One smartwatch to rule them all?

Despite a selection of smartwatches available from brands like LG, Motorola and Sony, the Android Wear market has been slow to start. Each smartwatch has its strong points and weaknesses, but we have yet to see one that can combine the merits of all the watches. So, there’s great anticipation for the Apple Watch release this April to see if it will be the smartwatch to rule them all. Apple Watch orders are already pegged around 5 or 6 million, whereas Android Wear only sold 720,000 devices in 2014. But the Apple versus Android battle aside, companies like Pebble and Swatch are also creating smartwatches with their own strong qualities. There are three hotly debated issues regarding smartwatches: design, interface, utility.

Traditionally, watches have been a symbol of fashion and luxury, constructed from the finest materials and designed for beauty and function. Smartwatches are first and foremost wearable tech, but the value of fashion still remains. Is a circular or a rectangular face more fashionable? Circular screens have a classic look, while rectangular screens have more of a tech look. Smartwatches’ bands are also of great concern, as people weigh whether leather, metal or plastic bands are more fashionable. The ease of swapping watch bands is very important too. For example, Motorola’s Moto 360, which had led Android Wear sales, has been criticized for its steel band, which “takes away from the overall look of the watch” according to Android Central. The Apple Watch will play into users’ fashion needs, offering the two watch face sizes (35mm and 42mm), six different watch bands (easily detached and swapped) and three different body materials (including an 18-karat gold body).

Smartwatches have a lot of potential, but we must remember that they are accessories for our mobile phones –for now, at least. Smartwatches are supposed to make the activities we use our mobiles for more convenient and immediate. The nature of the watch’s small screen poses challenges in translating the functions we use on our mobile devices to a smaller watch interface that feels natural and easy to use. In order for smartwatches to gain popularity, the apps we love on our mobile devices must be redesigned for the smart watch screen. PC world thinks the Android Wear interface is “difficult to learn,” which creates a bad user experience. There is also some worry with the number of apps available for smartwatches, with the Wall Street Journal saying there is a “dearth of apps” for Android Wear. Apple is trying to tackle this issue, having already released a software development kit in hopes that developers will have their apps ready and available upon Apple Watch’s launch.

Finally, people need smartwatches to be useful –to make their lives easier. People wear their watches all day long, so a huge issue for smartwatches is battery life. It would be pretty inconvenient to have to take off your watch and charge it several times a day. Most smartwatches have a battery life of one day or less (for average use). Two pack leaders are Sony’s Smartwatch 3, which holds a charge of about 48 hours and the Pebble Watch which boasts a battery life of one week. Streamlined and easy charging methods are highly important too, with Samsung’s smartwatches criticized for their cumbersome charging cradle.

Heart rate monitoring is a feature that people are really excited about. For the health conscious, the smartwatch poses a convenient way to monitor workout habits, track calories burned or map miles ran. Sony’s Smartwatch 3 is the only smartwatch with standalone GPS and music streaming, so users don’t have to lug their mobile phone with them if they want to go on a run, listen to music and track their miles. But, ironically, the Smartwatch 3 doesn’t have a heart rate monitor. Even the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor, which uses infrared and LED technology (which is supposed to be superior to other smartwatches’ optical heart rate monitors), has fallen under criticism from Quartz, where its design “in total may be closer to what’s already on the market.” In addition, the Apple Watch will not be able to measure blood pressure, heart activity or stress levels, which are popular features among other smartwatches.

While we are still waiting for the smartwatch that is the perfect blend of fashion and functionality, there is a bright future for smartwatches. Perhaps the Apple Watch can combine the features that will make smartwatches an item that people can’t live without, or maybe it will be another watchmaker that does it. But in order to make smartwatches largely successful, companies must make a device that serves a utility beyond translating a mobile phone into a watch.

This article was written by Nikki Dance, PR & Marketing Executive on February 18, 2015.

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