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Smartwatches won't click with consumers until they grow Google Now--style brains

Jared Newman | Sept. 4, 2013
The tech world's gone gaga for the smartwatch concept, but the real world won't bite until the tech does more than push notifications to your wrist.


We geeks just never learn. Despite the troubled history of smartwatches—I submit Microsoft's SPOT and Sony's aptly named SmartWatch—the tech world has fallen in love with them all over again. Samsung's Gear announcement is just one day away, and tech enthusiasts couldn't be more excited.

Maybe it's because the novelty of smartphones and tablets is wearing off, and we need something new to satisfy our gadget lust. But just as likely, the core concept of wearable computing is finally starting to make sense, as technology shrinks and we rely more and more on our devices to guide us through the physical world.

There's just one problem: The technology requirements of an ideal smartwatch don't line up with current realities—and until these devices grow some adaptive, Google Now—like brains, smartwatches will continue to break our hearts.

A killer smartwatch needs to be more than a smaller smartphone
Let's take a look at why the first attempts haven't been very popular.

Today's smartwatches are basically just proxies for your phone's existing notifications, along with a handful of watch-friendly apps. Pebble, for example, lets you know when you've received email, a text message, or a phone call—a great convenience when extracting your phone from your pocket could be unsafe or socially awkward. These are nice features, but they're not enough. If you don't wear a watch already—and fewer people do these days—it's hard to justify strapping on a Pebble.

"You're going to have to deliver a significant amount of value, an amount of value beyond just notifications or alerts, to overcome the amount of resistance people have to wearing one of these things on their wrists," says Nick Gould, CEO of New York—based design firm Catalyst Group.

To become more useful, smartwatches need to be, well, smarter.

Imagine a watch that lights up when it's time for you to leave for your next appointment. Or how about a watch that doubles as an electronic airline boarding pass, or as your loyalty card at Starbucks. A truly smart smartwatch would warn you about traffic on your commute, and suggest places to go when you're out on the town. It could also leave a persistent reminder on your wrist when your spouse sends you a message to pick up some milk. And you could tap a button as you're leaving work to let the family know you're headed home.

If all of this sounds like a cross between Google Now and Apple's Passbook, that's no coincidence. These applications are actually a better fit for for watches than for smartphones, where they're too easy to miss or ignore.


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