Thoughts On Smartwatches

I used my first smartwatch in 2008, reviewing the Sony MBW-150 (made by Fossil). It was a simple watch, essentially a ‘normal’ watch with a small LCD display embedded in the face, which would scroll various messages from my smartphone. My second smartwatch, the Pebble, was bought years later, in December 2013. I also had the chance to use the LG G Watch, running Android Wear, for a few weeks, including a trip to Las Vegas for CTIA.

During the trip to CTIA’s Super Mobility Week, lots of things changed in the smartwatch industry. For one, the much-anticipated Moto 360 became available – it’s the first round smartwatch. Additionally, Apple finally announced the iWatch – officially called the Apple Watch, to much fanfare. Even better, at CTIA I had the chance to see my friend Myriam Joire, chief evangelist at Pebble, present at an event hosted by Wearable World.

The Pebble

Pebble Smartwatch

Having used my Pebble for nearly a year, I’ve had a chance to incorporate it into my workflow in a real way. I use it as a filter between me and my phone, primarily. I’ve set it up to get minimal notifications, basically just calls, SMS, and email (work and personal). I also have a few apps on it, such as Evernote, Spoon (for checking in via Foursquare/Swarm), MusicBoss (a music remote control) and XBMC Remote (to control my HTPC). I also built a custom watchface that shows me the time, date, weather, my next meeting/appointment, and the battery of both my phone and my watch.

The Pebble serves a great purpose for me – reducing the number of times I need to look at my phone. The side benefit to this is that I’m less likely to get ‘lost’ in my phone, unlocking it to see the time and inevitably ending up on Twitter or Google Plus. I saw a tweet last week that compared the Pebble to the Kindle, and Android Wear/Apple Watch to the iPad. Both solve similar needs in different ways, and both have a very solid place in the market. I also know several people who own both. I definitely don’t believe that Pebble is D.O.A.

The LG G Watch (and Android Wear)

LG G Watch

Using the LG G Watch for a few weeks was interesting. I’m a pretty heavy user of Google Now, so I expected to get lots of use from Android Wear. I was disappointed, mostly in the interface. I may end up going into it in more depth in a future blog post, but essentially, it’s Google Now on your wrist, with all the benefits and pitfalls. For instance, you don’t really use ‘apps’ – you’re more supposed to ‘command’ apps using the microphone. Also, once you dismiss a notification on your watch, it’s dismissed on your phone, which can be disconcerting.

I did finally get comfortable experimenting with the voice commands on Android Wear, and can easily see how they’d be useful. I’d love to see the next Pebble hardware include a microphone and the ability to launch your smartphone’s voice service (Google Now, Siri, or Cortana).

Apple Watch

Apple Watch

I was, quite frankly, unimpressed with the actual design. For starters, I fully expected it to be round, not square. I don’t really have any other comments, quite frankly, because I’m not even slightly in the market for anything Apple sells. Apple didn’t really give many details, either, to be frank. They focused on the hardware features, and didn’t delve much into the software. You can view a recap of the announcement here.

Industry Predictions

I believe that we’re in a very key window for the wearables industry. In the next 6 months, we will get a solid idea as to how the industry will go for the three primary players. Here’s the breakdown:

1. Pebble – they’re in an amazing situation. Being cross-platform, Pebble is in the best position to really leap ahead this holiday season. They also have the benefit of retail presence, being sold in Best Buy, Target, AT&T stores, and a host of others. Pebble is also the only iPhone-compatible smartwatch on the market, and a whole bunch of Apple fanbois just got introduced to the ‘smartwatch’ concept. Since the Apple Watch isn’t launching until well after the holiday shopping period, the Pebble is an awesome add-on sale to all those new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices being sold in the coming months. Pebble will need to lean hard into their retail partners, particularly AT&T and Best Buy, to make this association with consumers.

An additional advantage to Pebble is in their pricing. Whereas Android Wear starts at $179, and the entry point for the Apple Watch is going to be $349, Pebble is the entry point for the industry. The original Pebble is often ‘on sale’ for $129, and being nearly 2 years old, I’d fully expect them to drop to $99 this holiday season, at least in some retail locations. Being under $100 makes the Pebble an impulse buy, especially around the holidays. UPDATE: Looks like I was right

The biggest hurdle for Pebble is going to be convincing consumers that they don’t need a color touchscreen. Week-long battery life will help here, but it’s not going to be easy. Pebble could also use a HUGE influx of software improvements. UPDATE 9/30/14 – software improvements such as background fitness tracking.

2. Android Wear – Gaining retail availability in time for the holidays is going to be key. The challenge with Android Wear is that it takes ~1 week of active wear/use to really see the benefit. The pricing is nice, from $179 – $249+, so they’ll also be positioned as easy add-on devices to new phone sales this holiday. The numerous styles/sizes will also continue to push Android Wear to the forefront, along with planned software updates from Google.

3. Apple Watch – Given this isn’t expected until ‘early 2015’ and at a starting price point of $349 for the ‘sport’ edition, Apple is starting slightly behind. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s never underestimate Apple’s ability to sell ice to eskimos, much less watches to consumers. Apple deliberately shared precious little about their watch during the announcement. They basically revealed the hardware and some of the more ‘basic’ functions. Expect them to reveal additional bits at opportune times throughout the rest of the year and into next year, as a way to own the conversation and steal attention from competitors.

What do you think?

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