Sony and Nissan have just launched watches and Apple, although expected by some to launch a smartwatch earlier this week, is still rumoured to have one in the offing.
What ties the watches together is their possession of many of the same functions as a smartphone and the way they are designed to work in tandem with one.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear watch for example, can make voice activated calls and receive calls when users lift the watch to their ear.
Although there is a small touch-screen on the device it can also respond to the user’s voice.
You can access emails and texts, listen to music and take pictures; a camera is contained in a flap.
The benefits are that smartwatches bring a seamlessness and unobtrusiveness to accessing the features of a smartphone, and you can imagine that with your hands free you have greater dexterity.
Indeed, the argument for breaking down physical barriers that get in the way of communication is put forward by designers and fans of wearable technology as its greatest exploit.
Desirability from an aesthetic point of view is a bit of a question mark though. To put it kindly Google Glass and Galaxy Gear were probably not designed with form over function front of mind.
Google Glass of course emerged earlier this year possessing impressive capabilities including mapping, messaging, picture and video before your eyes, within a device which although light and minimal is perhaps a bit of an eyesore.
Nissan’s Nismo smartwatch, which emerged only this week, is designed to be worn when driving and feeds the user car performance data such as average speed and fuel consumption, as well as biometrics including the driver’s heart rate and body temperature.
We know that ‘internet of things’ has been bandied around for some time now, a term which essentially means objects being given increased functionality through connectivity.
There is now an automotive design race to make the best of in car connectivity and the Nismo has been borne out of this.
Sony’s SmartWatch beat its competitors to launch, and the name, but doesn’t have calling functionality, instead marketing itself on discretional qualities, such as showing when you have a call coming in if your phone is in your bag or pocket.
Principally it receives notifications and allows you to download apps and listen to music.
We can see the potential for wearable technology is great, although for now it is at the beginning of a design curve and may take a few product generations to get there.
But can wearable technology, and in particular smartwatches be a viable alternative to the familiar mobile phone format?
Will smartwatches catch on? Experts tell us what they think
‘On the short journey computers have taken from huge vaults processing less than a Casio calculator, to sub-cell-sized super computational devices living inside our bodies, the last stop outside our skin is certainly on our wrists. Here the legacy of the watch makes us feel less self conscious (unlike Google Glass) and provides useful sensor proximity for arteries and body movement, as well as providing easy user operation (with the other hand if you have one, or voice if not, perhaps some iris movement for good measure – we’ll soon find out). I remember when I thought a calculator watch was advanced! In fact I still do.’
Nicolas Roope, co-founder, Poke
‘iWatch is a very openly visible statement to the world that you’re an Apple owner, which may not sit that well with a lot of the Apple faithful. I don’t know if I want the world to know I have an iPhone by having my iWatch on display. I think the opportunities could be seen more in the female “pocketless” market, where women currently have to carry their phones openly in their hands, or miss calls as their phones ring inside their bags. I wonder if Apple could swallow their design pride and partner with fashion designers, such as Stella McCartney, to create smart jewellery that women would actually want to wear.’
Kevin Palmer, co-founder, Kin Design
‘I think the question is perhaps incorrect. Wearable technology probably best epitomises the idea of moving away from individual stand-alone devices, instead to swarms of devices that work together – that work in tandem. The wrist is on one level a natural and obvious location to place certain smartphone capabilities. However, a wrist is still the location for merely at-a-glance interfaces. You don’t spend a lot of time playing with your watch, it is there for a very quick interaction. Whereas I am much more likely to spend a deeper more immersed experience on my smartphone – holding it in my hands I am much more conscious of it being something I want to dive into.So wearable technology should not and will not be a stand–alone device. Google Glass, likewise, will not be an autonomous device. It will be great at providing a shortened fast–track and perhaps more engaging way to deal with information that will have to be available on other devices or services. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch is a good example of the possibilities but also the restrictions of the wrist. It’s a great interface that (communicating with your smartphone) can help navigate to the wider wealth of information and experience from the phone itself. But, a poor quality and hard-to-stabilise camera in the wristband does not replace a smartphone camera or indeed other camera. Wearable technology as a communicating tool with other ubiquitous devices will be its forte. The closeness with the biology of the self will be its heartland. But this will not replace other more autonomous devices.’
Sam Crompton, head of user research, Seymourpowell