When I was younger I wore a watch. Today, I don’t. I can check the time on my car dashboard, my oven, my microwave, my TV guide screen, my bedside alarm clock, my computer, my laptop, my tablet, and my smartphone. The idea of strapping an uncomfortable mini clock to my wrist is positively abhorrent. They irritate your skin; they break easily; and they don’t have much to offer. Wristwatch production and wristwatch sales have been declining over the last few years for good reason. We don’t need watches anymore. There are plenty of ways to check the time.
Lately, rumor has spread that Apple is experimenting with watch-like designs made of curved glass. Yep, Apple’s making an iWatch. The watch will run iOS and likely communicate with the iPhone and iPad. We don’t know anything else about it, really, but expect a tidal wave of speculation, faked spec sheets, renders of the potential design, and polls on how many people would pre-order one today at any price. The thing is, why do we need an iWatch anyway?
We all know that Apple will be producing something more than a simple timepiece, and smart watches have been generating a little interest in recent months. The incredibly well publicized Pebble smartwatch connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, there’s also the Cookoo, the Martian, and the Nike FuelBand for tracking exercise on your iPhone. Sony has even tried its hand at making an Android compatible SmartWatch.
Smartwatches aren’t necessary
So what are these magical smart watches supposed to do? The short answer is, not enough.
The FuelBand isn’t even a watch; it’s more of a fitness companion. It tracks your motion based on your height and weight and gives you an estimate of steps taken, distance covered, and calories burned. It has lots of shiny LED lights, too. It can be used for exercise and then plugged in later via USB or wirelessly synced with an iOS app via Bluetooth. For $150, you might expect it to do a bit more. Why not invest $20 in a good exercise armband and just take your iPhone with you? That way you won’t miss any important calls.
Smartwatches (so far) have relied on hooking up to your smartphone. Without a smartphone, they are near to completely useless. The Pebble, for example, can display things like incoming calls with caller ID, let you glance at emails and texts, calendar alerts, Facebook updates, and weather reports. The Cookoo does less, but has longer battery life. The Martian allows you to take calls through your watch.
In every case we’re talking about having a watch that can perform a small subset of your phone’s functionality. It’s basically a wearable extension of your smartphone, which you’ll need to keep in your pocket if you expect the smartwatch to work. And these devices drain your phone’s battery faster, which is already a major sore point for all of us.
iWont buy this
Apple has really hit it out of the park in the past. If the iWatch, or whatever it will be called, is supposed to have the kind of impact that the iPod or the iPhone had then it will need to do a lot more than the current wave of smartwatches. If we’re just talking about an accessory for your iPhone (and I bet we are), then it’s hardly going to be the next big thing. I’m sure Apple will sell a bunch of them, but plenty of us will have no trouble resisting.
Even if we imagine the iWatch as a standalone device that runs iOS, the excitement and speculation about what it might do is perplexing when you consider that there are tasks it could do that your smartphone doesn’t already perform well. If I could choose between my smartphone and a smartwatch that manages to pack the same functionality into something that’s actually the size of a watch, I would still choose my smartphone. There’s a reason smartphone screens keep getting bigger. You cannot perform most tasks on a tiny watch-sized screen.
Why would voice controls, navigation, NFC, the ability to use the device as a remote control, or any of these other currently available smartphone features suddenly be rendered awesome by being in a wristwatch? The iWatch is a device we think we want, but we don’t really need and won’t really use.
Apple needs a hit
If Apple is now, suddenly planning to release a smartwatch, it may be desperate. We’ve seen plenty of discussion about how Apple may be in trouble. The stock took a hit, iPhone 5 user satisfaction ranks fifth in the United States, and the company needs a new innovative product to stay on top. The iPad Mini was late to the party, the iOS platform is stagnating, and Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. Apple is on the precipice of a decline. Is a watch really the answer?
What’s the problem with a smartphone in your pocket?
I’ll stick with the smartphone in my pocket. Having to reach in there and take a look at it is a price I’m prepared to pay for not having to wear something on my wrist, or on my ear for that matter (a Bluetooth headset could cover a lot of the same bases). Is having to reach into your pocket the only problem that smartwatches are solving? Maybe I’m missing something here. (Nick certainly thinks so.) Enlighten me. If you’re excited at the prospect of an Apple watch or you can’t wait to get your Pebble or another smartwatch then post a comment and tell us why. I don’t get it.