Watch Out!

Here come the smart watches. Not that we haven't already gotten a few already. But today both Sony and Samsung jumped into the fray with new offerings. I'm going to concentrate on the Samsung offering for a moment, because, well, it's a pretty obvious example of "not really getting it."

The Galaxy Gear Smartwatch is US$300 and has the following attributes: 320x320 AMOLED display, built-in speakers, 1.9mp camera, 800MHz processor, 4GB of storage, 512MB of RAM, Bluetooth 4 to connect to anything, voice or gesture control, and a full day battery.

What's wrong with this description? 

The same thing that was wrong with the Coolpix S800C and the various Samsung Android cameras: just another Android stack. 

If the gadget makers have their way, we're going to be carrying dozens of Android (or iOS) powered devices with us, all doing far too much duplication of parts and roles. Let's see, everyone needs to carry a smartphone, a smart watch, smart glasses, a smart fitness band, not to mention a camera, tablet, laptop, and so on. 

As I've written before in my Gear Where You Are article, you need a primary metaphor, something that holds all your gadgets together. Something has to be more "central" than the others; everything can't be "fully smart." What we're headed for—and what Samsung's built—is the too many chiefs and not enough indians problem. But let's just take it from a photographic standpoint and you'll get a very good idea of what I mean: why do we need a camera in our phone, our watch, our glasses, our tablet, our laptop, and, oh, by the way, a dedicated camera? 

The cynic's answer is this: because Samsung doesn't know what else the smart watch would be for if it isn't just another variation of the Android phone. 

Come on guys, get a clue. Eyeglasses would be an input and output device (camera and microphone are input, overlaid display and speaker/headbud are output). Okay, then what is the watch? More discrete output, a silent control (input), maybe a medical input (heartbeat, pedometer, respiration, skin temp, blood sugar level; whatever we can pick up these days). 

Just because you can build everything with all functions doesn't mean you should. Moreover, the phone contract is controlling most of the data movement between you and the Internet, so the smartphone is the obvious choice for the "head of the wearable beast."   

What strikes me as more interesting is that almost none of the current smart watches actually do what I want a watch to do. As in time things. Stopwatch, account meter, timer, alarm, multiple time zone displays, and so on. Heck, where is the Dark Sky app that warns me that it will rain in 15 minutes (all I need is a little buzz when the warning appears and then an icon with rain and a countdown timer)? 

"It's an Android device, Thom, so some developer will create that." 

Yeah, and I've still got some waterfront land in Florida I need to get rid of, any takers? (Yes, the snarky Thom is back, fully charged, from his African sojourn.) I want a smart watch to be smart out of the box, not something I have to sleuth through hundreds of thousands of free apps that are worth less than that and other apps that want me to in-app purchase something ("want the time in London? Pay five credits"). 

The watch I currently wear, at least when I wear one, has more watch functions built into it than the Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, it appears. And I don't have to charge its battery at the end of the day. 

"I believe it will become a new fashion icon around the world" says Samsung CEO Shin. I suspect that you shouldn't consult him further on fashion unless you want to look like a series of colored plastic bands. Let's see, yellow for my phone, red for my watch, blue for my glasses, can I get purple for my fitness band? 

I'm beginning to think that Android is the world's worst invention. Oh, it works just fine and has lots of depth and breadth and is a technological marvel (though a copy of another marvel for the most part). But it seems that everyone in the world is now just sticking Android into something with a battery and declaring it "smart" because they think some developer will create a useful app for it some day. We still haven't seen smart belts, smart shoe laces, smart cuff links, or smart tie pins, but they're coming, I'm sure. (Excuse me ladies, I forgot smart earrings, smart bracelets, smart necklaces, and a few others. And for the younger crowd, don't forget smart piercings.)  

Samsung's vision for the current decade is "inspire the world, create the future." I'm not inspired, I don't like this future. I suggest that Samsung go back to its older vision: make better copies of what others are doing right.  

Let's hope Apple figures the smart watch out. Under Jobs, I think they would have. Steve had a better sense of how things had to work together, not duplicate each other. All those "cool" things that Apple did under Steve's direction were also "useful" things that integrated with the rest of the Apple world very well. Right now the smart watch looks pretty dumb. Like a smaller, poorly specified smartphone that can't phone. It's going to take something far better than that to get me to wear a watch most of the time again. 

text and images © Thom Hogan 2015 -- all rights reserved
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