Has the Time for Smartwatches Arrived (or Is It Too Late for Watches)?
CIO.com Senior Writer Tom Kaneshige attended a wearable technology show yesterday and stared a bevy of smartwatches in the face. Today, he ponders whether anyone needs one of these trendy devices to know what time it is -- or maybe that's not the point.
Time will tell on smartwatches (clever, no?), but I’m betting they’ll end up on the gadget scrap heap in a couple of years. To use another pun, time has passed watches by, at least among the younger, technically savvy generation.
Just look around and count how many young people are wearing watches these days. Lots of people no longer wear them, especially in Silicon Valley, because they get the time on their smartphones, as well as email, text messages, voice calls and all other things Internet.
Some young professionals have never worn a watch, much like they’ve never heard a cassette tape. No one wants to return to the days of strapping a hunk of metal or plastic on their wrist, right?
A Closer Look at SmartWatches
Earlier this week, I attended a wearables show in San Francisco on Main Street, put on by AT&T and Moshi, and looked directly into the faces and future of smartwatches.
There was a voice-enabled smartwatch from Martian that combines an analog watch with a tiny digital screen for messages. A smartwatch from Pebble has an open SDK for developers. Both smartwatches were monstrosities, and I wondered who would pay more than a hundred dollars to wear one.
And I’m not alone in my dire prediction for smartwatches; market research Gartner is wondering the same thing. Gartner reports that a smartwatch’s premium pricing, coupled with an unclear value proposition and low market awareness, will dampen holiday sales. The price of a smartwatch—$200 to $300—can be better put toward funding a basic tablet that has clearer value, Gartner says.
“Samsung and other well-known vendors have recently entered the smartwatch space, yet the products we have seen so far have been rather uninspiring in terms of design, available apps and features,” said Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner.
Watches are strange afflictions for most of us older folks.
Years ago, a sales guy told me that a person checks his watch an average 150 times a day yet probably can’t tell you if the watch has numerals or dashes to mark the hours. I used to wear my metallic Pulsar watch every day, so when I put it in the drawer after I got my first iPhone, I thought I’d miss it—but I didn’t. It’s a relief not having something weighing on my wrist. By the way, the sales guy worked for a printer, and nobody misses print, either.
Wait … Watches May Go Beyond Their Face Value
Then again, maybe I’m missing the point. Watches have never been about telling time or any other practical feature. My Pulsar watch is water resistant to 100 meters, which means nothing to me. It’s a hassle when the battery suddenly dies without warning, and I have to find a jewelry store to replace it.
But “jewelry” is the key word here. I spent more than $100 a decade ago for my Pulsar watch, because I wanted to resemble business people during face-to-face interviews. My Pulsar watch has a big face, which was fashionable at the time, then looked sadly outdated a few years ago, but seems to be coming back en vogue.
With watches, especially the Rolex, the bling is the thing. It’s high-end jewelry for men. No one spends hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars just so they can know what time it is. That’s probably why watch sales are predicted to increase 30 percent by 2017, according to Euromonitor.
All of this brings me back to the smartwatch. At tech conferences, proud executives love showing off their smartwatch. Perhaps those monstrosity smartwatches at the AT&T-Moshi show had it right: the bigger, the more visible, the better. It reminds me of the weird and short-lived calculator watches that the smart kids wore when I was growing up. They showed it off to everyone in the playground, too, but I don’t recall them ever actually using the calculator.
On the other hand, if we’re talking fashion statements and personal image, then I’ve got to go with my original premise that smartwatches are silly gadgets that will never catch on. When people stare or talk into a smartwatch, they look less like James Bond and more like Dick Tracy. It’s all a little cartoonish.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.