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Bill Bennett


Smartwatch hype: World yawns, moves on as devices flop

Remember all the hype about the smartwatch being the next big thing?

Well, I’ve worn my first smartwatch and it is a big thing in only one sense. The Sony Smartwatch 2 is a big ugly thing that no self-respecting person would be seen wearing in public. I won’t leave the house with it on my wrist.

Sony’s Smartwatch 2 is one of only two smartwatches to have gone on sale in New Zealand. The other is the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Both seem flops.

Smartwatch, not smart-looking

And that’s not surprising. Both smartwatches are ugly, expensive and next to useless.

You can buy Sony’s Smartwatch 2 for around $350. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is closer to $450.

The devices do nothing on their own. To use the Galaxy Gear you need a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone – that’s another $1000 or thereabouts.

Sony’s Smartwatch is less fussy. It will work with any phone that runs the latest Android version. You can pick these up for as little as $500, but a decent one is still going to cost an extra grand.

Westpac smartwatch hype

One thing Sony has going for its smartwatch is that Westpac has developed an app allowing customers to check bank details on their wrist. It’s a good idea, but not enough to get me to fork out the $1200 plus needed for a smartwatch and companion handset.

So far the phones have failed to fire with consumers. There have been none of the “we sold a million in 24 hours” press releases from Sony or Samsung.

I’d be amazed if the two brands manage to sell a million devices between them by the end of the year. The are rumours of warehouses full of unsold, unwanted smartwatches.

Useless, let me count the ways

Why do I say these smartwatches are ‘next to useless’? There are three reasons.

First, they have tiny screens. This is at a time when phone makers build devices with ever bigger screens. Big screens are better because they can display more information.

Small, one inch smartwatch screens can’t display much more than the time, weather and roughly a tweet or so of text information. You might see an incoming phone text message, a news headline or an email header.

And you have to squint to see even that much. Oddly enough a one inch display at arm’s length is barely readable.

Little screens

Second,  there’s nothing else you can do other than read text. You can’t respond. The watch is, in effect, just another, smaller, inferior screen. That’s all.

Third, the watches need to be relatively close to your phone. That’s right, they need to be near a device which does pretty much everything so much better than a smartwatch can. That’s almost the textbook definition of redundant.

Samsung’s more expensive watch can couple to the phone for voice messages – that is you speak into your wrist as if that’s a good idea. Sony’s watch doesn’t do this.

So all up, the first wave of smartwatches is a complete waste of time.

Do smartwatches have a future?

What about the next wave? There have been rumours Apple has a smartphone in the pipeline. My feeling is that any project never got past the drawing board. Apple is far too savvy to create expensive, ugly products that no-one wants or needs.

Other companies have smartwatches. The Pebble has received plenty of attention, but I’ve not seen any in the wild in New Zealand. Come to think of it, I’ve not seen any smartwatches in the wild in New Zealand. The only time I saw one at all was on the wrist of a colleague who was reviewing it.

Does the smartwatch have any kind of future? That’s a difficult question because it’s hard to whip up interest for next generation smartwatches after the abject failure of the current product generation.

My feeling is wrist-based computers become viable when they can work exclusively with voice recognition and spoken responses. Squeezing that technology into a square inch or so of hardware is challenging, but not beyond reach.



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