The favourite toy of many movie heroes is finally turning into a reality: since decades ago we have witnessed how James Bond, Captain Kirk and Co. communicate using their wristwatches, take photos and call up data on them. Smartwatches are able to do these things in real life and, in the future, they may just replace smartphones entirely. But what’s available today is just a preview of things to come: the watches from Samsung and Sony can do a lot but are very expensive and chunky.
Smartwatches from smaller manufacturers like Pebble are available for about $150 – but they do just a little more compared to traditional wristwatches. Nevertheless, almost all mobile device manufacturers are planning to launch their own smartwatches in the next few years– the features that these watches would remind you of Star Trek, include things like health monitoring, voice-controlled wizards or user authentication. “This will be a billion dollar market”, Acer’s smartphone head ST Liew tells us enthusiastically. The basic idea behind a smartwatch is simple: we always have our smartphone with us and take it out of the pocket N number of times in a day – to check time, read emails, to check if we have received an SMS or a message on WhatsApp or to answer a call. Many of these actions are unnecessary because it is possible that you have received no message – and socially, it is not a very polite thing to do to keep pulling out your phone from your pocket while at a meal or social gathering, for instance.
Smartwatch as smartphone extensions
As a result, a wristwatch, which people have been used to for ages, seems to be more socially acceptable. Via Bluetooth, a smartwatch can connect to the smartphone in the pocket and display messages from there. It doesn’t need an elaborate display to do this, a powerful processor or complicated technology.
The Pebble smartwatch for instance, garnered about US$10 million last year through crowd funding via the Kickstarter platform. While it may not be as advanced compared to the Samsung’s and Sony’s smartwatches in terms of features, it is still much more sought after due to its fairly reasonable price tag.
This seems to be within limits and explains its success. But Samsung has not had the same success with its smartwatch GALAXY Gear – this smartwatch can do a lot of things: the strap has a camera, you can make calls and dictate messages via a microphone and the manufacturer has even integrated an 800MHz processor to enable all this features to run smoothly. But the Korean company has slapped a price tag of $305 on the GALAXY Gear, which is compatible with only a few Android smartphones from Samsung.
Annette Zimmermann, analyst at the market research institute Gartner predicts rather dismal sales figures for smartwatches because these “intelligent” watches won’t be as “intelligent” without a Bluetooth connection to the smartphone; without Bluetooth, they do nothing more than tell time. Also, the battery life will be and issue as most consumers won’t want to charge their wristwatch more than once a week?
Smartwatch as a smartphone killer?
“A smartwatch is just a gimmick if it can’t perform any particular function on its own”, says HTC CEO Peter Chou. Zimmermann concurs and makes a request: “Design a smartwatch which has its own functions and which does not turn into a traditional watch when it is not connected to a smartphone”.
Manufacturers are aware of this. But Apple seems to be the most capable candidate for coming up with a masterpiece; the iPhone 5S has its own processor for sensor data, but is barely used by consumers at present. This M7 processor could form the core of an “iWatch”. Zimmermann says, “This would attract many fitness app developers” because a watch on the wrist could use its sensors to record bio-data better than any other device; it would be able to measure pulse, skin resistance, blood pressure etc. Google on the other hand, makes use of the service Google Now, which many of us are familiar with from our Android smartphones and tablets, in the development of its watch. It can display recommendations for nearby restaurants, routes via Google Maps on the watch and much more.
If connected with a motion sensor, you can stand in front of a building and simply draw a question mark in the air and the watch will tell you what you would see next. Nokia and LG would rather bag points with hardware: the Finns have released a concept video for a smartwatch, with a strap that contains six displays, on which data can be moved or arranged depending on the purpose of use. The prototype is still quite bulky but it is an interesting concept. LG on the other hand has developed a power-saving Mirasol display without backlight, but with a very high resolution, which could be used in future watches.
Customers however, will not just look at the hardware and software; for a device which is clearly visible on the user’s body when he/she wears it, the design too will play a very critical role. Moreover, “One has to explain to customers about how a smartwatch would help them so that they understand its value”, emphasises Zimmermann. Good marketing would be a key factor and Samsung is already aware of that: the advertisement for Samsung’s GALAXY Gear shows film clips from the last 50 years, in which the heroes use intelligent watches – but it will take some more time before this becomes a reality: “We estimate that by 2017, only one percent of the users would replace their smartphone with a smartwatch”, says Zimmermann.
Top 3 Smartwatches
The power-saving display of the Pebble smartwatch shows incoming SMSes, indicates calls and has multiple dials.
Displays SMS, chats, calls, emails, social networks, calendar entries, gesture recognition, Pebble apps
COMPATIBILITY: Android 2.3.3 and higher and iOS 5
- Practical: Pebble can do only a few things, but it does them well; reasonably priced, waterproof, 5-7 days battery life
- Only one monochrome display, no touch functions
Samsung Galaxy Gear
Thanks to the sharp AMOLED screen, you can see additional info such as weather on the home screen. GALAXY Gear also records voice messages and offers voice telephony
Colour display, 1.9MP camera, telephone function, Voice memos, weather, special Android apps
COMPATIBILITY: Samsung phones with Android 4.3
- Takes photos with 1.9-megapixels, SMS can be dictated via microphone
- The battery is poor and the watch is compatible only with Samsung smartphones
Sony SmartWatch 2
Since version 2 of Sony’s SmartWatch is already in the market, the Google Play Store offers Twitter, Facebook and Runtastic apps for the device. In addition to colourful plastic straps, the watch also comes with leather ones
Splashproof body, NFC, more than 100 apps, messages and social networks
COMPATIBLE: Android 4.0 and higher
- Large app selection, although not every one is useful
- The battery lasts for only a few days despite minimal use