The Smartwatch Is Not a Watch

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Now that rumors suggest Google and LG are both planning on jumping into the smart watch war to compete with Samsung and Apple it's time to stop thinking of this thing as a time-telling piece. Yes, these gadgets will go around people's wrists and probably display the time. But that will not be the main function. So, let's stop talking about these things and their possible popularity in the context of how the watch market in general has gone south since the advent of smartphones. It's not helpful to note that "people have stopped wearing watches about five years ago when they started using their smartphones," as Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates said on CNBC. "Unless it's a piece of jewelry, most people would just rather use their phones now," he added. It is very true that wrist-watch sales have declined in the age of the cell phone. But that's an unfair metric of success for the smart watch because its main function so completely differs from that of a Rolex. 

In fact, putting "smart" in front of a word almost guarantees that it doesn't retain much of its original meaning. Take "smartphones" for example: they have a voice calling component, but that is not why they are so insanely popular. If that were the case, wouldn't everyone have stuck with dumbphones. In fact, most of our smartphone activities have nothing to do with calling. If these smartwatch makers get it right, watches will be so far advanced people will want to buy the smart kind over their dumber brethren because they have more to offer. 

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Though, at this point, it's hard to think of these gadgets as too smart either. They not only have to improve upon the traditional watch, but they also have to outsmart the smartphone—or else: what's the point? Pebble, the Kickstarter success story, which just released its product this January has not quite gotten to that point. As this Verge video review shows, the watch doesn't do much that either a phone or watch can't. It connects up to apps and shows text messages and emails, making it slightly easier to see these things than pulling out a phone. That is it. 

That's not to say that these wearable wrist-computers don't have "smart" potential, it's just unclear where it lies. The Nike Fuelband and its ilk, for example, have proven that a connection to one's body has benefits for a "smart" exercise band. How will Google, Apple, Samsung, or LG expand upon that? As of right now, the rumorers haven't said anything beyond what's already out there besides pointing to possible design features, such as a flexible, slap-wrist type display. There are also whispers of an antenna for making phone calls, Dick Tracy-style, which just brings us back to the phone part of a smartphone that nobody uses much anymore. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.