I was tempted to go with a clichéd Dick Tracy parable to start this week’s column. I abandoned it halfway as somehow this all-new hot-off-the-machines category is actually nothing like what ‘Dick’ was purportedly using. While there is a smorgasbord of companies entering this new arena, the vision from almost all of them is remarkably different from that ancient wrist strap-on.
The smartwatch (by the way, adding smart before any product name is getting a little dumb now) as conceived by today’s tech labs is more an add-on device that lives and dies by its relation with your smartphone. And therein lies the biggest problem in this new segment. Let’s first take a look at some of the contenders before we dive into whether this will truly transform into a big business to justify the billion dollar bet that is being taken by almost all the tech titans in this world.
Samsung Galaxy Gear
The first true missile launched within the smart-strapper business. Fantastic looks coupled with a smart placement of camera, excellent speaker and microphone use, a nice 1.63-inch Amoled colour screen, you can talk right into the watch itself, 4GB on-board memory, about 90 apps at launch and some nifty features makes this a must-have device. It is marred by the fact that it works only with the Note 3 phone right now, a high price (about `22,000) and a battery life that will force you to recharge a second device every night.
The brand maybe unknown, but it may have the best product and thought process yet. The Kreyos has great ergonomic prowess, good battery life, can be worn as a watch, clipped on or even hung from your neck, works with Android and iOS and even Windows 8 (where’s the BlackBerry version?), costs about half of the Gear and Toq price, is waterproof, has voice control and gesture control, a gyrometer on top of an accelerometer, you can make and receive calls on it and comes with a lot of built-in fitness apps that don’t need a smartphone. The not-so-good is that it’s a little big, has a black-and-white screen and no touchscreen controls.
The been-there-done-that product that truly was the first to fire the imagination of the smartwatch crowd. It’s small, thin, very light, has a pretty good battery life, an E Ink display, is priced well and has quite a cult following (many in India have one). Yet, it’s also the reason many are jaded with this category already as it has no call-making or -receiving capabilities (you can only decline a call), no built-in or standalone apps for fitness. It has almost zero functionality without being paired with a smartphone and has had a shaky start with customer service. A Pebble 2 is rumoured to be around the corner.
Now whether this is a Motorola, a Nexus or an LG collaboration, a Google watch will come. Direct indicators are the fact that they bought out a very promising smartwatch company, WIMM Labs, recently. Again, expect this to be able to do everything the others do, work with Google Glasses as a serious wow factor, add a few more bells and whistles and round it all off with a very aggressive price.
Sony Smartwatch 2
I have no hesitation in calling the first Sony smartwatch a truly unrefined rushed-to-market product. Strangely, the second version seems to have similar issues. While it’s got a great screen, NFC capabilities, photo streaming from phone, some good built-in apps and fitness tracking, it still can’t make or receive calls, looks almost exactly like the previous version (thus big, blocky and square) and is the heaviest of the lot.
More concept than a real product right now, rumours suggest that while the first one will be out by late October, at least three companies will take out their own versions within the next three months. This is again a looker. The big deal is that you can take and make calls on this just like on the Gear, a Mirasol 1.55-inch colour display that is always on and yet will give you about five days of battery life, has Android and iOS versions and wireless charging. Price may be a deterrent (it’s rumoured to be as high as the Gear) as will the fact that it doesn’t seem to have a camera on board.
The iWatch from Apple has been on the rumoured ‘release list’ for more than year. The fact that it is coming seems almost certain as they have created a new ‘wearable division’ within the company and have been poaching people from all the big guys in the business (Nike, Fitbit). This should be a huge leap in looks and technology with maybe a curved screen, Siri commands, fantastic fitness and health integration and a classy no-button design. Apple usually waits it out, lets the others make mistakes and then refines, tweaks and produce a product that is simpler but with more real-world usability.
Wait and watch
So, it seems smartwatches will be swooping in from all directions and while a brand new category is always welcome, this one treads a thin red line. If smartwatches remain just a glorified remote control to your phone, then this whole business model will collapse. A smartwatch will need to carve its own identity, have built-in GPS for true navigation and location services, multiple sensors that track your health above and beyond any fitness tracker, visually log your entire day, look better than any traditional watch to get over the ‘nerd alert’ problem, have a battery life of about 15 days and make sure that the entire world exists on your wrist. Else it will become a geek-and-nerd domain and die a quick death, just like the first digital watches that came in being heralded as the Holy Grail and were soon being sold by street side vendors by the kilo.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, October 6
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