The wrist is the next frontier for technology companies. I believe this because I wear a FitBit activity tracker on my wrist; when I tap it, I am rewarded by tiny lights that blink for about two seconds, telling me how many steps I’ve walked today. While I need at least one minute to pull out my iPhone, type in my password, and open an app, I need barely three seconds to tap my FitBit and get a delightful, satisfying morsel of data.
Imagine, then, the seductive power of Apple (AAPL)’s much-rumored iWatch, which is expected to deliver not only blinking lights but also emoticons, photos, ringtones, tweets, and status updates. If you think the 140-character constraint of Twitter prodded us to be more creative, think of a future in which your watch supersedes your phone and delivers what you want in less than three seconds.
Apple is not the only company working to decode the smartwatch; several devices have already been released, including the Pebble, the Casio (6952:JP) G-Shock, and Samsung’s (005930:KS ) Galaxy Gear. Generally they connect to your phone via Bluetooth and alert you when you’ve received an e-mail, text message, or Facebook (FB) post. Some can play music, tell you who’s calling, and let you take the call on speaker. The Galaxy Gear also enables some popular third-party apps that include RunKeeper, for tracking your jogs, and Vivino, which lets you photograph a label on a bottle of wine and see its rating.
The reviews have been mediocre, at best. “Nobody will buy this watch, and nobody should,” the New York Times‘ David Pogue wrote of the Galaxy Gear. Business Insider called it “the latest example of Samsung’s failure to truly innovate.”
Naturally, all eyes are focused on Apple, which has trademarked “iWatch” in several countries and is rumored to have ateam of 100 people working on the project. Analysts believe the iWatch will be introduced sometime next year. Reports say it will run full iOS, and Apple is aiming for a four- to five-day battery life.
Any smartwatch maker needs to overcome a number of difficulties. For many tasks, a watch will be undeniably inferior to a phone. We won’t use it to write or read e-mails. Many Facebook posts will be too long to read on a watch-sized screen. Private phone calls will require some sort of attachment; consumers won’t want to use a speakerphone in public places. The device probably won’t be waterproof, so we’ll have to protect it from the rain and remove it before showering. And it’s yet another device that consumers have to keep charged.
Hannah Steiman Clark is an associate at Innosight.