Sunday, September 01, 2013

It is not calls, text and tweet that would make a smartwatch

When I was a kid, I loved wearing watches. My initial fancy was with digital watches. Then I liked the analog quartz watches. Once I got my first smartphone (the Nokia 6600), I stopped using a wristwatch altogether. I still rarely wear a Casio battery less solar watch, when going for a long outing. But I almost always never seem to like wearing anything on my wrist.

Most of the times I find the functionality offered by my wristwatch redundant. Well my current Casio does only the following: Show time, Show data, has stop watch, and I can setup an alarm. All of this I can do it on my smartphone in a much more intuitive way. The only incredibly important thing that my watch offers over a smartphone is the virtually lifelong, never ending battery, oh well it doesn't have one, it uses a supercapacitor instead.

So with all the media interest on the "upcoming smartwatches", it made me think: What exactly can a smartwatch do better than a smartphone?

It can not be calls, text and tweets
I don't see at all how a smartwatch would be more useful by merely offering what a phone already does good: calls, text and tweets. Moreover, I don't think that it is really useful or adds value as a device on its own. The reason why smartphone replaces a PC for most of the tasks is that it incredibly easy to text, call or tweet, or for that matter check email on a smartphone than on a PC. A smartphone can do this with a reasonable screen estate and with some very smart on screen keypads for entering text. This may not work out as much on a smartwatch. An alternative would be to use voice commands, but it would look funny yelling into my watch ... mistaken for characters in Captain Vyom or Space Age Sigma TV serials ;)

Sure you can link up a Bluetooth headset, but then you are wanting to keep two things charged using the battery. That doesn't make it smart, and no you can't yet power this on body heat. I would instead just pick that smartphone from my pocket and speak or text in a much more convenient way.

And so it can not be something like play music, watch YouTube or vine clips, or post Instagram photos. That does not click. Further, I think any of the above is not important when I am on move.

What would be unique applications on the smartwatch?
To me a smartwatch should offer all of the following to be useful:
  • Super light construction, super good battery life. May be some kind of solar charging could be good, but highly unlikely with the current tech. It should ideally be water proof, but water resistance would do.
  • It should display time, date and any upcoming calendar appointment on the home screen (and nothing else)
  • The calendar app (or should I call it waap? - short for watch application ;-) ) should be location aware. I should be able to add location based reminders to the calendar, may be controlled via my paired smartphone.
  • The sensors that watch should have: GPS, Magnetometer, Gyroscope, Body and Atmospheric temperature reader, Pedometer (or a software solution based on GPS), Heart beat monitor, dedicated bar code / QR code scanner, it also needs to be always connected .. to the Internet and probably have a NFC radio.
  • Must have wapps (first party / third party via watch SDK): Weather app (local aware), Health app (body temperature, heart beat rate synced with cloud / smartphone), Voice recorder, Alarm app, Compass App, Show my location, Near by app (like Nokia City Lens), Transit app (like Nokia transit app - controlled by the accompanying smartphone), Travel app (get me a taxi - Uber style, flight status, train ticket status), Apple's Siri like assistant
  • SDK offering ways to extend watch functionality: barcode/QR code scanner for price comparison apps, QR code scanner for contact transfers / sharing, calendar and location based advertising - say 'buy milk' is one of the reminders, the watch will beep you when you are near a supermarket, and indicate the price of it in adjoining shops too... limitless possibilities

So what are 3 things from above that are most important?
  • Super light construction, super good battery life
  • display time, date and any upcoming calendar appointment on the home screen
  • Weather app, Health app, Voice recorder, Compass App, Show my location, Near by app, Transit app
No, I can't cut down further, I would rather (not) use my current watch instead.

The interface part is tricky.
Most of the so called "mockups" I have seen so far (or the UI available on current 'mobile watches') is just dumbed down, scaled down version of a smartphone UI. That simply is not going to work. Some people may claim that Windows Phone UI (the modern / metro UI), would be great on the smartwatch too. But I don't think that is going to work either. Although a refined form of Windows Phone UI may actually work. Here is my 30 minute powerpoint mockup :)

A mockup of smartwatch UI that I would like to see.

Of course to realize this into hardware and software is a task in itself, probably not possible as a single entity.

In any case, Samsung is going to show its smartwatch next week, let us see what they have. And Apple has been rumored long to be developing one, I hope that they have some of the things I mentioned in the post. But I would be quite thrilled if Microsoft and Nokia come up with some elegant solution as well. I would consider myself rather lucky if I get a chance to work with one of the teams doing this work though :)

(Update Mar, 2014: Samsung has indeed released multiple "smart watches", but none of them are actually up to mark, and doesn't seem to solve any real issues)


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