Has the smart watch's time finally come?

Smart watches are bringing the wrist into the information age
Smart watches are bringing the wrist into the information age Independent News & Media

I CARRY my smartphone in the front left pocket of my trousers. It's there right now. As a fidgeting, twitchy type with an overwhelming need to feel "connected", I must reach into that pocket to check the phone's screen dozens of times a day. (I haven't actually counted, but the tally would probably be pretty alarming.)

The idea that I require a stronger bond with my phone is faintly ridiculous, but that's precisely what's being facilitated by a small but fast-growing sector of the technology market: the smartwatch. Strapped to your wrist, easily visible, and either functioning as a phone or acting as a wireless bridge between you and the phone nestling in your pocket or bag, the smartwatch may well become our new go-to information source; a surreptitious glance-at-wrist would replace the old reach-into-pocket.

A step forward? Many of us evidently think so. Whether it's down to the novelty factor, the 1940s sci-fi appeal or a genuine desire for a multi-function wristwatch, two of the biggest successes on crowd-funding platform Kickstarter have both involved wristy technology. A wrist-mounted case for the iPod nano, created by design firm MNML, was the first to nudge the $1m funding mark on Kickstarter at the end of 2010 - but this was dwarfed by the $10m raised 18 months later for the Pebble e-paper watch: a highly customisable app-based wristwatch that wirelessly receives information from your iPhone or Android phone.

The understated pitch and attractive design had donations flooding in; the first units shipped at the end of January, and cautiously positive reviews have signalled that this may be the embryonic shape of things to come. It's certainly prompted some copycat crowdfunding pitches, and intense speculation over the wrist-based ambitions of industry giants such as Apple and Samsung.

But we've been here before. Samsung launched its first wristwatch phone, the SPH-WP10, way back in 1999; at the time it was the smallest and lightest wireless terminal ever produced, had a talk time of 90 minutes, and was confidently predicted by Samsung to become a "big hit with the youth market".

History tells us that it wasn't. In 2004, Microsoft launched its Spot watch, a device which received information via FM radio frequencies in return for a subscription fee of $59 a year, but it also foundered and the service was finally pulled about a year ago. Christmas 2010 saw Harrods stock a phone-on-your-wrist called the Swap Rebel; once again there was a flurry of press incorrectly predicting the next big thing.


Independent News & Media

Over the past couple of years, Sony Ericsson's LiveView, the InPulse watch for Blackberry, the Sony SmartWatch, Motorola's MotoACTV and the Casio G-Shock GB-6900 have all offered Pebble-like Bluetooth communication with your mobile phone; the mass market, however, has remained stubbornly impassive. But a surge of interest over the past few weeks in "wearable technology" (including Google's hi-tech specs) appears to have put the smartwatch back up for the public vote. It has another chance.


Whether we'll ever take it to our hearts, however, seems dependent on our changing attitudes to the wristwatch in general. The potential obsolescence of the watch as a timepiece has been much mused upon; as we become overwhelmed by time-telling gadgets, the watch's primary function has been neutered. A 2010 survey found that people under the age of 25 were twice as likely to have jettisoned their watches as over-25s, and any value they have these days is largely aesthetic; cheap, gaudy watches as decoration or eye-wateringly expensive watches as status symbols. More fashion than function, we require less and less from our watches. But the smartwatch demands that this attitude be reversed - that we become as impressed by ingenious apps as we might be by multi-axis tourbillon movements in a Swiss watch.

Many companies are counting on this happening. From the Cookoo ("the watch for the connected generation") to the Basis Band (which doubles as a pedometer, sleep tracker and heart-rate monitor), from the space-age Metawatch Strata to the more austere Martian Passport, from the oddly-named I'm Watch to the feat of miniaturisation that is 18-year-old inventor Simon Tian's Neptune Pin (four-band GSM, Wi-Fi, USB, GPS and a 3.2 megapixel camera), tons of investor cash have been poured into this sector.

The recent Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, too, saw many forays into the world of wearable technology - including, notably and ineptly, the Starfish watch. It promised mirroring - a display duplicating that of your phone - but that promise evaporated after scrutiny and questioning by attentive technology writers.

If Starfish highlights anything, it's the growing band of "wantrepreneurs" who are keen to grab a slice of Pebble's action. Unsurprisingly, it's developments at Apple that are causing the most excitement. Rumours and speculation from employees past and present, fuelled by gadget websites and seemingly confirmed by the recent hiring of certain personnel at Cupertino, indicate that Apple may well be working on a so-called "iWatch", and possibly in a curved glass design - not that the company would ever say one way or the other.

The "killer app" that Apple has at its disposal, of course, is Siri, the voice- recognition tool built in to the iPhone's operating system, iOS. The ability to issue digital instructions to a reliable device that's permanently tethered to your wrist could, just perhaps, make up for all the other drawbacks one immediately associates with the smartwatch - the chunky profile, the small screen...

"There's definitely a use case for a smartwatch," says Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Gartner, "especially if you think of it as just another connected screen that's worn instead of carried. The key to mass adoption will be creating something that can be considered a good watch first and foremost, and overcomes today's limitations for things like charging." But Gek Tan, analyst at Euromonitor, sees the smartwatch as niche, noting that "there's hardly any interest on the part of watchmakers to dabble in this area".

Perhaps those watch companies sense that even if the technology works, the smartwatch's battle to reach the wrist will be a social one. Yes, the pocket watch successfully made its way on to our wrists 100 years ago - although not without disgruntled gentlemen complaining that they'd "sooner wear a skirt than a wristwatch". But for smartphone functionality to make the same move will require society to accept us checking our watches every minute or so. As a fidgety man, I'd say that's going to be an uphill struggle.

Topics:  apple games and gadgets kickstarter

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.


Springwood tipped as second CBD.

Lane family's proud to invest in Logan

CITY PRIDE: Barry Lane with his daughter Katrina Lazari at their store in Meadowbrook.

THE name Barry Lane is synonymous with the Coffee Club in Logan.

Terrorism charges from Logan Islamic centre raid dropped

Omar Succarieh being brought to the Brisbane Police Watchhouse in 2014, (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Omar Succarieh, 33, had been set to face a Supreme Court trial

Local Partners

Autism centre of excellence for Logan

HIGH-needs autistic children in Logan will receive state-of-the-art care with a $2 million investment in the Logan Autism Centre of Excellence

WATCH: NASA space station is live, see the view from above

In this picture taken from NASA's International Space Station from April 2015, the SpaceX Dragon is captured with the 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm before its installation to the Harmony module.

See the world from a new perspective as space station passes Rocky

Community garden set for Palmwoods

Kay Nixon at the Palmwoods Community Gardens will be hosting a launch day and inviting the ecommunity to come along and sign up.

Parcel of land to supply sustainable gardening for community

Barry Gibb is coming to Bluesfest 2017

FANS: Barry Gibb talks to a fan next to a cardboard cutout of his young self.

Aged 70, Gibb has re-launched his solo music career with a new album

Mariah Carey and James Packer discussing relationship

Mariah Carey and James Packer are discussing how to work things out

January Jones: Take time away from your phone

January Jones needs time away from her phone

Mel C won't return to Spice Girls for daughter

MEL C is adamant she won't reunite with the Spice Girls

60's British rock legends to return to Australia

The Troggs will play a string of dates across Australia in November.  Photo Contributed

We all remember 'Wild Thing' and now you can hear it live.

Depp jumps ship from agency of 25 years

Johnny Depp has signed to CAA after 25 years with the United

Orlando Bloom 'buried' Katy Perry in birthday flowers

Orlando Bloom "buried" Katy Perry in flowers for her birthday

Want to own one of Australia's best restaurants?

TOP GONG: Mooloolaba Spice Bar has been named in TripAdvisor's Top 10 Australian restaurants for 2016.

Here's your chance to pick up one of the Coast's favourite eateries

Tough times in CBD: Woolies says goodbye Ipswich

Woolworths in the Ipswich Mall.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times

The last day of trading will be January 1

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

How to fit 100,000 new homes on the Coast

Property, real estate, housing, suburb,  August 2016

Fitting 2m extra people in south-east Qld in 25 years a balance

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!