With the announcement of the Apple Watch – and not, as some predicted, the ‘iWatch’ – the future of smartwatches seems to be materialising into something tangible. Smartwatches have had a tenuous reception over the past year, with consumer uptake hesitant at best, as people question why they would want what appears to be a smaller, less powerful version of their phone – and not a fashionable one at that.
True to form, the Apple press release announcing the release of the Apple Watch in early 2015 has galvanised an otherwise flagging market. The brand power of the company seems to have convinced investors and consumers alike that a smartwatch is a legitimate investment – whether it’s an Apple product or not. Analysts predict that sales of all smartwatches will increase over the rest of this year, including the rival Samsung Gear and the Moto 360.
Naysayers have argued that the smartwatch, as an awkward intermediary between smartphone and timepiece, has little place or purpose in a world already flooded with enough smart devices to power a supercomputer – but it is likely to make a place for itself. Similar arguments were presented in the face of phablets: phone/tablet hybrids that have since proved exceptionally popular with business individuals and those for whom screen space and multi-tasking are a premium.
The success of smartwatches, and their rate of uptake, is likely to be indicative of the success of smaller smart devices as a whole. Much has been made of the rise of the Internet of Things, which will only come about once the popularity and viability of smaller connected devices becomes apparent. Wearables in themselves are not entirely new: heart-rate monitors and more comprehensive devices like Fitbit have been on the market for some time, but the smartwatch marks a new venture in miniature connectivity, with a two-way connection between devices.
Whilst the future of the smartwatch may seem resolved to be on the up, whether or not it successfully becomes part of our working lives is another matter entirely. In much the same way as phones and tablets have presented an issue for IT security protocols, the increasing variety of devices connected to our networks may prove a hindrance to compliance, consigning them to our personal lives for the time being.
Whether smartwatches ever become as prevalent as the smartphones they connect to is another matter entirely: much like phablets, they may become the reserve of niche users. The necessarily small screen size and limited space seem to inherently limit their functionality, and the relatively bulky designs are contrary to the trend towards ever smaller, slimmer devices. Such limitations seem to suggest that there will never be a day when our phone stays firmly in our pocket, accessed only remotely by the smartwatch – but the conceptual leap from external device to wearable may herald the beginning of a new era of ever more integrated devices.