The smartphone wars have been brewing since Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Palm were fighting it out to gain consumer and enterprise market share in the early 2000s. Before that time, it’s arguable that most smartphones were used by enterprise users, and I think devices such as the Samsung Black Jack, BlackBerry Curve and Palm Centro really started to drive mainstream consumer interest. Then the iPhone hit in 2007, consumers realized these devices could be used for so much more than just surfing the web but to also play games, replace MP3 players and more.
Now I think the same war is about to happen, but in the space of the still relatively untapped smartwatch market. They aren’t new, in fact there have already been several so-called “smartwatch” devices on store shelves over the past several years. The difference is that we now have the technology for our watches to be smarter than ever, and the biggest players in technology are getting involved.
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A Samsung executive recently confirmed that his company is working on a smartwatch. Apple’s iWatch has been a rumor for months, maybe even years, now. LG is reportedly working on a smartwatch, and The Financial Times said Google has its own device coming down the pipeline. There are a few issues that need to be addressed to make these devices truly valuable.
I don’t think consumers are particularly interested in just seeing message alerts on their wrist. There needs to be ground-breaking technology that makes a watch truly useful. I imagine scenarios where I can ask the watch to tell me the weather while I’m getting dressed, long before I’ve picked up my smartphone and put it in my pocket. Or what if I could switch songs easily while walking instead of taking out my smartphone? Sure, there are headphones that let you switch tracks now, but I want to find a specific song with my voice.
We can’t use our smartwatches to respond with a custom message yet. But voice support will allow me to say “Hey, I’m on my way to the restaurant now.” Google and Apple already have the technology, and we know it works really well. Siri, Google Search, Google Now could allow Android or iOS-powered smartwatches to take advantage of our voice.
Battery life will also be a major concern; I don’t want to have to charge my watch daily. I can deal with every three days, maybe, but I’d prefer to charge my watch once a week. I also think we need the watches to be rugged. Of all the technology I own, my watch is always the first to scratch or even shatter. We need super strong screens, and thankfully companies such as Corning are already working on the tech required. I’d also like to see the water resistant technology in some devices, such as Sony’s Xperia Z, to be included. I want to be able to do the dishes or walk in the rain without worrying about ruining a watch.
Who will come out the victor?
I’ve been pondering that very question for weeks now. I think Apple has the brand recognition to do really well, and it certainly has the design chops to produce something super desirable. Google and Samsung also have similar brand recognition to pull it off, although Google has been known to produce and launch devices that are more of an experiment than a final product (look at the Nexus Q, for example, and Google Glass has yet to hit the market). LG could make headway in the market, but I think it will need to beat its competitors to the market in order to make a big splash.
The truth is, we really don’t know anything. It’s hard to make any predictions based on rumors and we need to find out just how functional these devices are before we can draw any conclusions. If these smartwatches really aren’t that “smart” then they’re not going to garner any attention. If they do actually deliver on some of the points above, I think we’ll see a brand new industry emerge.
All we know is that there are canons being loaded, and we expect to start seeing some fuses being lit in the next 6-12 months.