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Smart Watches - Fad or The Future?
By Kenny Yeo - on 01 Mar 2013, 4:46pm

The Pebble smart watch has unfulfilled potential, but it needs further refinement and more support from developers.

The current buzzword in tech circles is this - smart watch. It seems that everyday we hear about a new smart watch or that some established tech giants such as Apple or Samsung is looking to make one.

Much of the current excitement around smart watches has to be attributed to Pebble, who, back in April last year, announced via Kickstarter that it would be making an iPhone and Android compatible digital wristwatch. The concept behind the Pebble smart watch captured the imagination of the masses and in just two hours, they managed to secure the US$100,000 funding they required. In the end, Pebble had more than half a million dollars in pledges.

Fast forward to the present day and many of the people who pledged for a Pebble watch have already gotten theirs. However, despite the enthusiasm surrounding the product, many reviews of the Pebble are lukewarm and the general consensus is that the Pebble is promising but needs further refinement. It also has its limitations, quirks and bugs.

This got me thinking, are smart watches really the future or are they just a fad?

Personally, as exciting and tempting the idea of smart watches may sound, I fear that they will fail to take off for the foreseeable future.

In truth, smart watches today do little more than notify you of incoming messages, mails and calls. That’s great if you realize it’s a message or call from someone unimportant, but if it is one that needs your attention, you’d still need to get to your phone. Furthermore, for the watch to receive such notifications, it needs to be within Bluetooth range, which is typically up to 30 meters maximum, and this is in theory.

Of course, some smart watches allow you to control music playback on your phone. That’s nifty, but hardly a killer feature. Besides, if your phone is plugged into a docking speaker, chances are, there’s probably already a remote controller for that.

This leads us to the problem of battery. Reviews of the Pebble smart watch have noted that thanks to the efficient e-paper display, the Pebble can be used for up to three or four days before its battery indicator starts to go off. That sounds good, but having your watch stay connected to your phone via Bluetooth is draining not just for the watch but also for your phone. This is a big problem for a smartphone such as the iPhone 5, which has pretty average or below average battery life. Leaving Bluetooth activated the entire time would almost definitely mean it won’t get through the day without a midday charge or an external battery pack.

I think the current fascination with smart watches has much to do with people being misguided about its capabilities. It seems that people are deluded into thinking that smart watches are some sort of a mini-smartphone and that they can accomplish a multitude of various tasks when, in fact, this cannot be further from the truth.

Presently, smart watches serve as little more than secondary displays since they still require a smartphone to function. By itself, it is mostly helpless and can do little more than display the time. However, that is not to say that they are useless; rather, at the present at least, their capabilities are limited and best suited for only a niche group of users.

This is also why I find it hard to believe that Apple would pursue their own smart watch. A smart watch without the same limitations and restrictions as say the Pebble would definitely wow people and restore some of the glow and luster that Apple has lost, but Apple is a company that seldom release products that aren’t well fleshed and thought out. And looking at the limitations of present day technology, it is hard to see how Apple can release a smart watch that’s significantly better than what’s already out there. If they really are working on one, don't expect to see it any time soon.

The concept of wearable technology is attractive and there’s no doubting the allure of the smart watch concept. But I’m afraid what people really want is a digital wrist computer, not a watch that is merely a remote control or a secondary display telling you who’s calling or sending you a text message on the phone. And unfortunately, technology is still some ways away from giving us that.

Kenny Yeo

Kenny Yeo / Associate Editor

Specifications are not everything. It's what you do with what you have that matters.