Clocks started out as large devices, taking up space. As they came down in size, only the rich would be able to have them in their pockets. Eventually, they moved to wrists and came in all shapes, sizes and prices. They were democratised. Clocks were the innovation of the day. They were the future, a way of helping to show productivity, keep appointments and a multitude of other benefits.
As the battle between the wrist and the face starts to heat up, what are the opportunities and where do we think it will all end? Whilst Google Glass is a very cool concept with a multitude of possibilities; when it comes down to the cold, hard realities of life it has several drawbacks:
  • You will never, ever look cool wearing them. Vogue has tried but the models just look like The Borg
  • You will get mugged wearing them. If you wear them in the street, it is an open invitation to being robbed, possibly ending up with a head injury along the way
  • You will look like a spy, but not in a good way. Failure to remove them when going into a gym will cause many looks
  • People have spent a huge amount of money on contact lenses and laser eye surgery to get glasses off their faces; only sun glasses, in sunny weather are widely used and considered desirable
  • Putting them somewhere when you aren’t wearing them. This will require a case and yet more to carry around
Captain Pickard Borg
For practical application though, Google Glass could well be good enough to overcome these obstacles. When the trend was for phones to get smaller, the iPhone managed to convince people otherwise. Let’s face it, phones running Android have continued pushing the limits of pocket size ever since.
Google Glass promotional shot
Glass represents where the future could be heading – how many people would want that constant barrier between the virtual and real world remains to be seen. Whilst it would stop people from constantly looking at their phones, instead they’d be looking into the top left/right of their vision.
Watches on the other hand have the benefit of being more discreet, being visible and not like a cyborg whose brain functions could be taken over at any second. Sony has had smartwatches for a number of years now. In much the same way as they were making touchscreen smartphones for years before the iPhone came out, they won’t be remembered as the innovators in this space. Were they first to market? Yes. Did they manage to nail the user experience? Not exactly.
Sony’s SmartWatch 2012 vs. 2013 edition
From start-ups such as Pebble to technology giants such as Samsung and Qualcomm, everyone is launching a device to complement smart devices. From those that have been announced so far, battery life and functionality appears to be the biggest problem. Getting a colour screen to connect wirelessly to a smartphone and perform a number of tasks is always going to be a drain on battery life.
We can’t expect watches to be the same as phones – they are two totally different devices. A smartwatch is about making sure that you don’t need to get your phone out of your pocket or have it on a boardroom table. It should be able to talk to your phone and to apps, providing you with the information you need. It shouldn’t replace the functionality of a phone or tablet, but instead compliment it.
Qualcomm has got closest with its battery life by using screen technology that mimics butterfly wings to reflect colour. A light is included for night time use, but the combined effect leads to an impressive four to five day battery life. Samsung on the other hand, can barely last a day. It’s one thing to have to charge your phone every day, yet another to do the same to your $300 watch.
Getting the functionality, design, price and battery life right is a huge challenge facing technology companies. We haven’t even got close to mass adoption of the devices. Convincing anyone who isn’t an early adopter to buy one of the devices is a challenge. Getting businesses to support them for employees could well be an even bigger one (on top of laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones.)
All eyes are on Apple and Jonathan Ive now. It’s highly likely we won’t see anything until they feel that they’ve nailed it, but they’ve been talking about it for long enough. When the Galaxy Gear goes on sale, we will watch to see what happens. We already have ideas about how apps could communicate with these devices to provide extra value. Whether it be on the face or on the wrist, wearable technology is coming. Whether they become mass market or remain in the technophile community is another matter.
Check out the BBC’s article here about smart watches showing some of the options available.
By Robert Haslam, PR/account manager

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