Smartwatches: Should they be an accessory or a standalone product?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| September 25, 2013

Smartwatches are becoming a hot topic now more than ever, given the release and success of such products like Pebble's smartwatch, Sony's smartwatch, and now even Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch. More companies are taking interest in the accessory and trying to figure out how to make the perfect smartwatch to be our trusty and wearable smartphone sidekick. However, in a recent interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak for Wired, he brings up the idea that perhaps smartwatches would be better off in the limelight rather than as a sideshow.

So far smartwatches have been seen as being an accessory to smartphones. They're wearable and able to present notifications received on your phone without the bother of having to take your phone out and check it every few minutes. This accessory can also be seen as convenient for people who use their phones as their primary music devices, as it makes it easy to switch between songs, pause and stop music. A simple task like checking notifications and switching tracks does take a considerable amount of added effort with a smartphone than it would with something that's readily available on your wrist. Added the fact that it also tells time (because what's a watch worth if it doesn't tell time?) and syncs with your calendar, the idea of a smartwatch seems like the perfect accessory.

But how would it function as a standalone product? What if we got rid of the smartphone altogether and just used a smartwatch? Although it's just an idea for the moment, I did start to consider whether this could be where mobile technology is headed. My initial thought is that an idea like this could never work, but I've had that thought before and I usually end up being very, very wrong.

I will say I don't think this is how all "smartphones" will be in the future. I feel like it's a very possible product for people who has a preference to one over the other. Just as many people feel they don't need a smartwatch, perhaps there are people who feel that they would prefer to use a smartwatch rather than a smartphone. Maybe they don't text a lot, or maybe they just prefer the security of having their main communication device attached to their wrist. How many times have we set our smartphone down on a counter, a table or the top of our car, only to leave and realize to our horror that all of our precious information could very well be lost forever? Probably wouldn't happen with a smartwatch.

I will say that I think smartwatches will always be limited in how much it can do compared to smartphones; after all, you're optimizing it for one-handed use. In the article, Wozniak describes that he wants "the entire Internet" on his wrist. He goes on to say that smartwatches should have bigger displays, which I question how well a design like that would work. Perhaps a longer flexible display that goes down the length of the arm would be feasible instead of the chunky block design we see today, but even as I sit here and write this article I'm looking at my arm and imagining if I would be able to use a device like that on its own comfortably for extended use.

Smartwatches are still very new and primal, and I have no doubt that they will be a big focus in the mobile tech world from now on. Smartwatches have the potential to be standalone devices, but I have my doubts on just how many people would be willing to completely give up their smartphone in order to use one.

What about you, readers? Would you rather have a smartwatch over a smartphone entirely, or do you think smartwatches work better as an accessory? Let us know your thoughts on the idea in the comments below!

Images via Redmond Pie, T3