Smartwatches: next big thing or next big disappointment?

Since the first images of Motorola’s Moto 360 were released I’ve found myself suddenly wanting to wear a watch full time again. However, it seems there could be one fatal flaw that will stop Apple Watch or the Moto 360 ever going mainstream. And sadly, it’s one we’re all too familiar with.


So it’s a watch? Yes. That’s also like a phone? Kind of. And it also measures my health? Yes, a bit. Do I really need it? Not really. Will I want it anyway? Very possibly.

So goes many conversations about the current phase of the wearable tech revolution that all the big tech players are pushing for, we’ve seen Google Glass and Oculus Rift VR headsets and now the humble watch is the next target.

Ignore the fact that many of the tech savvy younglings have all but given up on wearing a watch 24/7. As their phone has the time and much much more. Hence tech giants have incorporated some health tracking features to give it an edge and allow you to perform basic functions without having to reach all those inches away for your phone.

Up until now, the biggest stumbling block has been the simple fact that smartwatches basically looked like a bulky computing device strapped to your wrist rather than actually looking like a watch (something we’ve been familiar with for generations). Now though, that has changed, the smoothly rounded Moto 360 looks like a quality timepiece, not just a gadget. Add to that Apple’s just-announced Apple Watch and it’s industrial design and diverse options that will no doubt draw admiration for it’s aesthetic appeal, particularly from Apple’s devout fanbase.

More importantly, the effort put in by Google to create a decent operating system (Android Wear) means that they’re finally somewhat intuitive to use too and that functionality is key. It makes such devices easy to use for anyone, not just technophiles. So theoretically that pulls it out of the niche category and allows for mass adoption of the platform. All you need to do is create the demand, and launches like Apple’s are remarkably effective at convincing people to jump on board with the latest tech. Despite the fact that no one has actually got to try out the Apple Watch’s customised operating system, it’s still expected to be a very popular product.

apwatversionWith plenty of models available, and different brands all offering variations on the smartwatch theme it’s destined to be a surefire success right?

Maybe not.

If you watched Apple’s all-singing, all-dancing launch of the product you will have been overwhelmed by the amount of info and specs and features that were thrown at you. Slick as it was there was one small but critical omission – Battery life. It hasn’t been mentioned once.

Herein lies the biggest problem. With a good old fashioned watch, you strap it to your wrist and, theoretically, it can stay there indefinitely (though an occasional wash might be a good idea). It was reliable and inobtrusive. There when you needed it, always on and always quietly ticking away. It was not something you were really aware of until you wanted to be.

It seems the Moto 360, the current cream of the smartwatch crop, will barely last a full day before it runs out of juice and needs to be removed and stuck on its charging cradle. You’re going to have to consciously manage when you will or won’t need its functions. Going to a festival? Perhaps best leave it behind. Travelling overnight for business? Don’t forget the charger for your watch. And your phone. And your laptop. And maybe even a tablet too.

Not to mention the fact that when it is working you will be feeling little vibrations on your wrist every time you get a notification. Again, that’s an interruption. A watch is passive, a smartwatch is active and will want to make sure you notice when it’s riding its bike with no hands.


Perhaps the vibrating notifications will become second nature, just like they have in our pockets and, in truth, I’m fine with that. If I can glance inconspicuously at my wrist and know it’s safe to ignore then I’m glad I haven’t had to waste time pulling out my phone and unlocking it for no reason.

But a watch that can’t make it through one day? That’s pushing it. There are only so many devices we can stick on chargers at night and there are only so many convenient plug sockets. I want a watch to be there when I need it, not a new device to track the battery draining in a race against time to the next charging point. I have a phone for that.

Let’s hope battery technology can catch up sooner rather than later. Until then, it’s a folly that only the hardiest of us fools will embrace.

Until the Apple Watch is released in 2015 of course.

Then all the fools will join.

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