17 Reasons Smartwatches Won't Work (Yet)

Illustration for article titled 17 Reasons Smartwatches Won't Work (Yet)

The cascade of smartwatch rumors—be they iWatch, Surface, or other—increases daily. By this point, smartwatches of every shape and stripe seem inevitable. But there are so, so many reasons why they shouldn't happen. Not any time soon, at least.


To get a sense of the sheer volume of smartwatches on the horizon, you can look no further than Quartz's exhaustive rumor roundup. It's an extensive lineup of companies, each and every one of whom may want to seriously reconsider where they're headed. Here are just a few reasons why.

The wrist is valuable accessory space. Watches aren't just watches anymore, if they ever were. They're fashion statements in a way that today's gadgets—ooo, a black rectangle!—aren't. One-look-fits-all isn't going to cut it, and color variations don't count (looking your way Apple).

Too many sizes. In fact, one size doesn't fit all, either! Men and women wear different-sized watches. Beyond that, watch size is another aesthetic choice that people who wear things on their wrists care very much about. How many SKUs are these companies prepared to manufacture?

Which makes for terrible UI problems. Adding a micro-sized display to your platform's lineup is problematic enough on its own for apps. Allowing for displays with multiple degrees of tiny is guaranteed chaos. Scaling horrors, ahoy!

But mostly one giant size. The obvious answer to that would be to stick with just one display size, which iWatch and Samsung and Microsoft rumors currently peg at 1.5-inches. That is a very big thing to lug around all day.


Battery life will be horrid. The sad thing is, it still won't be big enough to fit in all of the internals it needs alongside a battery that's worth a damn. While there's no way a smartwatch will be as battery-intensive as your phone, you're still going to have to plug the damn thing in every few days.

Imagine input on that tiny display. Making your smartwatch do what you want is going to be a royal pain, unless you've got needlepoint fingers, or until voice command technology advances so far beyond where it's at today we might as well be talking about getting a few more feet of lift out of our hoverboards.


They're going to be ugly. Big might be a necessity for a smartwatch, but it's also garish in an accessory. Even the nicest-looking iWatch renders are sort of gross. And existing e-ink products aren't much better.

Speaking of which, this already exists.

It's pretty awful.


And this.

Illustration for article titled 17 Reasons Smartwatches Won't Work (Yet)


Even Apple sort of had one. The iPod nano was the closest we've gotten to a real-deal iWatch in terms of size and functionality, especially when paired with a clever watchband. It was so popular that Apple ditched the hardware after a single generation.


In fact, we've been doing this since the 80s. And they've all been bad. Could someone come in and reinvent the category, like Apple did with smartphones? Sure! But it'll have to be a once-in-a-generation reimagining. Maybe someone manages it, maybe not. The only guarantee is that nearly every smartwatch will be terrible for a very long time.


How much will these things cost? Oh man, are you really ready to drop $150 on yet another gadget that already does things your preexisting gadgets can? That's how much the Sony SmartWatch runs you. Even if an Apple iWatch manages to match that, it's a whole lot of change.

And how often will you have to get a new one? Product refresh cycles are variable, but it's safe to say that your average handheld gadget—phones, tablets, etc.—don't last you much longer than three years at most, if only because of the (non-replaceable) battery. So look forward to having to get a new watch at least that often.


It's another data eater. Not to mention that a smartwatch that only runs on Wi-Fi would be effectively useless; when you're in your house or a coffee shop or another Wi-Fi accessible location, you're using other devices. So get ready to tack yet another gadget onto your data plan, unless it's pure Bluetooth (there's that battery life again) or some sort of Airplay-like ad hoc wireless hookup with your phone.

The smartwatch identity crisis. Is a smartwatch a souped-up activity tracker or a dumbed down iPhone? If it's the former, are we really sure that people want activity trackers on a large scale? If it's the latter, won't that be redundant? If it's a combination of both, do you go with a leather band or a rubber strap? Why are we doing this, again?


Honestly, it's the gadget version of 3DTV. All of this smartwatch build-up sounds incredibly familiar if you've been around a while. It sounds almost identical to the drumbeats that lead up to 3DTV, another product for which there was no clear demand, but companies didn't have any better ideas, so why not? Smartwatches are that.

Dick Tracy would've used a smartphone. Ever get the feeling that we're all still chasing that dumb Dick Tracy watch-phone? Forget it. If Dick Tracy were alive today he'd be using an iPhone, because it does all of the things that watch-phone did, but better. If you're going to resurrect a Dick Tracy accessory, make it the fedora.




I've been using the a couple of months now, and while some of the points above are legitimate concerns, I do find the Pebble to be a useful tool. It's very handy for incoming calls and text messages. Looking at the issues one by one:

1. The wrist is valuable accessory space - Watches aren't a fashion statement to everyone. But to that point, a smart watch is more of a tech statement than a fashion statement.

2. Too many sizes - many of these smart watches—including the Pebble—can be fitted to a standard watch band, so large wrists can be accomodated.

3. Terrible UI problems - This is true, but just like smart phones, they will improve. There's nothing about this issue that should sink the idea of a smart watch.

4. One giant size - Smart watches — like phones — will get smaller. Imagine if the entire cell phone market had dried up because they first cell phone were too big...besides, I've seen regular watches that were bigger than any smart watch.

5. Battery life will be horrid - My Pebble needs to be charged every 5-7 days. Not bad, considering what it's doing. And charging is pretty easy, since the cable attaches magnetically to the side of the watch.

6. Imagine input on that tiny display - Smart watches have never been about input. They're all about output. Though some do allow for input, it's not where most smart watches excel, and it doesn't have to be. Apps for the Pebble can be made to use the buttons on the side of the watch as inputs, and they work pretty well for things like quick-responses to text messages.

7. They're going to be ugly — this, obviously, is so subjective it shouldn't even be on this list. I like the aesthetics of the Pebble. I do find some smart watches to be on the ugly side, but I find a lot of normal watches to be ugly as well.

8. Even Apple sort of had one - not sure how this could be considered a reason that a smart watch won't work, as the iPod Nano was a music player, first and foremost. It wasn't a smart watch.

9. We've been doing this since the 80s. — Tablet computers were made in the 90s...that didn't stop Apple from creating a device that single-handedly revived and popularized the tablet market.

10. How much will these things cost? - For someone who talks about the watch being a fashion statement, I'm surprised you'd find $150 expensive. There are thousands and thousands of watches that are much more expensive, and they're often a) ugly and b) single of purpose (telling time).

11. How often will you have to get a new one? - While it's possible, and likely probable that older smart watches will lose compatibility with newer phones/software, it's probably won't happen as quickly as smartphones age out.

12. It's another data center - Well, some are. But some (like the Pebble) don't use a data plan as they connect to your phone via bluetooth...which isn't as much of a drain on battery life as you might think.

13. Smartwatch identity crisis - Again, this is something that cell phones have dealt with and are currently dealing with — but that doesn't exactly spell the death of the market.

14. Gadget version of 3DTV — Ok, sure. I guess? Maybe if you had to have some kind of special glasses to look at a smart watch, without which the watch looked fuzzy and gave you a headache...sure, I could see that.

I don't know if smart watches are here to stay...maybe they're a fad. But I really like having mine on my wrist, and it continues to be a useful tool.