Users will change their habits when the pain of their current situation is greater than their perceived pain of adopting a possible solution.

Pip Coburn — The Change Function.

No doubt plenty of geeks and Android fans will line up to buy the latest wave of Android Wear smartwatches that appeared at this week’s Google IO conference. They look interesting.

But Coburn’s Law explains why, for now, smartwatches are unlikely to break out from a geeky niche.

Geeks will feel otherwise, but for most of us, getting a buzzing sensation on the wrist every time a tweet, Facebook message or email arrives is simply not that useful. Certainly not useful enough to put up with the pains of owning a smartwatch. In fact, notifications are the bane of modern life. Getting away from constant notifications is a productivity hack.

Among the pains:

  • Smartwatches look weird. Geeks might happily wear an ugly wrist device. Most people would not. It’s not as bad as Google Glass. That device instantly marks the owner as a social outsider. Thankfully the new Android Wear models look better than earlier smartwatches. Even so, for the most part you won’t get admiring glances for sporting one. That also applies to the Apple Watch, but it is socially more acceptable.
  • Interfaces are crap. The screen is too small for anything more than the most basic information and there’s not enough room for much other than swipe gestures.
  • Incompatible with almost everything.
  • Expensive. US$300 is a lot of money to have a buzz on your wrist handle notifications instead of having your smartphone bleep.
  • You still need to carry that phone, or keep it close to the watch. In other words, the smartwatch doesn’t lighten your load.

This isn’t about Android or Android Wear. All of this could equally apply to an Apple wearable device.