Still waiting for the smartwatch tipping point

Samsung Galaxy Gear S

If I left my smartwatch at home one day, I wouldn’t drive back to get it, says Walt Mossberg in his weekly column in Re/code.

It’s a statement that I’m sure would be reflected by many smartwatch owners, me included.

Why? Because all the things that current smartwatches can do – messages from Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, for instance; or monitoring your heart rate and how many steps you’ve done today; perhaps streaming music from your phone; taking and making phone calls; and even showing the time – are great but hardly compelling on such a device.

I mean, is any of that so essential that you’d turn right around and head home to get the watch if you forgot it? (I bet it would be the same situation if you forgot a normal watch, the type we all used to wear before smartwatches came along.)

But you’d do that if you forgot your smartphone, wouldn’t you?

Mossberg says that the smartwatch isn’t smart enough to be essential, to feel like a natural part of daily life.

So what’s the solution? The watches – not just Apple’s, but all of them – need to find lots more independent functions, ones that are consistent with always being on you and knowing who you are, without the nearby presence of a smartphone.

It’s not only about function, though, it’s also about form.

A report in Racked earlier this month offered some answers as to why women aren’t buying smartwatches, the major one being  that the bulk of smartwatches still look traditionally “masculine” and, I guess, are bought mainly by men. That’s a view born out in comments on Twitter when I tweeted a link to Racked’s story.

Interesting perspective. I know only two women who own a smartwatch, in both cases an Apple Watch. I’d say Apple is the one maker who instinctively knows about form, objects of desire and getting the sale at scale even if it hasn’t jump-started the market that many predicted would happen when Apple entered the smartwatch fray earlier in 2015.

Plus, the Apple Watch is arguably a niche product, occupying the higher end of the market where pricing ranges from under £400 to well over £10,000. It’s prompted desirable accessories: a Hermes strap, for instance.

Hermes strap

And with more luxury brands announcing smartwatches (Tag Heuer, for instance, and Tissot), who knows what will happen in the next twelve months or so.

Perhaps it’s early days still for Apple’s disruptive effect; as Mossberg notes, it wasn’t until the third generation iPod in 2003 that we saw the music market being disrupted in a major way.

Think about the business context, too.

Maybe the key is in what Walt Mossberg says could be the real tipping point to come:

I have no crystal ball on this question, but I believe that one way to make the smartwatch indispensable is to make it a sort of digital token that represents you to the environment around you.

For instance, while the phone often is faster and easier for, say, using maps, the watch is much better positioned for communicating with smart items in your home, or even your car. It’s likely to be on your person more than your phone is, it knows who you are and it can be secured to be used by only you. So, with your permission, it could open your door, tell your thermostat you’re home, maybe even start your car remotely.

That’s an exciting picture. At scale is the big question.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue using my second-generation Samsung Gear 2 Neo that has been on my wrist daily since October 2014.

Except when I forget to put it on.

(Picture at top via CNet)

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