Trends come and go with the changing of the wind in the mobile world. One minute, faster processor clock speeds is the only thing on our minds. The next, it's all about how many cores the CPU has. The same can be said for nearly every aspect of a smartphone: displays, image sensors, size, form factor, wireless speeds, etc.
Now that a lot of those aspects have hit some sort of ceiling, companies have to find a way to differentiate their devices from others. Earlier this month, we learned that both Google and Apple (among others, I'm sure) have been directing huge R&D efforts at wearable computing. We don't know what their endgame is (contact lens displays, maybe smart clothing?), but we have a good idea where phase one begins: smart watches.
If Google or Apple were to create advanced devices that strap to the wearer's wrist, neither of them would be the first. Far from it, in fact. Back in 2009, LG debuted a device called the Watch Phone, which was exactly what you would imagine, a cell phone that could be worn on the wrist. But if we look even further into the past, the concept started long ago. You may recall police detective extraordinaire Dick Tracy, who wore a device on his wrist that allowed him to place calls, among other things. These companies are simply taking an existing technology and improving it. Like I said, they won't stop at watches, but it's where this wearable computing trend will inevitably begin – it already has.
Unlike the WIMM One pictured above, which can either pair to an Android device or stand on its own two feet, most companies will only produce wearable devices that act as peripherals for existing technology. It's not that standalone smart watches are a bad idea. I'm sure plenty would love nothing more than to wear their phone on their wrist. But current models just don't offer enough functionality to replace a full-fledged smartphone. Beyond reading some text messages, checking the time or weather and listening to some music, what else can you expect to do with a device that only has a 1.4-inch display? This could change with flexible phones, however.
That said, smart watches aren't a lost cause. Having access to things such as notifications, weather and more from your wrist is all about convenience. You can check text messages and emails without ever having to reach into your pocket. This could be helpful when you're trying to be stealthy about checking your phone, and also when your hands are full. Not only is it convenient, it could help save your phone's battery life. Instead of powering on the smartphone's 4-inch screen every time you think you have a notification, just check your watch. This keeps the smartphone's display turned off, and in turn would theoretically extend battery life. Also, I often miss calls or never feel the vibration from a text notification when my phone is in my pocket. (Who uses ringtones anymore? That's so 2009.) Having notifications buzzing on your wrist would be much harder to miss or ignore.
I'm sure there are some benefits I'm missing, too. With so many companies jumping on the bandwagon, there has to be something more to it. Earlier today, we learned that Casio is also hopping in the smart watch game with the G-SHOCK GB-6900. Motorola has released MOTOACTV, and months ago we saw images of what appeared to be another watch device from them, the Tracy XL. It's also expected that Apple will make something of the popular trend of fitting an iPod Nano to a watch strap and make it communicate with your other iDevices.
Maybe it's just me, but it appears as if 2012 is shaping up to the year of the smart watch, for better or for worse.
When I first saw the Allerta inPulse Smartwatch for BlackBerry in 2009, I was intrigued by the idea. The more I saw these watches with high IQs, though, the less interested I became. Now I'm on the fence about them. I don't really like watches, but I like the idea of potentially better battery life and being able to toss my phone in my backpack instead of carrying in my pocket without running the risk of missing an important call or other notification. But I have to question how a smart watch could possibly handle two different phones and operating systems. Some of these smart watches are compatible with multiple operating systems. If one could also handle a second device, it might be worth checking out.
As always, I'm sure I'll at least take the plunge once a nice (and appropriately priced) model comes out. It never fails. I have no backbone when it comes to technology and new gadgets.
I'm aware that this concept isn't for everyone. Most people will probably never see the usefulness in wearing a smartphone peripheral on their wrist and would prefer just looking at their phone anyway. But for those die-hard geeks, these devices are pretty cool. I'm interested in knowing how many of you out there are intrigued by smart watches. Do you even care for them? Will you eventually buy one? Or do you find them to be useless and overpriced?
Image via GigaOM