an open ecosystem is clearly beneficial.
On release, the Galaxy Gear was only compatible with the Note 3 and Note 10.1. Galaxy S4 support is now being rolled out for Gear, but that's still only three devices.
We want to see future smartwatches open to as many as possible, even if a Google watch doesn't flex the full functionality on iOS as it does on Android.
6. Keep it snug
Fun fact: no one wants wrist bulk. The Galaxy Gear design is far too rigid, and even the Pebble isn't to everyone's tastes. The smartwatch needs to be like any other watch; we should forget it's even there when we're not using it.
That doesn't necessarily mean that we want a tiny screen - big watch faces are pretty popular these days - we just want something that comfortably molds to our wrist.
At the same time, text needs to take advantage of all the screen real estate. On the Sony Smartwatch 2 text size is too small and often crammed into just a portion of the screen. No option to make it bigger, either. Big mistakey.
7. Maximise fitness
Some people are never going to warm to the idea of having a smartphone extension on their wrist, but when fitness enters the loop it becomes a different story. The popularity of the Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up are testament to this.
Take a look at the Fitbit Force - not only does it do all your fitness tracking but it will also display incoming calls. Most people won't even consider it to be a smartwatch, but it's certainly on its way.
Sat on our wrist, there's a wealth of information smartwatches can absorb, and it seems a wasted opportunity to skip over that. Did someone say kinetic charging?
8. Let us switch the smarts off
The invisible umbilical cord between our watch and phone should not be a lifeline. If our smartwatch becomes untethered from the source then we want it to act like a normal watch. Or, even better, let it connect to our home Wi-Fi and continue to receive certain notifications that way.
But it should be able to have the time displayed constantly at all times, and do the basics like set alarms and not have to worry that we'll have a piece of dead tech hanging on our wrist because we left our phone at the office.
One thing we like about the Galaxy Gear is how it vibrates when you get out of Bluetooth range with your Galaxy device. Say you walk out the door without your phone, your smartwatch can start vibrating to let you know. The ability to lock a phone that's out of bluetooth distance could also be beneficial in terms of going some way to protect your phone against pickpockets.
9. Go big on Google Now/Siri
Word that Google's watch will have Google Now at its heart isn't all that surprising. The idea that Google's watch could not only buzz with the basic notifications, but also send traffic route suggestions to our wrists based on our location, is also an appealing prospect.
Google Now learns about your likes and habits, and if the Google smartwatch is going to be something truly outstanding then it needs to channel this.
A similar thing goes for Apple. While iOS lacks a Google Now of its own, Apple's recent buyout of iPhone app Cue suggests it's going down a similar route.
Google could get the upper hand on Apple here, but if the iWatch comes without a Google Now-like system, it will surely harnessing the power of Siri. While we're not sold on the idea of conversing through our wrist, being able to ask Siri quick questions without having to pull out our phone or tablet could be quite handy.
10. Think hard about battery and price
Smartwatches will likely never be the fashion statement that a nice Rolex is. People won't shell out anywhere near that amount and you can understand why. Samsung and to a lesser extent Sony have priced their watches too high for something that most people still don't see the need for.
Battery might soon be one of the biggest smartwatch dealbreakers though. A day of juice power just isn't justifiable given that the watch on your wrist right now might last years on a single battery. Again, can we emphasise kinectic charging here please?
11. One last thing... take your time
Some people reckon Apple intentionally leaked word of an iWatch to get competitors racing for a misguided headstart. It's most likely a load of tosh, but the theory is bang on about how the market has responded.
The smartwatch boom is taking place and yet Apple and Google are nowhere to be seen. We think Google is close but there's no telling, and we don't expect to see Apple's iWatch this year (we're guessing March 2014, you can come back and rub it in our faces if we're wrong).
However there's a good chance that both of these will have learned from others mistakes. By watching the market this year, Apple and Google have had time to fine tune. Other companies should be doing this too right now, rather than rushing out the door. Here's hoping that 2014 is the year that the smartwatch finally wins out.