Watches are an integral part of the James Bond persona. Bond used one to saw himself out of shackles in 1973’s Live And Let Die. The Omega watch helped Pierce Brosnan detonate bombs in 1995’s GoldenEye. And video game lovers around the world know and love the high-tech interface on the spy agent’s wrist piece that was first introduced on N64.
Like James Bond himself, the watch could do anything and everything. But today’s consumers aren’t British spy agents, and smartwatches are far from being the reliable devices shown on the silver screen — in fact maybe it’s time to give up that mentality of the all-in-one watch, all together.
Apple Watches and the multitude of Android devices are OK at telling time, talking to voice assistants, and checking a quick text or email. But try to act upon a notification and you will see how impotent one is in comparison to the powerful smartphone in your pockets. And it’s not for a lack of trying to pack these smartwatches with numerous functions – not unlike Q has done over the years in his lab – that they suffer in the category of usability. It’s probably quite the opposite, actually.
The all-in-one 007-esque smartwatch is just a fantasy and companies should make a watch that’s good at performing one specific task. That one function might be different for a variety of people: A smartwatch could be a really good navigation tool for hiking, it could be a simple NFC reader that allows users to transfer money between businesses and friends, or it could be a really good compact iPod that fits on a wrist.
According to market forecasts from the International Data Corporation, 80 million wearable units shipped in 2015, with simple fitness-tracking devices being the most common gadget on the market. In 2016, the report predicts 44.4-percent growth for this market and a greater abundance of devices of the kind released.
“Over the next few years we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types,” Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, said in the report. “Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analog counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities.”
All of these devices on the horizon can’t and won’t need to do everything. Devices such as the Moto 360 Sport and Apple Watch have GPS hardware and internal storage to allow users to listen to previously downloaded music and jog, all while untethered from a smartphone. Of course, the tunes are limited to the watch’s 4GB capacity, which any old-school iPod user will tell you is not enough space for many songs.
It would be nice if Google, Apple, Sony, or Fitbit created a smartwatch that’s just really good at being a fitness tracker that plays music, since the current offerings in that kind of market are just too compromised with annoying notifications for functions many won’t use.
Or what about a smartwatch that’s really good at delivering data for hiking and camping trips even when users are off the grid? Sure, there are probably challenges there, but it would be better than focusing on sending texts to a screen a sixth the size of a smartphone.
If smart-home devices ever take off, the watch could make a great controller for those things, an easy way to turn up the thermostat, lock the doors without getting out of bed, or monitor a pet or child from a remote camera.
Modern smartwatches don’t need to be a chainsawing, laser shooting, bomb detonators, they just need to get one thing right beyond telling the time.