Do We Really Need Smartwatches?

2 minute read


Just a few days ago I wrote about the video Introduction of Android Wear:

Sigh. The initial diagram of how “better” is the Wear experience compared to a phone makes me cringe. It assumes the usual bulls*it that people go “away from reality” and “into a screen” and justifies Wear by “reducing” the time you get drawn into the screen.

This is such an engineering-blinded vision that tries to use ‘user-centered’ notions to sugar coat its mechanistic view of the world where you’re going to be more efficient – bip – by glancing at the screen – bip – when a notification arrives –bip – because notifications are important – bip – and must be seen immediately – bip – otherwise you’re inefficient – bip.

That underlying assumptions of efficiency-as-time-spent is just an assumption. It’s a choice, a culture that today pervades a lot of tech.

So, to “get back into the world” they basically built a system that’s even more intrusive – you can riff this argument to Google Glass if you want.

Days later, two Android Wear smartwatches are demoed, and this is the reaction:

New email? Buzz. New text? Buzz. The thing won’t shut up. I’m one of those guys who obsessively checks his phone, but this is too much for me. Plus Android Wear ties in with Google’s digital assistant service Google Now, which attempts to help you out by notifying you about stuff it thinks you want to know about like upcoming flights or package deliveries.

So there are even more things to look at.

This isn’t the answer.

— Steve Kovach (2014) The Problem With Google’s New Smartwatches Is They Do Too Much

This simply means that the situation is even worse than the impression we get from the first video. These smartwatches are even worse.

Note also that even the current hype of fitness trackers isn’t really satisfying a general adoption usage threshold. Interesting? Yes. As successful as smartphones? Not even close.

See this survey on Polar, asking “Do you still use <wearable device name>?“:

  • Samsung Gear: 91% no.
  • Nike Fuel: 74% no.
  • Jawbone Up: 63% no.
  • Pebble: 21% no.

These are the partial conclusions I can trace up until now, given the current situation in both terms of consumer adoption and market:

  1. Smartwatches are in hype because it’s the first time in history something decent is possible from a technology perspective. But having the first possible technology never drove consumers, just early adopters.
  2. People want smartwatches, as much as they are attracted from science-fiction inspired gadgets. It’s like a dream made true.
  3. None of the devices on the market actually delivers, with the exception of specific niches.
  4. The Pebble is an interesting exception, even if still we should compare it to the number of people that stop using smartphones. I feel it’s due to the emotional involvement of being a Kickstarter backer. It’s not just something bundled with your last phone (I’m thinking of you, Samsung) but something that was really really wanted, waited for, and now wore with pride. As any element of fashion, is about the meaning of it, not necessarily its use.