Are Smartwatches the Next Big Thing in Mobile Technology?
There is no end in sight to the Smartphone Wars as upstarts like Mozilla, Jolla and Ubuntu Mobile have decided to challenge the dominance of Apple and Android in the coming months. And why not? The smartphone has become a universal device after gobbling up the functions of many gadgets, including the calculator, MP4 player, and your trusty wristwatch. The latter, however, is not likely to become obsolete. Aside from its main function, which is to show time, the wristwatch is a timeless accessory for both men and women. It also has the potential to absorb some of the functions of a smartphone.
Move over, Dick Tracy
It has been more than 67 years since American cartoonist Chester Gould introduced the two-way-wrist radio, a fictional smartwatch, in his popular detective comic strip Dick Tracy. But it was not until the 1980s that watchmakers like Casio and Seiko seriously explored wrist computing technology. The former introduced its calculator and data bank watches while the latter released several watch models that could be connected to personal computers. During the 1990s and 2000s, there were a number of unsuccessful attempts to develop wrist computing, notably the WatchPad from IBM, which ran Linux, and the Fossil Wrist PDA, which ran the Palm OS. After several years of stagnation, it seems that manufacturers are breathing new life into the smartwatch industry.
The latest generation of smartwatches may not replace your mobile personal or business phone, but they do provide you with many useful functions. LG was one of the first manufacturers to develop a smartwatch that allows users to make audio and video calls. The LG GD910, which was introduced in 2009, had a capacitive touchscreen with a lucent display mounted on a water-resistant stainless steel case. The interface was pretty straightforward, and it satisfies the basic watch and phone functions.
Like all smartwatches with SMS capabilities, texting is challenging due to the relatively small screen. While it had a speakerphone, you’ll want to use a Bluetooth headset for privacy. You also get a calendar, media player, and memo pad; but only 80MB of integrated memory. With a price tag of $800, the GD910 could have been a whole lot smarter.
Fashion fad or technological trend?
With the GD910 and its contemporary, the Samsung 9110, failing to seriously impress, Italian manufacturer i’m SpA proclaimed its I’m Watch as the “world’s first real smartwatch.” Available in several different colors, shapes and materials, the i’m Watch (price starts at $449) scores high in style and backs up its good looks with solid Android applications that allow you to manage appointments, play music, receive email and connect with people via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and SMS. While it has decent memory (4GB of built-in storage), its poor battery life is a drag. You also need a Bluetooth tethering smartphone plan to get data.
Cheaper alternatives include Pebble ($150), which connects with iPhones or Android phones to show incoming calls, emails and social network applications; MetaWatch ($179), which allows you to customize its LCD display with widgets; and the Android-powered Sony SmartWatch ($150). If you have a sixth-generation iPod Nano, you can easily turn it into a smartwatch sans the calls by getting one of the many different wrist strap accessories available.
Speaking of Apple, rumor has it that the California-based company has been developing wrist-wearable devices that use curved glass, run on iOS, and have several smartphone functions. But it’s not likely that Apple will introduce a true smartwatch if it does not feel that it can come up with something that will dominate or at least give the competition a run for its money. The Steve Jobs-era Apple set the standard with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. This time around, it remains to be seen whether the company can shock the world again with a truly revolutionary computing watch. As it is now, the smartwatch is a luxury rather than a necessity. It can be pretty useful, but it’s not for all of us.