In many respects, 2014 was like 2009 for the tech industry. In 2009 we found ourselves bombarded with tablet concepts, 2014 pebble-dashed consumers with ill-conceived smartwatches.
Five years ago, all the talk was about Apple’s forthcoming tablet and CES 2010 was full of Android devices rushing to beat Apple to market. The iPad was officially revealed the week after the tech world left Vegas and launched the following April.
We didn’t witness an immediate stand-off between Apple and Android, the battle lines were drawn between the 80+ tablets revealed at CES, with a fight to the death.
So, here we are at the Consumer Electronics Show 2015, with wall-to-wall ‘Wearable Technology’ or ‘Wearables’ and the smartwatch is king. Or is it? Well, Apple isn’t here again. They’re not saving money, they just have a valid point to make – everyone’s talking about the the Apple Watch anyway.
I’ve been testing a selection of so-called smartwatches to destruction for the past 18 months and the conclusion is that they’re actually pretty dumb.
I’m not going to review each one in depth – I’ve done that enough either here or on the BBC but none of them tick all the boxes they should. They even have an issue with branding: From the cheekily named ‘i’m Watch’, to the ridiculous ‘LG G Watch R’ and ‘HP MB Chronowing’, to the rather more obvious ‘Sony Smartwatch’ and Will.i.am’s anti-watch, the ‘Puls’. It’s easy to see why Apple went with ‘Apple Watch’. Who knows if we’ll ever discover the truth about why they didn’t run with ‘iWatch’.
Here’s a quick personal checklist for each watch:
+ Early to market brownie points – and the cheek of a name so close to ‘iWatch’
– Naive product and interactive design, it just doesn’t work (first two died within weeks) and wasn’t waterproof
+ Sony have been dabbling with smartwatches for years, there’s a Smartwatch 3 now, using generic Android Wear UI, but I don’t think the product design is as attractive as this steel model. Good battery life thanks to the low power screen with time-only sleep mode and single screen tap to illuminate. Waterproof
– The on-screen experience is a mess and feels old.
UPDATE: Smartwatch 3 Steel Edition tested at CES – a really nice looking quality watch that goes to the top of my Android Wear list. Also, a new range of strap and face combinations to launch next month.
+ Extra marks for making an attractive watch in a range if colours, with analogue hands and an illuminated circular screen. Breaks from the smartwatch mainstream and works with both Android and iOS smartphones
– My latest model has died, leaving working analogue hands but no screen. A new software update is expected to add connected home functionality.
UPDATE: A replacement watch is on the way but a stylish new model launched at CES looks interesting. More when I get my hands on one...
+ LG also have a smartwatch track record. This latest circular model improves on past attempts, with 2+ days battery life from an always-on time display. Measures biometric data (heart rate, steps taken + personal goals). Waterproof
– The overall product design is poor and feels cheap – especially when faced with the superior visual appeal of the Moto 360
+ Finally, a smartwatch that genuinely focuses on quality design and materials, that works with Android AND iOS. The partnership between fashion designer Michael Bastian and tech giant HP should have been a perfect match. No, wait…
– …despite a beautiful presentation box holding three different straps (brown leather, olive mesh and black rubber) they are very difficult to change – unlike the fast-swap system on the Apple Watch, designed to improve the experience AND encourage additional strap purchase.
Also, the Chronowing is blighted by a poor on-screen user experience: No biometric data or motion detection, the text is too small, screen illumination requires a 3 second press and hold of one physical button, Bluetooth has a habit of disconnecting (although this has improved) and the magnet in my charging cradle isn't strong enough to stay attached to the watch. HP is on the case and a new charger is on its way to my hotel in Vegas, with better instructions for strap changing. I'll reserve final judgement.
UPDATE: The new re-designed charger has arrived. It now contains a stronger magnet and attaches without issue. Bluetooth is now stable and stays connected to my iPhone 6.
It hasn’t arrived yet. I’ll tell you what it’s like to live with very soon…
A watch must deliver the time for at least 24 hours, look good, feel comfortable and not require compromise or extra effort. It must also offer information at-a-glance. These are the basics, like a book offering words or a film moving images and sound. Don’t attempt to enhance something if you can’t get the basics right. Which one am I wearing today? The Chronowing (despite all its faults) as it’s still a conversation starter.
Apple has a chance to tick boxes where others have failed, but they first need to convince an audience that abandoned watches for smartphones with clocks that they actually need one now.
In 2010 99% of iPad owners didn’t think they needed a tablet, but Steve Jobs made a compelling case and developers stepped up to create amazing content (including Brandwidth on day 1). The Apple Watch won’t be such an easy sell, Steve’s no longer around and success is measured on shifting more units than the last ‘big thing’.
Stop viewing smartwatches as standalone items and think of them as the small screen for the bigger screens and they have a future, just not the ones I’ve been wearing.