Remember all the hype about the smartwatch being the next big thing?
Well, Iíve worn my first smartwatch and it is a big thing in only one sense. The Sony Smartwatch 2 is a big ugly thing that no self-respecting person would be seen wearing in public. I wonít leave the house with it on my wrist.
Sonyís Smartwatch 2 is one of only two smartwatches to have gone on sale in New Zealand. The other is the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Both appear to be flops.
Smartwatch, not smart-looking
And thatís not surprising. Both smartwatches are ugly, expensive and next to useless.
You can buy Sonyís Smartwatch 2 for around $350. Samsungís Galaxy Gear is closer to $450.
The devices do nothing on their own. To use the Galaxy Gear you need a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone – thatís another $1000 or thereabouts.
Sonyís Smartwatch is less fussy. It will work with any phone that runs the latest Android version. You can pick these up for as little as $500, but a decent one is still going to cost an extra grand.
Westpac smartwatch app
One thing Sony has going for its smartwatch is that Westpac has developed an app allowing customers to check bank details from their wrist. Itís a good idea, but not enough to get me to fork out the $1200 plus needed for a smartwatch and companion handset.
So far the phones have failed to fire with consumers. There have been none of the ďwe sold a million in 24 hoursĒ press releases from Sony or Samsung.
Iíd be amazed if the two brands manage to sell a million devices between them by the end of the year. The are rumours of warehouses full of unsold, unwanted smartwatches.
Useless, let me count the ways
Why do I say these smartwatches are Ďnext to uselessí? There are three reasons.
First, they have tiny screens. This is at a time when phone makers build devices with ever bigger screens. Big screens are better because they can display more information.
Small, one inch smartwatch screens canít display much more than the time, weather and roughly a tweet or so of text information. You might see an incoming phone text message, a news headline or an email header.
And you have to squint to see even that much. Oddly enough a one inch display at armís length is barely readable.
Second,† thereís nothing else you can do other than read text. You canít respond. The watch is, in effect, just another, smaller, inferior screen. Thatís all.
Third, the watches need to be relatively close to your phone. Thatís right, they need to be near a device which does pretty much everything so much better than a smartwatch can. Thatís almost the textbook definition of redundant.
Samsungís more expensive watch can couple to the phone for voice messages – that is you speak into your wrist as if thatís a good idea. Sonyís watch doesnít do this.
So all up, the first wave of smartwatches is a complete waste of time.
Do smartwatches have a future?
What about the next wave? There have been rumours Apple has a smartphone in the pipeline. My feeling is that any project never got past the drawing board. Apple is far too savvy to create expensive, ugly products that no-one wants or needs.
Other companies have smartwatches. The Pebble has received plenty of attention, but Iíve not seen any in the wild in New Zealand. Come to think of it, Iíve not seen any smartwatches in the wild in New Zealand. The only time I saw one at all was on the wrist of a colleague who was reviewing it.
Does the smartwatch have any kind of future? Thatís a difficult question because itís going to be hard to whip up interest for next generation smartwatches after the abject failure of the current product generation.
My feeling is wrist-based computers become viable when they can work exclusively with voice recognition and spoken responses. Squeezing that technology into a square inch or so of hardware is challenging, but not beyond reach.