Smartwatches: Should I care?

I’ve had the Moto 360 smartwatch for a few weeks now, and I’ve been puzzling about something during that time.

Lots of people have asked me about it, and the most common question is “Is it useful?”. That’s an easy one to answer: Yes, it’s useful. But the real question I think they are asking is “Is it $300 useful?”, or more accurately, “Should I care?”. This is what I’ve been trying to figure out.

These questions are not really about the Moto360 specifically, but about Android Wear and also probably the iWatch. Really they are questions about the current crop of smartwatches, but I have the Moto 360 so I’ll confine myself to that.

So how to answer?  It is undoubtedly interesting, to me anyway. But then anything that has an API and I can deploy code to gets my interest. That alone is unlikely to translate into general market sales.

I can even say it has been genuinely useful, at times. I was driving to work the other day when I had an idea for a problem I was trying to solve at work. When that happens I generally need to write it down or otherwise I’ll forget. But here I was driving along at 70kph with no traffic lights in site.

Then I remembered my watch. I tilted my wrist to wake the watch up, said “OK Google” and then “Take a note”. I then dictated my note, it converted it into text and stored it in Evernote. When I got to work, there it was, sync’d down to Evernote on my desktop. That was useful, and pretty impressive how well it worked.

So far though, those sorts of really useful moments have been few and far between. However they make me wonder if it has the potential to change the way you live.

Can a device change your life?

OK, stop laughing. I’m sure some of you think that’s a little ridiculous to think a device can change your life. If so, consider the smartphone.

When I got my first smartphone years ago, a clunky Windows Mobile thing, having email while I was away from my PC had a marked impact on my work. I could initiate action items from in a meeting, rather than having to wait until I got back to the office. I could give approvals for things immediately, wherever I was.

This only accelerated with my first iPhone and then subsequent Android phones. With a combination of apps and the web browser, I can get a lot of my day to day work done, on my phone, wherever I am.

I see many business that have changed their workflows due to the impact of the smartphone, and even some that have enabled entirely new businesses that were not practical before the smartphone.

The smartphone did change the way many, many people worked, lived, acted.

So what about the smartwatch? Not yet, but there have been moments where I felt like I could almost see how it could. Almost, but not quite. Like movement in my peripheral vision, but when I turn there’s nothing there.

I still have a feeling that we’re taking our mental model of how we work with a smartphone and overlaying it on a watch.


OK kids, bear with me for a Grandpa story

That’s a common thing we do when new devices come along, but it’s rarely successful. In my first job  I worked with mainframes and when the first PC’s started showing up in the office, the first thing everyone did was load up an emulator that made it look and act like our mainframe. So what we ended up with was a seriously underpowered mainframe. It was only once people started to recognise that this was not just a little mainframe, but a different device with different strengths, that the PC’s started to come into their own. As we all know, since then PC’s have changed the face of work, but while we tried to use them like the prior devices, they were viewed as “toys”.

This feels like that. Most of what my watch does currently is show notifications from my phone. Rarely has that been useful in the last 3 weeks, let alone revolutionary. However, I’m optimistic that as more developers get hold of these things, people will start to leverage their own unique strengths and then we’ll start to see some killer apps for them. I don’t know what those apps are yet, frankly if I did I’d be off building them, but I’m looking forward to seeing them.

Meantime, I’ll continue to mumble and feel vaguely embarrassed when people ask me about how useful my watch is.

One Comment

  • I think smartwatches will become some kind of personal control center/electronic key/remote or something like that. Your watch will be able to interact with any device in your home and work. Lets imagine you are in the meeting room at work. You are coming closer to computer, that is there to control projector, and notice, that it already loads your domain profile. How could that happen? Simply. Your watch send message to that computer, because it noticed, that you are moving in that direction. Now you can just say which presentation you want to display on the projector, and your watch will send all necessary commands to the computer.

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