Three hurdles wearables must overcome

Three hurdles wearables must overcome

Summary: Everywhere you turn you are hearing about wearables, specifically smartwatches. While they seem poised to take off, there are some big obstacles in the way.


Google recently launched Android Wear accompanied by three smartwatches by partners. They look different but, due to the version of Android onboard, they all work pretty much the same.

(Image: Sarah Tew/CNET)

With the Android folks behind them, the thought is that wearables, especially smartwatches, are ready to take off. That may be a pipe dream due to three hurdles that stand in the way.

Many don't wear watches anymore

One unexpected casualty of the smartphone craze is the watch. Nearly everyone wore a watch not that long ago, but that changed when most folks got a phone.

"I wish I had a big gadget strapped to my wrist to check the weather/ email/ Facebook." A statement made by no one, ever.

Look around and you'll notice that the wrists of a lot of folks are unadorned by a watch of any kind. Gone are the days of fancy watches that used to be a status symbol.

When many folks want to know the time, more often than not they look at the smartphone. Most phones have the time right on the lock screen so they don't even need to be unlocked. A simple glance at the screen and you know what time it is. No need for a watch. A smartwatch is unlikely to change this behavior.

They don't do anything new

The new smartwatches by LG, Samsung, and Motorola look pretty useful with the Android Wear stuff that Google built. Geeks in particular like the thought of glancing at the watch and seeing pertinent information without asking for it.

The rest of the world won't be that impressed, largely because these watches don't do anything new. The information that appears on the tiny watch screen is already there on the smartphone. Until someone comes up with a cool new function, it's not likely that consumers are going to want one of these watches.

They don't need or want yet another screen, a tiny one at that, to view the information they already have on their phone. This is especially true since they have already given up wearing a watch. There's no reason to change their habits when it doesn't gain them new functionality.

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.

Nobody wants them

Probably the biggest obstacle to wearable success is that they solve no consumer problem. They are a solution looking for a problem, and that scenario rarely results in success.

"I wish I had a big gadget strapped to my wrist to check the weather/ email/ Facebook." A statement made by no one, ever.

It's going to be hard to convince a lot of people that even though it doesn't do anything new and they don't wear watches anymore, that they want a smartwatch. It doesn't help that they are going to be big, clunky, and downright ugly for the foreseeable future.

Geeks aside, consumers don't want the newest gadget just because it's cool. It has to provide utility they can easily see, in a form they would like others to see them wear. That's not the description of any smartwatch to date. So they'll just keep their smartphone close for doing the same things that shiny watch they see on TV can do.

See related:

Topics: Mobility, Android, Samsung

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  • It has to be a phone

    It has to have phone function. So it has to have voice control (Siri...). But because of the small screen, no interesting app is good there. So, if users adopt the smartwatch model, it would kill the app market. And this means a lot to Apple, since 30% of what you pay for an app goes to Apple. Therefore, Apple should be the least interested.
  • Wearables can fail miserable

    I won't be surprised, but I don't think so.
    I don't agree that people don't want them, smartwatches have just one "little" problem - battery.

    What's wrong about the article?
    What tablets do more than traditional PCs? ... It's not just a matter of doing something new, it's about being more convenient and also and why not - look cool. New applications for wearables will appear - never doubt human imagination.
    I think there are plenty of things they can do well - remote operations (TV, AC, ...), body monitoring (think of diabetes control and others), ...
    Once they will get more useful people will want them for sure.

    "Many don't wear watches anymore"?!!! What argument is that?! You don't need the entire world to use watches to make smart watches a success. Watches are still sold by the millions and I don't think Swatch group per example is losing ground.
    • The same argument ZDNet has used for years.

      "What argument is that?!"

      The same argument ZDNet has used for years.

      If you're not in the Fortune 500, you're basically meaningless to them. They scream that you are a failure if you are 3rd or 4th place (see Windows Phone, Blackberry), even if your business is still turning a profit and is in no danger of bankruptcy.

      If you're not on the same scale as Android or iPhone, you literally get called "dead." They are more religious zealot than anything else these days.
  • Tim Cook and Apple have the right idea - if rumors are to be believed

    One of Apple's design mantras: Don't reinvent an inferior wheel. A smartphone on the wrist - an inferior design at that - is the reason Samsung's smart watch products have failed in the marketplace.

    Apple's apparent plan: A lightweight wristband packed with biosensors that MUST be paired with another mobile device designed to process and display the wristband information to the user.

    Oh .. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the selling price for such a device is much, much closer to an Apple iPod Shuffle than to an iPod Touch. This conjecture that Apple's smart watch concept is going to be priced in the $350 and up US dollar range doesn't make sense to me - especially if it's design is intened to be as a complimentary device rather than as a stand alone one.
  • I'd say the same goes for glasses as well.

    While you harp on watches - I'd say the same goes for glasses as well. Largely a solution looking for a problem - and in the meantime, creating plenty of problems itself, with Google's Glass having a permanent camera that could be recording at any time. The engineers didn't quite think through the social implications.
  • There Is A Compelling Use Case

    How often do you fumble around in your pocket, digging out the phone, just to see you didn't need to see or respond to that message/email/call?

    If Apple/Google/Microsoft treat these events as a "live" full screen notification (tile, whatever) and only that - no endless list or multiple info, dismissible with a quick tap, then they are on first base.

    It needs to have a very nice face design (whether emulating analog, or a THIN fit band like design - but THIN is crucial), with a full day battery, then that gets them to second base. We have a triple if it has a powerful soundless alert system (whether vibrating or even mild electrical impulse) that doesn't ding, dong, or play the latest hip hop tune to get your attention.

    Home run couples all of this with biosensor to track your exercise, running, heart rates, even blood pressure (that one is probably beyond current sensor technology).

    Only then will you have an unobtrusive second screen for your lifeline - that smartphone that never leaves your side.
    • Handset

      I agree,
      Especially if people start using 7" mini-tablets as phones. The "watch", coupled to the "phone" becomes the "handset".

      Then there is the opportunity for biometrics...
  • New functions may make them work ...

    "When many folks want to know the time, more often than not they look at the smartphone. Most phones have the time right on the lock screen so they don't even need to be unlocked. A simple glance at the screen and you know what time it is. No need for a watch."

    People need to go back to the 70's and remember what happened with watches. Initially LED watches came out and were quickly replaced by LCD versions because people didn't like pushing a button to see what time it was. It's interesting people reverted to that with smart phones and think this is an "improvement".

    With a phone, this is the "simple glance":

    Reach toward pocket
    Put hand in pocket, grab phone
    Pull phone out of pocket
    Push power button
    (Read time)
    Push power button
    Put phone back in pocket
    Pull hand out of pocket

    With a regular watch:

    Turn wrist toward you
    (Read time)
    Turn wrist back

    I can't count the number of times people want to know the time and I've got it way before the phone only crowd does, and I'm on to other things.

    But if people are willing to go to all that effort to see time, then a smart watch might succeed. Especially if it has the most critical items you want to see on the display (time, new emails or messages, and bio readings). At least then pushing buttons will be faster for the information desired.
  • Spot on with an exception

    I agree with you 99.9% but will take exception to your statement "Gone are the days of fancy watches that used to be a status symbol." First, the phrasing indicates you are not a person who understands people who wear a "fancy watch" at all. You may be quite right about some people casually wearing an entry level dress watch but you haven't a clue when it comes to someone who wears a Patek Philippe or one of the many other luxury watches people collect and appreciate for their mechanical art, not merely status. I happen to wear an ORIS on my wrist, which is on the lower end of the scale, but is still certainly a fine Swiss mechanical instrument that will be around decades after your smart watch and your smart phone are long since turned to electronic dust.
  • Why I want a smart watch

    #1- um........
  • Yep.

    I agree with the author. Smartwatches serve no purpose. They are a gadget for the pure sake of gadgetry.

    Since I'm farsighted, NOTHING that small is of any use to me. Nearsighted people could use them, if they actually did something.