The darling of the tech watch industry and with good reason has just announced the Pebble Time. It follows the Pebble / Pebble Steel and is an iteration on what came before, but that is not a bad thing because up until this point the software and hardware have worked well together.
Pebble understands the need to measure battery life in days rather than hours, and also realises the limitations of the smart watch form. Notifications, time and limited apps work well on a smart watch and that is really all you need. If you can bundle step tracking and decent battery performance in a good looking form, you are getting close to cracking the conundrum that is the smart watch.
I have been wearing a Pebble Steel for a few days as part of a project and must admit that I have grown fond of it. Unlike the plastic Pebble, which is a bit of a monstrosity in terms of aesthetics, it feels well made and is different enough to not stand out as a smart watch. That sounds backwards, but it kind of makes sense because at no point would most people see what is on my wrist as a smart watch. It looks like a throwback from the 1970's which is rarely a bad thing when it comes to watches. For all of the horrible clothes, beige furniture and ridiculous hairstyles, the 1970's threw up some incredibly great watch designs which still survive to this day.
In my experience, the Pebble watches are very usable, offer some benefits and get out of the way when you need them to, but there remains the problem that for most people, the need for one is not there. I admit that there have been occasions when simply being able to look down at my wrist to check an incoming notification has been useful, but it has never been something that was necessary. It still feels more like novelty than necessity to me.
The Apple Watch
It is possible that Apple has created a watch that makes the daily charing worthwhile. It is possible that the experience will be as mind blowing as the first iPhone was compared to other smartphones of the period. And it is likely that it will sell in the millions.
If the experience is truly great and it lifts the smart watch industry to a whole new level I am more than prepared to eat my words and enjoy the experience. It would be fantastic if Apple has created something that makes me look at my normal watches, 31 of them at the last count, and think that they are not useful enough in comparison.
I want the Apple Watch to change my mind and to help me through a busy day, but the battery issue remains at the forefront of my mind. My experience with iPhones has been that they never get me through one day, apart from the 6 Plus which just manages. Apple's battery predictions have not come close to reality for me in the past and I am concerned that I could be wearing a device that by 2pm is out of power and that all of the hassle comes straight back to haunt me.
The Apple Watch looks way better than any Android Wear device to me and will likely offer a more positively emotional experience than the Pebbles, and Apple has been careful to limit what it can do which is a good thing. The company always takes time to understand what works well within a specific form and I trust the designers to only give me what will work, but as someone who wears a watch 24 hours a day, I will likely be swapping the Apple Watch over at night for it to charge.
The need to remove a watch from my wrist to give it enough power has to be justified by the benefits it offers. I can easily do that with my iPhone because the benefits are huge and I do not have it attached to me all of the time, but the perceived hassle increases exponentially with a watch. For those of us who have worn watches for many years, the idea of removing it to give it some power feels completely alien and it is of course one of the biggest hurdles for Apple and anyone else entering this industry.
In time we will see smart watches that work perfectly using solar power or some kind of kinetic movement, but that will not happen in the near future. Watches have only required enough power to keep the hands moving or the time synchronised atomically and there has not been a requirement for more. This has led to stagnation within the watch industry in terms of power, which is understandable, and so Apple and the like have to take on the challenge of offering more functionality in a small space and keeping it powered over long periods.
The smart watch market is perfectly poised for Apple. The current crop feel like computers and are, on the whole, poorly designed in terms of hardware and software. It is the smartphone industry in 2007 all over again and you and I know that only Apple can lift it to new heights. That is not being fanboy-ish, that is merely looking at what has come before and expecting history to repeat itself. The others will scurry around to 'coincidentally' change the way their smart watch software works and masses will gradually start to become aware of these new wrist-based tools.
Whether you like Apple or not, the smart watch industry is not going to move forward outside of niche circles until something special comes along, and that could happen on 9th March. There are people like me, however, who remain to be convinced by the entire concept, but I am more than willing to give it a damn good try.