Smart watches, Smart but….

When it comes to wearing anything on my self — wrist, face, feet — the aesthetics play an equally if not more important of a role in making my final decisions. I look for a perfect balance of form, function and quality of craftsmanship in my shoes, bags, optical frames and watches. 

Watches in particular are more of an emotional and aesthetic choice. That is why I am underwhelmed by the growing number of smart watches which are coming to market. Yesterday, at Google I/O Google announced Android Wear, a variant of its Android OS targeting the devices like the newly announced watches. I checked them out and admittedly they are much better than some of the earlier efforts. The design elements of the Android Wear are also pretty good — except they don’t make me feel anything. 

I like the concept but not the execution of the early attempts at smart watches. The problem with these early variants of smart watches is that to me they feel very like a variant of the smartphones. They are trying to cram too much functionality into such a small visual real estate, instead of nailing down a handful of key functions. From that perspective, I think WiThings’ new watch Activite. It is elegant and is focused on a handful of functions. More importantly, it looks like a watch, so it solves the mental hurdle we have towards trying watches with weird designs. 

The New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman was on the money in her assessment of the two newly announced Android Wear watches, the LG G and Samsung Gear Live:

neither does what the best design does, which is make you rethink all your old assumptions about the form (see: Chanel’s boucle jacket, which gave sartorial armor the ease of a cardigan; Armani’s deconstructed suit, which gave form to the idea of “soft power”; Prada’s black nylon backpack, which elevated the mundane, for example).

In fact, the watches do the opposite: they re-enforce all our old assumptions about the form, which is that you take your phone screen, make it small and stick it on your wrist. All I can think when I see them is: “Beam me up, Scotty!” And where’s the joy — or the desire — in that?

So while these smart watches may appeal to the kind of consumer who likes the latest in gear, they definitely have not bridged the fashion gap, and bridging the fashion gap is part of what makes the difference between a niche product and a must-have. 

Yves Behar, currently one of the top designers in the world had once said, “Watches are a great way to think about how products should be designed to last” and he  pointed out that things we wear “have to withstand constraints of life – water, dust, scratches” and that the wearable computing has to over come that challenge. When I think about future smart watches, I think about elegance and aesthetics of a fashion/stylish product that is married to notifications-oriented core functionality. It is a hard balance to achieve. Pebble is version 0.1 of the concept, but I think it would need someone like Swatch to turn it into a must-have product. And when it comes to Apple & its iWatch, the bar is even higher!

A letter from Om

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