Watching Rumors…Predictions for the Future of the Smart Watch

MSN Direct Tissot SPOT Watch.

MSN Direct Tissot SPOT Watch.

The web has circulated a few rumors about possible digital watch initiatives recently. What a great starting point for my blog! I first got involved in the development of smart watches many  years ago but here is my run down of what’s going on at the moment.

First off, we know that Sony has shipped out their best effort to date (http://engt.co/13Jl02g). Samsung is rumored to be building its own watch (http://abcn.ws/12yYeYi), as are Apple and LG (http://bit.ly/17QXNec), and even Microsoft (http://bit.ly/120i8dy).

The Microsoft team that originally created the SPOT Watch back in 1999 laid the foundation for much of the subsequent innovation in smart watch designs. The recent Kickstarter campaign for the Pebble (http://kck.st/11BJkfK) caught everyone by surprise when it showed that there was actually a large consumer market (68,929 backers) willing to spend over $10 million to see the smart watch get where it needed to be. And all this started with the ground breaking 1990 Seiko Message Watch, using the so-called “FM subcarrier” network (Seiko HSDS Whitepaper). For a particularly cool overview of the development of the smart watch, checkout: http://ow.ly/kica6.

What is interesting about the smart watch, though, and what actually makes it smart?

Well, consumers haven’t generally taken to digital watches with all that much zeal. At least, that’s the historical trend. Watches are items of jewelry, first and foremost. People don’t buy them for the technology. Or they haven’t yet.

But the market is saturated with high-end jewelry watches. What’s out there now is high-end mostly in terms of the fine mechanics in the design and the precious stones and metals.

The digital watch is a whole different story.  You see calculator watches, sports watches. With the exception of Suunto GPS high-end watches, you don’t really see much else that is what you would call overly smart. When it comes to the smartness of that watch, nothing that will fit on your wrist will out compute your phone or a phone connected cloud app.

Technology companies love the smart watch, though. It’s thing to watch because your wrist is prime real estate in the technology world. Okay, Google Glass is going for your face. Apple and the Smart Phone industry are vying for your pocket. Nonetheless, everyone wants that spot on your wrist.

What should you expect a smart watch to do, though? What can it do to really stand out when you have your cell phone and iPad or tablet on hand as well?

Obviously, a watch is strapped to your wrist…but what are other similar trends in the wearable computing area? The fitbit, Jawbone Up, Nike Fuel Band, and other wearable computing devices promise to track your every move and translate them to some digital calorie to burn or digital fitness score. This is the world of Digital Wellness. These devices have little to no interface, save one button and some feedback – blinking LED and a vibrator. And they differ in price considerably, based on whether they Bluetooth the data to your phone or plug into a headphone jack.

Should the smart watch be connected via FM Subcarrier, Bluetooth, or wifi? This decision directly impacts size of the battery and how often the device needs to be charged.  How often should the watch be charged? Once a day, once every 3 days, once a week? Is it possible not to charge the watch more than once every month?

Should the device have sensors GPS, accelerometers, humidity – like the exercise bracelets we mentioned? Or if it is connected, why not send the data to the watch, and just track local position?

Should the watch be an mp3 player and have a headphone jack like the Apple iPod shuffles?

What market should the watch focus on? High-end jewelry, extreme sports, technical geek?

A strangely popular trend in Fossil watches in the early 2000 was the dynamically changing LCD see http://bit.ly/13JnUE9. This really set the trend for digital Fossil watches. Not surprising they were first adopters in the Microsoft SPOT watch initiative.  What type of display should it have? High resolution full color or eInk? A few colors, perhaps, or an array of LEDs like the Nike Fuel band? How about touch screen or gesture control?

This is a market ripe for multiple configurations like the iPod, from no interface (Jawbone Up or original iPod shuffle) to the high resolution retina display, with storage in modest flash to massive HDD. The smart watch configurations may differ by connectivity, display, and memory types.

A couple of things are certain. A smart watch has to tell time, it has to fit on the wrist, and it has to be as close to jewelry as possible. People have got to value it. It has to be precious.

Any smart watch we see emerge in the next while is going to need a high resolution display, touch-gesture control, and Bluetooth connectivity to the phone. It’s basically a smart phone accessory; and the best smart watch will have the best set of apps that not only work on the watch, but the paired phone.

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