Can Apple's iWatch save smartwatches? It may have to

Can Apple's iWatch save smartwatches? It may have to

Summary: Smartwatches are allegedly the next big thing, but so far they look like the tech industry's largest beta program as they struggle to find the next big thing. No pressure Apple, but...

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TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Samsung
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Next big thing or solution looking for a problem? Credit: CNET

Speculation abounds that Apple will launch an iWatch that'll solidify a new gadget category, prove the company can innovate and dazzle its customers. Apple may have to do all of those things just to save smartwatches from being a complete joke.

Special Feature

Wearables: Fit For Business?

Wearables: Fit For Business?

The explosion of interest in wearable computing is one of tech's fastest rising trends. While big moves from Google, Apple, and Samsung will likely attract a lot of attention, we're going to examine the broader potential that wearables hold for driving innovation in business.

As you've probably heard, smartwatches are allegedly the next big thing. Wearables are huge. Android Wear will be impressive and Google handed out choices of LG or Samsung smartwatches at its developer powwow and threw in Motorola's upcoming device too.

Spare me. Smartwatches at the moment equate to perhaps the tech industry's largest beta program ever. How do I know? Samsung Gear Live smartwatch is the company's fifth smartwatch in nine months, according to CNET. Blink and you'll get to six---all for about $199 each or more.

I've tried a few of these smartwatches and beyond fitness tracking---which smartwatches largely struggle with relative to dedicated activity trackers---and it's hard to find much of a use case. Battery life for Samsung's latest is a joke. Some of the screens are hard to see in the sun. And while notifications are handy in most cases you're directed to your smartphone to do much with them. Pebble is interesting on many levels, but let's get real: The real killer app is a zillion watch faces.

On the business front, perhaps you can make some enterprise case that notifications on your wrist would be handy. Perhaps a measure of the environment available at a swipe is important. However, the smartwatch is a device looking for a problem to solve and as long as it relies on the smartphone as a server it's a tough sell. So far, the smartwatch is just one more @#%R@# thing that blinks at you.

Wearables will be huge. Smartwatches may not be.

Smartwatches to date largely suck and merely make me appreciate my Timex IronMan and Garmin GPS running watch more. There's a reason Apple historically hangs back and finds a real use case before entering categories like music players or smartphones: Apple doesn't like to do public betas for things that don't work well.

Maybe Apple's so-called iWatch gives us something interesting---or at least some use that provides us with something we didn't know we need. The iWatch launch will tell us about Apple's innovation prowess as much as the smartwatch category, which looks a bit dumb.

CNET: Samsung's full-Google Gear only a so-so Android Wear watch

Best Wearable Tech

What's alarming to me is that the smartwatch efforts so far look like the tech industry is trying too hard. The industry is looking for the next tablet-ish market and throwing junk up against the wall to see if it sticks---or at least sells 1 million units.

Enter Apple. Analysts are drooling over the iWatch as one component of what's expected to be a fall product blitz from Apple. Wall Street needs a new product to yap about beyond a bigger iPhone. Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White sets the tone: "We are more focused on Apple's ability to execute on new product ramps that we anticipate this fall (e.g., iPhone 6, "iWatch") and the consumer appetite for these new devices."

The stage is largely set. Apple has to save the day. No pressure. Otherwise, smartwatches will have such bad word of mouth that the category is doomed.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Samsung

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38 comments
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  • Up until now

    smart watches look to me like "piece of tech I'm most likely to break." They all look neat, from the Pebble on up, but they're not essential enough to take the risk I am going to bang it up.

    The iWatch would have to pretty miraculous to alter my cost benefit equation there.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • Smart Watches Are A Joke

      Even if Apple comes up with one thst gains traction, I'll pass.

      I still wear fancy watches and I always will, but a smart watch serves absolutely no purpose for me.

      When the day comes when I am too lazy to reach for my smartphone, maybe, but until then they can wait.
      orandy
      • Killer App

        ORrandy kind of said that they lack a killer app. To see time on your wrist can be very cheap, very rugged, and/or fashionable. Most people are lazy so exercise monitors, while popular, are not a killer app. When someone comes up with a software app that everyone needs that fits on an approximately 1" screen then they will gain traction. That is what the article says also. Will Apple come up with a killer app? Will some else?
        MichaelInMA
  • I wear watches

    and I think the biggest issue smart watches have is; Who is the target audience? Watch wearers would seem to be one, but what will they offer a watch wearer to make them use one in their watch rotation? Yes, we watch wearers usully have more than one and tend to rotate them. Younger tech savy folks generally don't wear watches but use their phones to tell time. Other than tech nerds (who may like watches) who will buy these things? For smart watches to be viable they have to appeal to the average non tech site reading consumer. The same folks who buy millions of iphones and have never heard of zdnet.
    Low_tech
    • To add a point

      Battery.
      I own a couple of watches, Eco's, and a slimline Seiko for "dressy" occasions and don't need to worry about making sure they are charged "WHEN" I wear one.
      A smart watch fails in that regard.
      Just like the "smart watches" of old.
      rhonin
      • Seiko

        yep, I have a Seiko Kinetic Titanium from 1999. It is a self winding/charging device and never needs updating, charging from the mains etc.

        It tells the time and I don't have to worry about it. It is robust (it has been scuffed along walls, for example, with just a couple of minor scratches). A friend has the woman's version of the same watch, hers was in a motorbike accident and scraped along the tarmac. It saved her wrist from damage and has only a couple of light scuff marks to show for it.

        From the descriptions I've read so far, I don't think many of the smartwatches on offer today will last 10 years without being plugged into the mains or dragged along the pavement...
        wright_is
        • I doubt anyone will still be using a

          10 year old phone either.

          You can't compare the two because a watch is an outdated dumb device, while any successful smartwatch will be superseded both in software and hardware on a regular basis, at least for the foreseeable future.
          Pastabake
  • For me it's more or less obvious that smart watches will be very big

    I've been reading opinions on both sides, but those who think it will be a small thing look a lot like some skeptics about the first iPad and iPhone.
    There is the problem of battery life, but consumers are already used to charge there devices daily. But in the future it would be nice that some sort of universal/standard wireless charging mechanism would exist - we would just throw all devices into some "box" and in the morning everything would be charged... wireless charging nightstands would be also nice :)

    Will smart-watches be as big as smartphones - no way, but I wouldn't be surprise to see a market growing to the hundreds of millions per year, with home automation and IoT in general the growth will be even faster.
    AleMartin
  • Far more socially acceptable than glasses.

    "As you've probably heard, smartwatches are allegedly the next big thing."

    Well, they're far more socially acceptable than something like Google Glasses. So IMO they're more likely to be the next big thing than the glasses. Right now, the glasses are a bit of a joke, as their only real purpose seems to be to say "hey, look at how nerdy I am."
    CobraA1
    • Must be time to add a camera to it...

      :)
      jessepollard
      • smartwatches do have camera

        and this does not help
        pupkin_z
      • or a

        add a mint box, or pill box :)
        mytake4this
  • Larry has it right

    "I've tried a few of these smartwatches and beyond fitness tracking---which smartwatches largely struggle with relative to dedicated activity trackers---and it's hard to find much of a use case. Battery life for Samsung's latest is a joke. "

    Ive been asking this for awhile now. Read an email, you really cant do that very well on a watch, you use your phone. Take a phone call? do you really want all your calls to be on speaker? Do you want a watch that has to be plugged in nightly? What does a smart watch do that i dont already get from my other device? until that happens, there just isnt a real market for them
    tiderulz
    • That is...

      Unless that iWatch has a dozen sensors on it that can tell you your blood pressure, cholesterol level, heart rate, how many steps you took, how many calories you burned, and your current temperature. I guarantee, your smart phone can't tell you that right now.
      Maha888
      • I guarantee, I wouldn't care

        Why would I want to pile even more information into my already information-overloaded day? Other than someone who is actually sick and needs to monitor these things, who cares?
        bsalloum
      • A better application for health purposes, is a calorie checker that...

        when you go to the supermarket, you tell it what you're purchasing and brand (or scan it's product code), and the device tells you how many calories you're purchasing and how many per serving. That would help people a lot more to watch their calories intake, than an app that tells them how many calories they've burned by exercising or walking. Most people don't exercise, and I'm one of them. However, I lost 45 pounds by just counting caloric intake. A device to help with that would make things easier for a lot of people. However, a smartwatch isn't necessary to get the job done, since the job can be as easily accomplished with any smartphone.
        adornoe@...
    • Well ...

      1. Potentially it allows you to have a 10" smartphone that you don't have to get out of your bag to receive a call, monitor emails, scan sms and tickertape data. It is in fact hands free and in an easily accessible place.

      2. Who cares about charging. Almost every smartphone user has adjusted to the fact that charging is a nightly exercise. Nobody wears a watch in bed, so anyone that thinks that daily charging is outrageously unreasonable is just being a douche.
      Pastabake
  • Snartwatches

    I don't think apple has to save anything. As soon as someone releases a smartwatch that people want then people will buy it, regardless of how many failed attempts preceded it.
    SovereignTechnology
  • HA!

    Several things very wrong with this article, mostly in the form of Apple fanboyism without any real knowledge of the tech industry.

    First, there is no iWatch. The only speculation has been from people saying "oh, Samsung made one, I wonder if Apple is going to copy them again?"

    Second, Apple will not "save" the smartwatch. Although Apple is by far the king when it comes to selling unnecessarily overpriced products that you don't need, a beta product does not need saving. The very concept of the smartwatch is still in development, and Apple has proven time and time again that they don't want to spend a dime innovating. They'd rather sit back and wait for Google and the others to innovate, then once it's viable Apple will tweak it just enough to avoid violating patents and release their own copy. Apple will not save the smartwatch. In fact, if they get too involved, they'll probably ruin it. Just imagine something as crippled and limited as an Apple device in such an innovative and young field like smartwatches. Even if Apple was successful, it would cause the smartwatch as a whole to fail as more people flock to Apple and the real development slows down as a result.
    AnomalyTea
    • Apple copying Samsung again....

      Truth be damned, just arouse the Apple faithful. Congratulations, you are getting trolling down to a fine art.
      rfoto