The gadget-industrial complex is afroth with the notion that everyone from Apple and Google to Dell and Samsung is working on a smartwatch.
Who’s going to wear them?
I’ll tell you: Not me.
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I can’t remember ever wearing a watch: I hate the feel of a band against my wrist. That’s a personal tic, but I’m far from alone in eschewing timepieces. Since the last decade, people have noted the trend of younger people to tell time on anything but a watch.
Sure, you’ll read the occasional trend piece about how high-end, luxury watches are making a blingy comeback. Whatever: I can’t imagine a less interesting way to spend your money.
No One Needs More Devices To Manage
You know what I don’t need? More cables and chargers to misplace at home or pack for travel. Yet that’s exactly what smartwatches and fitness bands bring to our lives. (Nick Statt noted that keeping the Fitbit Flex charged is one of its most annoying aspects.) I already need to keep a smartphone, tablet, and Bluetooth keyboard charged. After that, I’m out of USB ports.
And Google Glass? The paranoia about people recording video is overblown, because the battery won’t last long enough to record any large portion of one’s day. And the glorified $1,500 Bluetooth headset is far too easy to break. I also hate the headset’s nose-pinching frame. (When I buy glasses, I always get them without those awful nose pads.)
Battery life in general will be a nightmare for all of these tiny devices. Physics and chemistry dictate how long a charge lasts, and the more capable these miniaturized computers are, the more frequently we’ll have to plug them in—which makes the whole “wearable” thing pointless.
It’s The Data That Counts, Not The Device
Another argument for wearables is that they’re good for capturing data. I don’t buy that, either.
I’m interested in the quantified-self movement, which promises to turn our movements and vital signs into data to be crunched, stored, and analyzed. But pedometers don’t capture how I work out, which tends to involve more time in the gym or yoga studio rather than on the running trail. (And I live in San Francisco, so I walk plenty as it is.)
It’s more useful for me to enter data about my workouts into apps like GymGoal—which require a full smartphone screen. And for tracking runs, I use more smartphone apps: MapMyRun, Nike Running, and RunKeeper, all of which rely on phones’ GPS and accelerometer systems for location data.
Stop The Smartwatch Madness!
So here’s a modest proposal for hardware manufacturers: Stop trying to replace the smartphone. Instead, make it better—by focusing on software and services. You say it’s awkward to take a phone out of a pocket or purse? The answer isn’t to shift notifications over to another screen. It’s to eliminate unnecessary notifications, or shift them in time. Anticipatory computing should allow smartphones to get much smarter about when to interrupt us.
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And ambient identity will allow us to securely take over any available networked screen—rather than worry about carrying around a bevy of personal devices. (I hear cloud computing is a thing.)
You know what would also be nice? A non-dorky Bluetooth earpiece, or earphones that don’t get tangled up. Voice interfaces are getting better and better—and unless you really loved the Dick Tracy comics, I don’t see how talking into your watch will ever be cool.
We don’t need computers to wear on our head, or wrists, or arms. We need computers that fade into the background. Forget wearable computing. It’s time for disappearable computing.
Photo of Owen Thomas by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite; photo of USB cables by matsuyuki