Pebble Smartwatch. Martian Smartwatch. i’m Watch Smartwatch. Metawatch. Google Glass.

Now enter Samsung Galaxy Gear.

Smartwatches and wearable technology are nothing new. Only with the name “Samsung” attached would a product such as Galaxy Gear make headlines. If Apple releases an anticipated smartwatch it, too, will stir up a lot of buzz. Microsoft hasn’t even mentioned a release for a smartwatch (I don’t think) and it already has hype.

But the truth is, none of these products have made an impact. Why?

  1. None have proven to solve any problems or overcome challenges we don’t already efficiently have the ability to solve or overcome.
  2. The products have not been used by enough people for them to have become of any significant importance.

There is a potential third reason wearable technology has not quickly become popular:

The majority of wearable tech has been made to fit our wrist. 

When it comes to products, user experience means everything. If the user has a positive experience, he or she is more likely to continue using it and recommend it. With regard to wearable technology, I find myself asking, “Why the wrist?”

I find it hard to convince myself that the future of tech lies on my wrist for two reasons.

Limited (and Repetitive) Functionality

Let’s focus on Galaxy Gear. It doesn’t seem like a bad product, and it’s probably not. It doesn’t seem to do anything wrong, and no immediate failures are apparent, according to the first news articles and commentary. But does it do anything new? Like many smartwatch or similar products out there, it reads messages, sends notifications, can show the weather forecast… And so on. It’s exciting, except for the fact we already do all of this on our smartphones.

Put on a watch, and put a smartphone in your pocket. Check the time on your watch while observing your body’s motions. Check the notifications on your phone while observing your body’s motions.

You’ll find your arm and head motions are similar. At least for now, for smartwatches to work at their best, they need information already available on your phone. If the information can already be accessed on the phone, and there’s little differentiation in the amount of effort it takes to consume that information both mentally and physically as compared to checking your watch, <strong>what is the point?</strong>

And remember:

  • Your smartwatch will likely have a much smaller user interface and screen size, resulting in more constrained presentations and the need for uber accurate, extremely sensitive touch or gesture input (until we regularly use and interact with holograms or similar that is).
  • Legible text will need larger point sizes and less visible lines of content.
  • It will take a longer amount of time to scroll a webpage.
  • It takes extra effort to zoom and consume content.
  • Variety in photography quality can make viewing photos a jarring experience
  • Common goals such as arriving at apps may mean extra gestural effort.
  • You only have one hand to accomplish all of this.

Passivity

Matt Buchanan’s article “How Smart Can A Watch Really Be?” in The New Yorker may very well have posed the most interesting suggestion as to the potential failure of smartwatches: wristwatches have always been passive display devices. What this means is users traditionally have not had to make any effort to consume the information they desire from a wristwatch. What traditional wristwatches lack are user input methods and active participation with the device.

It’s the deviating from passive purpose that puts the smartwatch at further risk of failing. Let’s imagine a smartwatch that strictly shows you a long list of textual information at small point size. It may sound annoying and inefficient. But is it? Perhaps you would “scroll” a bit, and maybe zoom slightly. You’re still mostly consuming, not interacting, and that isn’t as frustrating as potentially involving yourself in a full cart of capabilities.

Passive concepts for the wrist work because there is very little need for interaction. I believe smartwatches, or any wearable tech for that matter, will need to shed the concept of tactile input in order to serve a purpose as important as or greater than our already existing smartphones.

Wearable Tech: Will It Be Usable? (And Will It Be Marketable?)

We work with clients every day discussing how to market their brands, their products and their services. We talk about messaging and your brand – remember these questions?

  • Why do you do what you do? What is the mission?
  • Where do you want to be in five years? What’s the goal?
  • What do you want customers to feel about your brand?

Why are the answers to these questions relevant?

We have to define the purpose – the problem being solved – by wearable technology for it to be marketable and commercially successful with a widespread audience.

Unlike many past, failed tech pieces, the smartwatch isn’t worth writing off just yet. It’s a canvas that’s intriguing, at the very least. While watches may be one form of wearable tech, what may prove more important will be the methods of tech integration into vital components of the wearable landscape such as socks, jackets and footwear. We need to venture into the wearable arena that isn’t focused on accessories or novelties.

Perhaps Google Glass is on to something as it focuses on the head and eyes. A piece of technology there makes sense because that is where a lot of our decision making is done. Our head houses our brain and is the primary area for emotional expression and visual recognition. It utilizes all five senses in relatively-close proximity. It makes sense to many people, it offers efficient solutions to problems, and thus it has potential to be more marketable.

The more a smartwatch can infuse itself with the body and the environment, the better the chance it has to prove powerful and beneficial beyond the capabilities of existing technologies on devices found in our pockets. When we can show the benefits of the smartwatch, we will be able to market it, not just to the people watching every little move in the tech industry, but to the general public. Because it’ll be a piece of technology that has a purpose.