CES 2014: When is a smartwatch dumb?

CES 2014 saw a wave of so-called "smartwatches" making an appearance on the tech world stage, but not one of these things are really smart and none will define this category.

CES 2014: When is a smart watch dumb?

Think about it: Who really needs a watch that's basically just an extension of the phone you already have in your pocket? How can media playback, call number recognition, text messages and weather reports on your wrist really be seen as essential when you've already got your phone in your pocket? Do you really want to squint at an even smaller screen?

Who really needs these things?

I'd argue that beyond the usual small rabble of Google Glass loving gadget fetishists, most of the human population will not see much that's interesting in these devices.

Why?

Because the only thing that's "smart" about these watches is/will be the marketing.

These things are dumb.

They are dumb because the systems currently aspiring to wrap their corporate branding like location-sensing manacles around your wrist are entirely dependent on the intelligence inside your phone. None of these silly objects let you leave your phone behind, and until they do then not one of these stupid distractions should be given the title "smart", because they're not.

For evidence, take Samsung's bungled attempt to deliver a smartwatch -- Gear. Samsung's execution was a comedy of errors: expensive, poorly designed, and of limited functionality, the company would have served itself better to spend a few million on IP licensing rather than attempt to do what it never has done, which is to invent a product category. Gear's release was obviously entirely motivated by claims Apple is developing its own smartwatch.

Samsung isn’t alone. Sony, Pebble, Qualcomm, ConnectedDevice: There's already plenty of firms stampeding to ship stupid tech shrapnel they want to hype us into calling "smart". Archos even intends launching a $50 smartwatch this summer.

In part the problem with the category is one of use and versatility. The devices we're being festooned with appear to have no functional use unless they are paired with a phone. The phone is smart while the watch -- let's be honest -- the watch is dumb.

The symbiotic need to twin your "dumbwatch" with a smartphone means the market for these things is immediately restricted to those who already own a smartphone. That's just conspicuous consumption, added spice for your smartphone supper.

They feed the greed. They do not feed a need.

To feed need these devices need to appeal to a much wider market. They need to offer everything you might expect from any mobile device. They need to look great on your wrist, deliver a host of features, be entirely self-powered with their own built in on board (and cloud-based) intelligence. Perhaps one day they'll even host tiny pico projectors so you could project their content onto a wall. They need to tell the time.

Most important: they need to deliver all of these functions without your phone. Watches like these would indeed be smart.

Apple, we have been told, has been having problems with battery life in the years it has been working on its iWatch. Given competitors aren't facing such problems, what might this tell us about what it's working on? Might the company be working on a watch that's truly "smart"? Or will the device be Apple's take on dumb?

Time will tell, but will these things tell the time?

Wait and see.

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