Lots of people have lots of theories about why the AppleWatch (and, you know, Android Wear devices as well) need to be tethered to a smartphone instead of being stand-alone (that last link doesn’t go to the specific item because as far as I can tell daring fireball doesn’t have item-specific permalinks. Which is crazy in anno domini 2014. Anyway, it’s the 9/25/2014 entry).
Guys: you were going to bring your phone anyway.
Seriously, where does this fantasy come from that you were ever going to live without your smartphone? Do you use a featurephone today? If not, why did you think you were suddenly going to be cool with the idea that your only screen would be even smaller than the screen I had in 2004? What’s the play here? Suddenly we don’t want to browse the web or use any app that requires a decent screen or interactivity? It’s kind of funny, because all available evidence suggests that we really, really, really want those things.
And incidentally, you might want to make some actual phone calls. I know, I know, you’re all post-ironically 21st Century and you like to tell people that the phone part of your smartphone is the least important part of your phone in exactly the same tone of voice that you used to tell people that you don’t even have a TV. But actually, even if you only get a phone call once every few days, real people need to be potentially reachable by phone even if that potentiality only becomes actual fairly rarely.
The idea that Apple and the various Android manufacturers should sacrifice a huge amount of battery and space for a cell antenna and accompanying chips in order to obviate the smartphone that 99% of smartWatch wearers are going to have with them 99% of the time anyway is insane. It’s a testament to the fact that people still don’t really know what the hell they want from a smartwatch. It’s much of the same piece with people complaining about charging the watch every night, when, seriously, how hard is it to take the thing off and put it on its charging stand on the nightstand versus taking the thing off and putting it on the nightstand?
But traditional watches don’t need to be charged nightly and don’t need to be used with a phone, and people don’t know what to think about smartwatches, so they just take the traditional watch expectations and roll forward with that.
And that’s why I’m ultimately pessimistic about smartwatches — nobody seems to know what the hell they’re going to do with them yet.
Lots of people will tell me that this is just a failure of imagination for me: that nobody knew what to do with smartphones when they first came out, and nobody knew what to do with computers when they first came out, and pretty soon smartwatches will seem as indispensable as smartphones and computers do. But that’s wrong, for two reasons:
- People did actually know what to do with smartphones when they came out. Browse the web. Which is mostly what they do with them now. And people did know what to do with personal computers when they cam out — word processing — which is indeed mostly what they did with them for more than 10 years.
- Even if the use cases for PCs and smartphones were more confused when they came out, looking just at those is survivorship bias. There were plenty of cases of novel technology that didn’t really clearly make people’s lives better that promptly died, many more than the few success stories. Smartwatches may be more like the kinect, the minidisc, webTV, the jetpack, or the flying car than like the PC or smartphone.
I hope smartwatches succeed, or perhaps that some future smartglasses does. I hope that the current watches are more like the smartphones pre-iPhone (or at the cusp of iPhone) than they are like the insane propellor-driver train. But I haven’t seen much sign of it yet. I suspect that we won’t really see a successful smartwatch until they’re a lot less like watches and a lot more like computers that you happen to wear on your wrist.