Smartwatches – the problem with a name

It’s probably fair to say that, even with the introduction of the second coming Apple Watch, smart watches are far from breaking into the mainstream consciousness. Yes, my mother now knows that there is such a thing, she might have even seen an ad, however she probably doesn’t really know or care what it is and what it does.

Whenever smartwatches come up amongst my non-techy friends it’s the same reaction: “Don’t they only last 3 hours? Not very smart for a smartwatch is it!”. Everyone then chuckles knowingly without ever having actually used one. The other reaction is one of incredulity at the cost “My £30 Casio can tell the time!”. More chuckling. The absolute worst one? “Why would I want my phone on my wrist?”. Well, you wouldn’t. No one would.

Herein lies the problem – the direct and obvious comparison to actual watches and their reliance on your mobile phone.

Divorce is inevitable

The divorce to which I’m referring is the reliance of our smartwatches on the phone. In a recent update, Google ensured you could use your Android Wear device without your phone nearby – so long as the watch was connected to Wi-Fi. You can bet your house on Apple following suit at some point. It’s not hard to imagine a world where Google get one of their Project Loon-esque projects off the ground and ensure your devices have Wi-Fi wherever you go.

Once this happens, wearables will start to shed their ‘phone companion’ tag and become a stand-alone product range in their own right.

‘Smart’ is correct – ‘watch’ not so much

I’m not entirely sure where ‘smartwatch’ originated as a term but it has been universally adopted for all Apple Watch and Android Wear models. It’s not strictly incorrect; they function as timepieces and live on the wrist just like any other watch. The issue comes in that it neglects to cover the wealth of other benefits which come with a smartwatch.

For me, smartwatches are essentially notification centres on the wrist. I’m not going to pen an essay, I’m not even going to write an email (although I could). I simply review the notifications which I’d otherwise action on my phone.

There are certain scenarios where the watch comes into it’s own: walk somewhere based on Google Maps and the watch will give you a little buzz when it’s time to make a turn. Go shopping in Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available) and keep your list easily to, er, wrist rather than relying on paper. These are all subtle benefits which the device offers.

It is not a phone replacement, it merely augments the device you already have and contributes small, useful updates throughout the day.

Cost is relative

Money. New tech is always famously expensive and buying first gen hardware is almost never recommended, although it is fun.

My argument on this point is that smartwatches are not really that expensive. I’m someone who likes to spend a bit of money on a timepiece and so the current slew of smartwatches seem about the right level for me. My only concern would be around the upgrade cycle. Like the iPad and other tablets, people are going to be far more reluctant to upgrade the device as often as they do a phone. If you spend 30 quid on a Casio every 12 years, it’s unlikely you’re the sort of person who’s looking for a smartwatch in the first place.

The Apple Watch is of course an exception to this rule.

Microsoft continue an unlikely trend when it comes to smartwatches

Alongside their recent changes like the Office subscription model, their recent direction the Xbox One and their plans for Windows 10, Microsoft are on an unprecedented streak of making very good choices.

Their newest device, the Microsoft Band, eschews the ‘smartwatch’ term, which is a very savvy move. It contains almost all the same functionality as its Google and Apple counterparts but does not carry the same name. This is surely a deliberate ploy to avoid some of the negative sentiment which comes with those devices.

Whether or not the device is any good is almost irrelevant. In not using the smartwatch term in any of their marketing, they automatically avoid some of the derogatory statements made about their rivals.

For me, we should be using terms such as ‘smartband’ in order to ensure this new range of devices gets the fair chance it deserves.

James Oliver

I have a keen interest in anything from the original Star Wars trilogy through to the Star Wars Expanded Universe – as well as everything that encompasses. Mostly interested in things which fly or make noise (ideally both), I like playing with new gadgets and buying phones on a whim.

  • Great article Olly, despite I take a different view on the naming convention and believe naming has not much to do with their success. It’s rather the capabilities of smartband, smartwatch, smartwear (whatever one may call it) that is hindering the way towards success. Here is some of them which will give them better edge and many will echo with your highlighted issues:

    1. Battery life. (Replaceable battery might be a good solution).
    2. Blood pressure and body temperature monitor.
    3. Glance Screen – not sure if MS Smartband already has it, but this will basically tell time without the need to click your screen everytime you want to see the time.
    4. For some it’s a niche “nice to have” but for me personally I would retire my smartphone with smartwatch+tablet (Boils down to individual taste I guess).
    5. Naming it wearable smartphone may do the trick – just an alternative to just being merely a notification centre with full blown SIM support and a bit bigger screen.

  • mhatti3000

    Great piece! May I say the f word here?