Some hefty rumors have been tossed around lately about a smartwatch project supposedly in high gear at Apple. Smartwatches are the James Bondian ideal of high tech--a wrist-based gadget that can sync with your phone (or not), display information, play music, or...well, do stuff other than tell time, basically.
Until now, they have all sucked. They have been ugly and bulky and garish and overcomplicated and difficult to use and expensive and awful. I have no idea if Apple is actually building one; I wouldn't be surprised at all if they're working on one, but I have no insider information from sources familiar with any sort of project like that. But! I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea, if Apple would just do these five things.
Make It Look Good
The iPhone is a good-looking phone. There are a few other good-looking phones, too--HTC's 8X for Windows Phone and the One line for Android are nice--but the majority of smartphones, even the good ones, range from ugly to inoffensive. That doesn't matter so much with a phone, because it's often in your pocket anyway, and even though yes, it can be a fashion statement, it's a tool first and foremost. A watch is jewelry, so it needs to be very handsome above all else.
Apple's current aesthetic--glass, aluminum, monochrome--could work for a nice, simple, minimalist watch. That won't be to everyone's taste, but it'll be to a lot of people's taste. More than Samsung's cheap rounded plastic, Motorola's hypermasculine sharp angles, or HTC's adequate oval blobs, anyway. The Pebble Watch, a smartwatch that made about a bazillion dollars on Kickstarter, is about as good-looking as it gets--Apple can do better, I think.
Size is also very key with watches, much more than with phones, which can vary from a 3.5-inch iPhone 4S to a gargantuan 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note. Smartwatches often end up oversized--big watch-faces, and very thick. Apple would do better to either keep it small or offer two sizes, because a watch that fits Kristen Bell won't necessarily fit Lebron James.
Give It Body-Monitoring Powers
There needs to be a reason you're wearing a tinier, less capable version of your phone within three feet of your actual phone. Which means it can't just be a conduit for information that's already on your phone--it needs to offer something new. The Basis Band, our favorite fitness tracker, does this really well. It has a perspiration tracker and an optical heart rate sensor, two things a pocketed phone can't have, since a phone isn't in constant direct contact with your skin. A fitness-tracker smartwatch can add to your digital experience, not just mirror it. And presumably there are ways to go even further--could a smartwatch monitor blood pressure? Blood sugar, for diabetics? Body mass index?
Keep Its Battery Going
We're not used to charging our watches. It's weird and you'll forget to do it. We might get used to it, eventually, the same way that we got used to charging our smartphones every night just after we'd gotten used to charging our candybar Nokias twice a month and our (now digital) books once a month. But you'll want to be wearing your watch all the time, so a smartwatch has to last for much longer than a smartphone. I'd say you shouldn't have to charge it more than once a week--once every five days, at the most. The Basis Band needs charging about once every three or four days, which is fine but not quite enough. Perhaps it can harvest a bit of kinetic energy from the user to supplement its battery? Or temperature differential? Who knows!
And here's the most important part. Most smartwatches try to do too much. This one, for example, is an entire Android phone crammed into a device that makes for a monstrously large watch and a ludicrously small phone. It looks absolutely awful to use! In fact, I'd say that a good smartwatch should do very, very little. It should have a button to show the time, an up/down button to scroll through notifications, and, really, that's about it. It should not have any way to enter text. Entering text on a watch would be a horrible experience. Remember, the whole point of this is that your phone is still in your pocket or bag--the watch would just be a quick at-a-glance notifications screen. Keep it as simple as possible. If you're not sure if a feature should be in it? Take it out.
Have A Great App
You'll use your smartphone to control your smartwatch, because, as we already established, the smartphone is an excellent, capable tool, and the watch is a mere conduit. That means the app has to be simple to use, but full-featured enough to handle everything the smartwatch can do. I would actually look to Samsung, of all companies, for this one--the TecTiles app on its Galaxy phones, which controls how the phone interacts with NFC-enabled stickers, is just about perfect. Super simple, just a grid of features you want the watch to do. Easy!
Dan, are you sober enough to write today?
Ah, the article is just you being whinny and opinionated, nothing technical useful for the rest of us readers to make up our own minds.
I wish there some real technical information about these smart watches, so we the readers could decide for ourselves.
Of course its opinionated you troll. The watch doesn't exist yet. How can he give us technical information on something that doesn't exist and has just recently started the design process. There is no way any one can give any type of tech specs on it. Also how can "we readers" decide on something that doesn't even exist yet. The point of this article to to tell the readers that apple is designing a smart watch, and what needs to be included in the smart watch for it to be of any use.
APPLE PLEASE READ THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A WATCH SHOULD have a way to enter text, I think that the best thing would be for it to have a microphone, and you can just talk into it to "write" a message, how sick would that be?!
They are designing something they have no idea of the specifications and via POPSCI they are selling the idea in advance. Yea, seems like something Apple would do and Dan would sell for them.
APPLE PLEASE READ!!!!!!!!!
I think that the phone watch should allow users to talk on the phone and text by talking.
I see no need for a smartwatch. It's only for geek addicts who have to have every single gadget and gizmo and can't make value judgements.
Forget smart watches. We need some kind of chip that can get implanted in our bodies that can relay REAL --more important-- information to our smart phones (blood sugar, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, etc). In my opinion, I don't think heart rate monitor and step counter functions are that sought after.
I would buy it.
I generally agree with your point, but a little research by Mr. Nosowitz on, not the just comming out "smart watches" but, the well established wrist computers (not what they sound like). The Garmin ForeTrex and ForeRunner lines have some nice features and user interfaces that are not too dificult to use, Suunto makes several lines of both, fitness, and navigation, assistance wrist computers as well as dive computers in "watch" form, and I really like the simple capabilities of my Casio Pathfinder. Though the Garmins need to be charged (and the more speciallized Suuntos), I think that if someone is going to lay out over $200 for a watch, it needs to be self charging like the Suuntos and Casios it will be compeating against. For instance, my Pathfinder is solar powered; which allows me to use the compass, altimeter, and of course watch functions all day.
I would not mind reading articles like this if they were not written in such a whiny, informal, blog-like way. The title itself is a complete disgrace.
@fitimio there is technical information available because there are smart watches in existence already and he even added in a link to two of them! Did you actually read the article? All the author does is list out some specifications of smart phones, nothing at all about the watches.
The entire article is verbal diarrhea; the author just spewed out what was on his mind without ever having used a smart watch! "It looks absolutely awful to use!" Well a bike looks absolutely awful to use, so do pants but we use them all the time and they work pretty well. Why not actually try out some of the products you are talking about so you can make accurate points on future products?
Apple did the same thing with the iPad, and if they could repeat that success, it would be amazing.
The whole mentality in the iPad's development was to do what the netbook did wrong: functioning as an in-between device that combined the best aspects of both laptops and smart phones in a small size.
The current smart watches are analogous to netbooks. They're not really superior at being a smart phone or watch, they run full versions of mobile phone OSs and are clunky as a result, and the only thing they have going is the size, which they even manage to bungle.
Apple has experience creating niches, and if they can do it right again, the sky's the limit.
The one thing I don't like about this article is how the author automatically assumes you will have a smartphone on you at all times.
Perhaps someone looking to use a smartwatch doesn't even _want_ a smartphone, let alone already have one.
Perhaps they want to be able to receive phone calls, or text, or whatever, without taking up pocket/purse space (leaving their phone at home).
Perhaps they simply want a back-up for their smartphone if the battery dies, or it gets lost, etc. Sure, you _could_ have a second smartphone, but why not just replace your watch with a smartwatch instead?
There are oh so many reasons to want a smartwatch without using it as a supplement to your smartphone. Don't automatically assume that everyone thinks the same way you do!