With every new type of technology, we wade through an awkward phase where everyone tries to figure out what types of usage actually make sense for the form.
You know the drill: Usually around the second or third generation of something, we start to see all sorts of silly concepts being shown off on stages and shoved into devices. And you know what? Most of the time, it's not genuine real-world value but rather marketing potential that drives companies to cram those kinds of features into their products.
We've seen it happen plenty in the realm of smartphones. And now, as manufacturers and developers are working to find ways to make their smartwatches stand out, we're about to see a whole new influx of silliness.
Case in point: a recent report that Apple's second-gen Apple Watch could contain a camera for wrist-based video chats. Take a minute to let that sink in: a tiny screen on your wrist, in a device designed to provide glanceable info that saves you time -- now featuring lengthy video chats with your loved ones! Yippee!
Or not. Let me be the one to say it: Dick Tracy daydreams aside, putting a video-chatting camera into a smartwatch doesn't make a whole lot of sense. At least, not on any practical level.
When you live with a smartwatch, it doesn't take long to realize that the whole "glanceable info" line is used for a reason: Staring at a tiny screen on your wrist for long periods of time just isn't a great user experience. Conducting tasks that require intricate long-form input isn't so hot, either. The physical nature of a smartwatch makes it most ideal for handling quick functions that take a second or two of looking -- maybe with a tap, a swipe, or a short sentence of speaking -- to complete.
The smartwatch's most sensible role, in other words, is to keep you from pulling out your phone for piddly little things. For anything beyond that -- whether it's typing out a long email, watching a video, or chatting with your mom in Poughkeepsie -- you're going to have a far better and less frustrating experience if you switch to your phone and perform the task there.
Why? Let's go back to the video chatting concept as an example. Envision the experience of actually conducting a video chat on a small screen on your wrist. First of all, the person with whom you're speaking is going to be the size of a postage stamp -- and isn't the whole point of video chatting being able to see the smiling face on the other end of the conversation?
Squinting aside, try holding your wrist up in front of your face -- you know, the way you would if you were talking to someone on it. No matter how much time you spend in the gym (or what kinds of weird wrist-elevating exercises you're doing there -- hey, I don't judge), that's gonna start feeling awfully uncomfortable after about 30 seconds.
Hang on, though: Before you put Mr. or Ms. Arm back down, think about how that camera angle is going to make you look to the lady or fella on the other end. A super-flattering view right up your chin and nose, right? Loooovely. And if you think holding your arm up even higher might be the answer, go ahead and give it a whirl and see how awkward that position is to maintain.
Video chatting may be the most extreme example of tasks not suited for a smartwatch, but we've seen plenty of others -- silly novelties that exist for the sake of existing, or maybe (and more accurately) because they look cool in ads. Things like being able to send your heartbeat or a "tap pattern" to someone else wearing the same device, or being able to draw a face on your watch's screen and have it translated into the closest-matching emoji. Even something as simple as scrolling through a gallery of photos on your tiny wrist-based screen is pretty darn stupid when you stop and think about it.
Before anyone freaks out, the platform itself isn't what's relevant here; we're just talking about things that don't make sense for the smartwatch form. The items I've mentioned stretch across both the Apple and Android worlds. Regardless of where they reside, they're prime examples of instances when you're going to get a better and less time-consuming experience by simply pulling out your phone.
Look -- new types of technology can be tricky. Every company wants to find that one cool thing that no one else is offering. But just like we've seen with smartphones, the novelty of gimmicks only lasts so long. Whiz-bang features may help sell a gizmo in the beginning, but sooner or later, people are going to pick up on what's actually useful and what's just fluff.
We're back at the start of that cycle now. Make no mistake about it: The next few years are gonna be a wild ride in the land of smartwatches. What's really exciting, though, isn't the prospect of seeing all sorts of silly tricks thrown against the wall like digital spaghetti. It's the distant future of getting past that phase and reaching a point where real-world user experience trumps attention-seeking gimmicks. That's just now starting to happen on a meaningful scale with Android phones, and we'll reach that point eventually with watches, too.
In the meantime, brace yourself: We've got an awful lot of silliness ahead.