On Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning aired my story about the current state of smartwatches.
Truth is, I generally don’t think much of them. I mean, it’s amazing that we can fit a computer into a wristwatch. But right now, it seems like it’s a technology looking for a reason to exist.
The best-known, biggest-name smartwatch so far is Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. It’s a $300 watch that requires you to own a Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet. It must be recharged every night like a phone, it isn’t waterproof, and it looks absolutely enormous on your wrist.
As I wrote in my review a few months ago, the Gear sinks under the weight of a thousand half-baked features. It has a tiny camera on the wristband, so you can get slapped or arrested for taking creepy spy pictures. It has a mike and a speaker, so you can look like a deranged person making phone calls to your hand.
I have yet to see someone in public wearing a Samsung Gear.
So far, the only watches that are even remotely successful are those that do fewer things better, like the Pebble smartwatch. (Here’s my review of that one.) But it, too, reminds you that we’re only at the dawn of the smartwatch era. It has no color, no speaker, no microphone, no touchscreen.
There are some very successful (and popular) wrist electronics available today. But they’re not smartwatches; they’re fitness bands, like the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone UP band. They’re more of a psychology product than technology. Because they track your sleep and your activity, they keep you reminded all day of just what a sedentary slug you are.
I’m guessing, then, that the smartwatches that finally catch on in a big way will be simple, easy-to-use ones with fitness tracking built in. That’s why I’m so excited about the upcoming Samsung Gear Fit, shown here; it tracks your activity and even has a heart-rate monitor built into the underside.
Apple’s rumored iWatch, too, sounds like it will have a strong fitness component, if Apple’s recent hiring spree is any indication.
Anyway, that’s where I think we are: in the earliest days of the smartwatch era. I believe we’ll get there—that the watch will make a comeback. But first we have to figure out which features we actually need on our wrists, and which are just marketing overkill.