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

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...

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.

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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

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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.