The watch's battery life will last the whole day, Cook says, in another revelation that will please potential users, and it won't take as long to charge as an iPhone. He praises Ive again when it comes to watch's "incredible" charger, which will use a special magnet technology which the British designer has created for efficiency as well as beauty... More at The Telegraph.
I read the above article yesterday and the statement about battery life stood out to me. Cook's 'revelation' that the Apple Watch will only need charging once a day will apparently 'please potential users'. Obviously I disagree with the positive spin on that and presumably so will many others.
On 9th March Apple will offer more details about the Apple Watch and supposedly we will be able to buy it in April, but I remain wholeheartedly confused by this entire smart watch business. It makes no sense, it never has and it needs to change in a dramatic way to come close to the success of the phone that it currently relies on to do anything useful.
My experience with watches is considerable and I have been reluctantly dragged into the world of smart watches as well on a professional level. I feel that I am at a point where I can judge what is out there pre-Apple Watch and make a guess as to what the blessed wrist ornament from Cupertino will offer that can change the industry.
I wear the above Seiko dive watch every day and feel attached to it for many different reasons. It is quite beautiful, to me, it is highly accurate and it never needs charging. When I go diving up to 200 metres (I never go diving) it can cope and it also displays the date. That's it.
It does nothing else and does not need to because I only look at it occasionally during the day and if I wake in the middle the night, the loom still shows me the time. It only tells the time, but knowing the time is kind of important and not even knowing it is there the majority of the time means that it has succeeded.
Admittedly I am more of an enthusiast of watches than the average person, but when I read so many words about how Apple is about to change the watch industry for the better, I get just a little annoyed. Those who believe that Jonny Ive is a genius who has created something magical with the Apple Watch do not understand the design magic that is already there. The man who supposedly said that the "Swiss watch industry is fucked" has created a small computer that fits on your wrist, not a design inspiration when compared to what we have now.
Take a look at the IWC Portuguese Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition above. Whether you understand watches or not, it is obvious to me that the Apple Watch does not hold a candle to it in terms of emotion, design or sheer miniaturised complexity. Admittedly this watch retails for $66,800, but there are only 25 of them being made in platinum and you can buy very, very good mechanical watches for less than $10,000, which is apparently what the Edition Apple Watch may retail for.
Ultimately, it makes no sense to compare traditional watches to smart watches because they are completely different things. They each tell the time, but ironically that is such a small part of the equation it really does not matter. In terms of affluence, demographics, fashion and almost everything else, smart watches are not going to replace traditional watches in the foreseeable future purely on the basis that they do not replace what so many people love about mechanical watches already. In fact, they do not replace normal quartz watches either because of the battery baggage that is currently present.
Before I move on to specific types of smart watch, we should consider the times when they will be used. The move towards bigger phones (iPhone 6 Plus, Galaxy Note, LG G3 etc) means that we tend to carry them around in our pockets less and are more likely to have them in our hands. This naturally limits the occasions where it makes sense to look at a notification on your wrist, if that is ever a worthwhile activity anyway, when the phone is already in your hand. The bigger the phone, the less convenient a smart watch becomes- it's bizarre, but true.
The fact that smart watches do not necessarily replace traditional watches is not the biggest problem facing them at this time. Well, I guess that technically it is because for millions and millions of people a watch is something they can rely on which never gets in the way. They don't think about it and they likely see no use case for a device that requires work and which brings interruptions even closer than they were before.
This of course brings me conveniently to Android Wear which I have had extensive experience of recently by way of the LG G Watch R and the Moto 360. I much preferred the LG to the Moto for the build quality and general design, and the fact that the 360 feels very cheaply built and is haphazard at best when it comes to recognising taps and swipes. They both look like watches and are what some would consider fashionable, but ultimately they are using a platform which feels experimental at best.
At this time, Android Wear feels like an early iteration of Android back in the day. It looks nice and is polished visually, but it is awfully cumbersome to use. Notifications and the like pop up which is good and they do make sense, but when you then have to interact with them the experience becomes immediately frustrating and you soon wonder why you didn't bother getting your phone out of your pocket anyway, or in the case of a big phone, why you didn't move your eyes to the right rather than the left.
Add to this the shallow interpretation of what a watch should look like which is followed by the preference to make a round watch. It makes no sense because Android Wear is square and the adjustments that have been made to allow for this have generally been negative. The black bar at the bottom of the 360 and the huge bezel surrounding the LG are perfect evidence of why an Android Wear smart watch should be square and it seems as though that realisation is starting to come through with the Asus Zenwatch and others that are appearing.
Throw in a charge a day and you have the perfect storm of reasons why Android Wear is not fit for purpose at this time, and particularly at the prices the watches are selling for. Android Wear, to me, feels like a rushed project based on a rumour that Apple was making a watch and the complete lack of imagination involved is baffling. It is in effect a watch OS that any of us could have come up with and one which highlights the need to get it to market as quacky as possible rather than in a quality manner.
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.