Pebble or Stone?

The recently updated Pebble smartwatch is now available, with this article from The Verge providing some images of the new offering, along with details of the release.

Admittedly I have not followed in any great detail the smartwatch market as I have no interest in purchasing such a device – not with what is currently available anyway.

Design them differently

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

If Pebble, or any “smartwatch” maker, wants to succeed in the real world, they need to make watches that look good compared to any watch, not just “looks good compared to other even uglier smartwatches”.

While I mostly agree with the above comment, I can’t help but feel there is also a missed opportunity in this particular market. Do we really need to make a wearable piece of technology appear more like a “classic” watch? I’d argue we should acknowledge a classic watch is just that, and a smartwatch is…well, just not. For a very long time now we have had specific “sports” watches and more “classic” dress watches – why try and squeeze a smartwatch into one of these categories when it is an entirely different device altogether?

I am suggesting the entire approach to smartwatch design is heading in the wrong direction. Manufacturers should be making wrist wearable technology that looks nothing like a watch, for continuing to do so simply provides consumers with what ultimately looks like a tacky watch, as is the case with the Pebble. Tech sites suggesting the newer Pebble now brings some sort of “class” or “style” to the smartwatch, are tech blogs and not style blogs for a reason.

What then, should they look like? Not what they are today that’s for sure – a more space age looking band is preferable to the current designs. Perhaps something along the lines of that designed by Wired (albeit with a better looking band).

Further to this, if we accept these smartwatches are not, and will not, ever be in the same class as the classics (a quick look at any of the Pebble Steel images will certainly convince you of this), there is huge potential to develop a market where people will wear both – acknowledging they do indeed love their IWC Portofino Chronograph as much as their Pebble or Gear or iThing should it ever come along. Again, design and overall philosophy is the key, as those purveyors of style at Esquire suggest wearing two watches at once is definitively a no no.

My suggestion? A watch on the left and a smart insert product name here on the right. Or vice versa.

Why do I need another device?

I acknowledge many people buy the latest in tech already, with yearly upgrades in phones and tablets (of whichever maker and operating system they choose), however remember we are talking about an entirely new category here. Smartphones are entrenched in our lives and at the current time just about everyone has one, so an upgrade is (presumably) a better version of what you previously had. Adding a smartwatch has to provide something that was missing from the user experience along with seamless integration into how your current devices are used – it cannot replace anything you currently have.

While drafting this post, I came across a similar sentiment from Shawn Blanc:

Is it really that much faster and easier and more convenient to use the little buttons on your watch? I could be wrong here, but if the Pebble needs a smartphone to work (the apps can’t get their data without using the connected phone’s network signal) then what is the advantage of navigating a miniature version of the app on your wrist?

Perhaps there is an argument for portability, however as Shawn notes above, a phone remains essential in any event, which is entirely my point. The watch cannot replace the phone, so there needs to be a very compelling reason for many people to add another gadget into the mix – particularly one smaller and more fiddly than the last.

What’s that commotion I hear in the background? Oh, that’s right, the multitude of calls for Apple to release a phone with a larger screen to remain relevant in today’s market.

The point I am trying to make here is that if we really need to create products for a new market segment, then create them. Don’t try and squeeze something into what we currently have (remember when smart appliances were the next big thing), otherwise all we end up with is another internet connected refrigerator.

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