I’ve been living with the interactive wrist revolution for a few years and I first wrote about the state of the smartwatch market during my visit to CES 2015. For the following 12 months I found plenty of words but struggled to find the right ones. What went wrong?
I haven’t fallen out of love with smartwatches, but they haven’t made much of an effort to spice up our relationship. I’ve spent a year reviewing watches of all shapes and sizes, various operating systems with differing views on the future of the digital timepiece.
When I wrote my first Dawn of The DumbWatch (4 years after my HD3 SLYDE review), the Apple Watch still hadn’t arrived and all talk of smartwatches at CES 2015 was about Apple’s imminent entry into the market. We’d already been working with Cupertino’s timepiece prior to launch so I wasn’t as excited by it’s arrival as many. Was that through familiarity, or something else?
Apple sold more Watches in one day than the entire Android Wear market had in the previous year and as a standalone smartwatch, it’s the best of the best. The Retina screen is every bit as stunning as the iPhone’s and it’s beautifully made but I really wanted Apple to completely reinvent the watch, rather than evolve it.
Evolution or revolution, they couldn’t avoid the issue of battery life and to conserve energy, Apple ensured the screen only turned on with a finger tap or turn of the wrist. Both actions annoy me. I want to be able to glance at my watch (often subtly) to tell the time, not tap it or bend my wrist at an unnatural angle.
It’s as this traditional timepiece that the Apple Watch suffers. I’m not entirely comfortable wrapping something around my wrist that so many others are wearing, even if the $1,500 Hermès model is available online this week. I still wear a watch and think of it as an extension of my personality, as an accessory that says something about me – but that’s not the future market for this device, or smartwatches in general.
My 6 and 10 year old daughters think most of the watches I test are brilliant and would happily wear one. Their views of conventional watches haven’t been tarnished by obsolescence and they haven’t replaced watches with a smartphone screen. They like the shiny interactive stuff and they’re very much the future smartwatch audience.
What about the rest?
The year didn’t begin well… Will.i.am’s PULS didn’t arrive in stores but it had potentially the worst user experience of any device, ever. So that’s probably not a bad thing. Will get’s a point for trying, but loses the rest for making a mess of everything else.
Michael Bastion ChronoWing [Update]
Although I love the look of this watch, I gave this a pretty poor review last time. I felt I owed you all an update. Not only did the watch stop working altogether on several occasions, but the metal started to permanently scar my wrist. The strap finally came undone and it fell off! I have never lost a watch in my life, so at least the Chronowing has one first to its name. A slow hand clap for HP.
I’ve always had a soft spot for this watch and tried a couple of earlier models with rubber straps. The main watch design looks great and the concept of analogue hands over a digital face makes perfect sense to maximise battery life. The metal strap boosts the perceived quality but the ‘smart’ part died on me, again. RIP Cogito.
What a difference a year makes! Although Samsung have actually been in the smartwatch game for years, they’ve never really made an impression on consumers. The audience wasn’t ready for the Galaxy Gear and there certainly wasn’t any glamour surrounding the launch, but the Apple Watch changed all this. Samsung, like so many others are now basking in the halo effect of Apple’s range, fashion connections and interactivity.
I originally got my hands on both Samsung models (S2 and S2 Classic) at IFA in Berlin last year and I have to say I’m impressed – with the quality of materials and both the product and on-screen design. I prefer the regular model with its contemporary approach but the Classic is a much nicer conventional watch design than the heavy-handed LG Urbane or Huawei Watch.
Interaction is controlled by a mixture of touchscreen inputs and a rotating bezel. This outer ring essentially replicates the Apple Watch crown or pinch-zoom action and I quite like it.
Motorola’s new Moto 360 Sport needs very little description other than to say it’s similar to the S2 but lacks the outer ring and gains iOS support.
Another established player enters the battle for the wrist. Fitbit have followed Apple’s fashion/custom format with a variety of straps. The centre of the watch is actually removable so it can be used in activities that don’t require a watch - although a wrist worn strappy thing seems the obvious choice to me. I like the form factor and it gets points for that but it isn’t going to set the world alight.
Not wishing to be left behind by all the Silicon Valley new money, TAG introduced its $1,500 high-end smartwatch last year, partnering with Intel and Google (the new money). It looks and feels great, then you turn it on and it runs Android Wear which in itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a cheap thing. Also, the standard watch faces all mimic TAG designs and they could have tried harder, or at least attempted something stylish AND contemporary.
Let’s get one thing clear, I think this smartwatch has an awful name. Now that’s out of the way, it’s only good stuff. Casio are following their own path, rather than multiple models and styles, they offer 4 colours, all with the same tough rubber strap, running Android Wear but with bespoke faces displaying an array of action data. It looks tough and backs that up by playing tough. It's water and shock proof and connects to Casio’s action-camera to operate it remotely. I’d happily add this to my (albeit pretty shoddy) collection.
I fell for this watch the first time I saw a photo. Ironically, I was sat in a secret Apple Watch development room in Cupertino with the Olio on my screen, so a slightly awkward moment!
When most viable competitors are striving to set up and control their own app stores, Olio has taken a different tack. They’ve dismissed the idea of a store, preferring instead to only offer the essentials.
Whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen but Olio expects to sell far fewer watches than its rivals anyway, adopting a more traditional approach to timepiece production. Mine arrives at the end of this month. Until then, I’m sporting an analogue watch. Crazy.
So, is there hope for Dawn of The DumbWatch 3.0? I’ll be talking about ‘Hearables' next time, when the info goes in-ear. But I can’t tell you about that yet…
If you want to fill in any more gaps, all the CES and smartwatch gossip is on The Digital Loop.