Mobile // Mobile Devices
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9/5/2013
06:27 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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10 Smartwatch Features We Want

Smartwatches so far don't seem that bright. We propose 10 ways to make them indispensable.

5. It's a human body interface.
A smartwatch on a wrist that fails to provide ways to assess the wearer's physical condition is no better than a wrist-mounted smartphone. Being in constant contact with a human body presents an opportunity to collect physiological data and convey information, kinetically, thermally or electronically, once human-machine interfaces improve. It's an opportunity that shouldn't be wasted.

6. It includes a cellular radio, or at least Bluetooth LE.
Devices matter more when they can connect to a network without an intermediary. Accessory devices, those that depend on smartphones for network access, have their place, but they're far less interesting. Our radio band should also be able to communicate directly with other devices of its ilk, to exchange contact information automatically when two people wearing radio bands shake hands, for example.

7. It's programmable, but not necessarily for apps.
Our radio band will be much more useful if developers can create software and services for it. These services probably won't look like apps that run on mobile devices, like games. The absence of a screen would preclude that. Rather, the device's services should work like IFTTT and Unix cron jobs: They should act periodically or when certain conditions are met. They'd be closer to Google Glassware than traditional apps.

8. It supports a broad range of input forms.
Of course our radio band should accommodate audio input and output. But it really ought to respond to touch and movements, not to mention other sensor data, to trigger events and applications. Most modern smartphones support accelerometer input, but usually this input is handled within apps. A better approach, and one that's starting to become more common among app developers, is to tie the accelerometer to a specific app or function, so it can communicate with the app without requiring the device to be unlocked or the relevant app to be active.

9. It can be locked and it responds to being severed.
One reason to have a device bound to your wrist is to keep from losing it. Another reason is for personal protection. There are several obvious applications for a wrist-bound device that would work better if the device were difficult to remove (personal tracking, reporting from insecure areas or self-defense) and if it could transmit data (location images and audio) upon being cut or unlocked.

10. It's affordable.
The bill of materials for an iPhone 5 starts at about $200. The display screen accounts for about a quarter of that cost. At $99 or below, radio bands would shift from being occasional purchases by gadget addicts and metrics-obsessed athletes to mass-market tools for a broad set of uses. The Samsung Gear is just too much at $299.

Smartwatches need to evolve. The sooner we stop thinking about them as watches and start thinking about them as wearable computers, the more likely we are to find meaningful uses for them.

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Becca L
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Becca L,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2013 | 10:58:04 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
I do like your list. Prior to reading it I really did think smartwatches would fizzle out in the blink of an eye, but now I'm not so sure. Medical sensor applications could really be the selling point here.

This reminds me of some kid spy movie - never saw it but I remember from the commercials - a girl has a crafty watch that can do just about anything a kid spy would need to save the world. As they're falling down a big hole - falling - falling -falling - the boy turns to the girl and asks how long it's been. She says, "I don't know, my watch doesn't tell time"
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2013 | 8:55:22 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
I would argue that a smartphone is more about the phone than anything else. Why else would people put up with $70+ mobile subscription fees if not for telephony? You can get a WiFi-capable iPod touch if you just want the computing aspect of a smartphone and it will cost a lot less.
Faye Kane, homeless brain
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Faye Kane, homeless brain,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2013 | 11:50:01 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
==-
Typical sales disaster that the computer people are blind to because they're all excited by techno gimmicks: a "smart" watch that does stuff nobody needs and doesn't tell you what time it is. I guess I have to wear a "stupid" watch on my other wrist.

It reminds me of the Metro interface. When will designers start thinking from the user's point of view instead of their own?

This WOULD sell:
Make one with a teeny little mass spectrometer. It analyzes your sweat and changes the watch face to yellow when you're sexually aroused. And red when you're very aroused.

You'd only need to make the women's style because it would always show infrared color on men. I wouldn't need one for the same reason.

When the price drops to $3 like everything else with a computer in it, hand them out to girls at the door of the bar and give them a free drink if they wear it.

-faye kane GÖÇ girl brain
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
9/7/2013 | 12:40:33 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
#3 is interesting and I wonder how well that patent will pan out as there is plenty of prior art. And the idea is not new either, it is used on high end mechanical watches for quite some time.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
9/6/2013 | 9:00:10 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
I like this list. And I wouldn't underestimate the number of time related applications that might be found on a watch with smarts. It's not only about knowing where the hour hand is. Given my present location, how much longer to my destination, given present traffic conditions? Push a (soft) button and find out. Time plus GPS is a powerful combination. It would be a small screen surface, unless the smart watch had two wings that could fold out to triple the screen size. Users might laboriously input data, such as "airport" on a destination list, with a stylus and small keyboard, then work from list selection while on the go.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
9/6/2013 | 8:44:02 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
My bet is that after the laughter dies down about why we don't need a 4th screen (desktop, tablet, smartphone, smart watch) the smart watch will quickly surprise us by becoming a watching device, not a watch, that serves as a uber sensor, keeping track of our health, our interactions with other sensors, and who knows what else. Look at the investor interest of companies like Sensoria sensor-filled socks that track your activity, stride, speed, distance, calories and most importantly how your foot lands on the ground. Clearly, the watch is just the beginning of the next wave of sensor mania.
ditto1224
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ditto1224,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/6/2013 | 7:14:29 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
While you raise some interesting points, i find it even more interesting that you take issue with the term "Smart Watch" because telling time is not the primary function you would buy this for. You couldn't be more wrong in this perspective and your analogy of the laptop completely misses the point. The concept of a smart watch requiring the main feature to be the time component is like a Smart Phone serving more as a phone than anything else (while anyone who has one will educate you in your understanding that the phone feature is likely the least used feature).

Calling it a smart watch is all about marketing, not about function. Call it a smart watch and immediately ANYONE and EVERYONE will understand it to be a wrist worn device that has "smart" capabilities much like the smart phone in their pocket/purse. Call it something else and most novice tech users may walk right past it or not give an online article a second look.

Smart product managers and marketing executives understand K.I.S.S. (because it works). Keep It Simple Stupid.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/6/2013 | 6:01:05 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
Good list. I think the sensors and medical application points could be a big deal. I wouldn't even be surprised, once someone gets the interface right, if that sort of technology leads to meaningful and measurable improvements in the users' health.

Our bodies produce a lot of data, but most of us rely on whatever content is captured during a single annual physical. With a perpetual stream of health data, people could not only feel encouraged to keep exercising, but also become aware of developing problems at earlier stages. Of course it could also inspire all kinds of hypochondria, just like WebMD has, convincing people with the common cold that they actually have the plague. But I think the upside is much higher.

Again, someone has to get the interface right-- and I don't think Samsung is particularly close, at this point. But once someone does, this kind of wearable device could appeal to a pretty broad market-- young, fitness-oriented people; older people who need to monitor their health; etc. Could have a market that substantially overlaps the smartphone market but that is nonetheless different in several important ways.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/6/2013 | 5:06:18 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
I wonder if there is a way to implement intuitive voice controls. Voice interaction is still new enough that I don't always feel confident I know what to ask. I think I'd use Siri more if I were sure of the proper syntax to phrase everything.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/6/2013 | 4:55:40 PM
re: 10 Smartwatch Features We Want
Really intuitive voice controls seem essential. Can you do enough smart things by tapping on that tiny space?
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