Is it really time for a smart watch?

It’s becoming a story too big to ignore, even though for the most part the products don’t exist yet. We’re talking about smart watches, which are supposedly the next big thing.

Everyone is talking about them, and several manufacturers have them on the drawing board. Even Apple is rumored to be developing one, no doubt based on the success their surprising wrist-friendly nano enjoyed (before the whole thing was scrapped for a different design.)

See, we’re a lazy society. Going over to a computer and working on it… that’s so ’90s. It’s become too much of a drudge to actually even take our phones out of our pockets now… so all the major tech companies are trying to figure out a way to give you the information you want without your having to actually do anything. Google’s got Project Glass, which puts a little screen in the corner of your field of view. Done right, that could work. Done wrong it could be an exercise in eyestrain that accomplishes nothing other than the joy of watching people bump into walls.

While Google plays around with eyeglasses (which have turned into an inexplicably popular accessory among our youth) everyone else is concentrating on watches, which were almost extinct until they began to enjoy a resurgence a few years back. Will an unholy child of an iPhone and a Rolex actually make a difference in your life?

First, some very quick history. This isn’t the first time that smart watches have been attempted. Putting aside fictional superwatches like Dick Tracy’s, the first smart watch came to us in the 1980s thanks to Casio. If you were really interested in using tiny little buttons and connecting your watch to a computer for a few minutes at a time you could actually store a few addresses and a little bit of text on these little “wonders.” They flopped in the public’s perception, yet oddly the line has been in production for over 25 years with incremental improvements.

For years, people had to live with the creeping suspicion that they didn’t want smart watches. In 2003, Microsoft introduced SPOT technology, which used the world’s slowest wireless data plan to send information to your wrist. This proved to people that they didn’t want smart watches. This technology died in the marketplace almost immediately, killed because it was hard to use and ridiculously slow.

So now, smart watches are supposedly back. The only nagging question is still… what do you do with them? The screen would be too small for web surfing or reading, but maybe you could watch an eensy beensy video if you really wanted to. Maybe it pairs with your smartphone so you could talk into your wrist like Shatner did in Star Trek II. Maybe it pops up your twitter feed or something.

If this technology is going to succeed, someone is going to have to figure out what to do with it, and it’s got to be cool enough that people must have it. We used to count on Steve Jobs to know how to sell us stuff we didn’t know we needed. Who will take up the challenge of the smart watch?

We’re not alone in our cynicism. CNET has a similar view of smart watch technology. Even the New York Times’ effusive David Pogue holds back his enthusiasm to the final paragraphs when reviewing the latest smart watches. Anything that gets under 100 words of praise from Mr. Pogue is definitely worth doubting.

The pundits have been wrong before. After watching Microsoft, HP and Nokia fail for 15 years with personal communicators and tablets, Apple swept us off our feet with iPhones and iPads. After we thought we would never pay a monthly rental fee for movies we could own outright, Netflix showed how it was done. And after years of thinking that the real fight was Apple vs. Microsoft, Google proved that it was really Android and Chrome vs. everyone else.

For now, we’ll stand on the sidelines and see what happens.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.