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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.

4 thoughts on “Android Wear: Smartwatches still not ready for mainstream

  1. I don’t even wear a standard watch these days as I discovered that I hate the bloody things mostly because my hand with the watch on it gets covered in sweat.

    I do wear my headphones which are connected to the phone in my pocket. This allows me to listen to the radio and answer the phone when it rings. This would indicate that something like Google Glass is closer to what I want and have it connected to my phone via wireless/Bluetooth.

    • That’s interesting. While you were posting that comment, I was responding to a message on Google+ where I said:

      “I think they’d do better if their developers focused more on voice recognition and control.”

      I’m not convince tiny wrist screens work for what are still, effectively, wrist phone devices. But switch the focus from a screen to voice and you may have something worthwhile. 

  2. Smartwatch makers would like us to think their tiny wearable devices represent the next technology wave.
    Maybe. Yet for now smartwatches are not ready for prime time. The current smartwatch crop is unlikely to break out from a geek niche.
    Smartwatches have to get past two barriers. First, they are not useful enough to compensate for the cost, effort and the physical space they take up.
    Some way to go
    Second, tiny touch screens may not be the way to go. A quick look at what has happened to smartphone screens shows that people want bigger, better displays.
    Apple may have something special, er, up its sleeve to change this should it decide to launch a smart watch.
    In the meantime, one thing could push smart watches into the mainstream: Voice recognition.
    Smartwatch makers need something like Apples Siri, only more so. Or, if you prefer, like a swept-up version of the speech commands used with Google Glass.
    Smartwatch makers need to use voice
    Instead of squinting at a tiny screen for information, a next generation wearable device can speak the information. Today’s speech technology is good enough for this to sound almost natural.
    Decent voice recognition means no more struggling with swipe gestures on a tiny display. No more ridiculously trying to type on a minuscule onscreen keyboard.
    Now here’s the rub. When the screen becomes less essential, the device doesn’t have to sit on your wrist. It could become a badge — like the communicators Star Fleet officers use in the Star Trek TV shows.
    You could ask questions: What is the time of the next meeting, when does the next train arrive, what is the square root of 37?
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  • Bill Bennett

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