Don’t look now but I think someone just invented the computerized watch. I know there have been attempts, most recently by Samsung but the critics have been a bit harsh as in this review from the New York Times. Also, Apple has been scooping up rights to iWatch but so far no product has emerged.
One of the tough parts of inventing a category like this — even for the inventor — is trying to figure out what goes into the product. If it’s a slavish imitation of what’s already in market as an analog product, why would you buy it? If you envision something more functional, then what are the functions? What makes it unique and not simply a miniaturized version of, say, a smartphone?
The first computer watches all seem to suffer from smartphone-itis, the need to reproduce every function of the small screen on the teeny-tiny screen. Seriously? Yup, you know they’re out there. But the path to the new, new thing is through a small identity crisis that asks what’s unique about me?
Well, as it turns out in pure Cartesian logic, I am what’s unique about me. I think, therefore I am has morphed into I respire therefore I am. That sort of reduces humanity to the simple ability to fog a mirror but there’s more to it than that.
Fitbit, if you don’t know, is a little device that straps onto your wrist and records the activities that are unique to your day. Based on a few parameters you input at Fitbit.com, the system tracks the steps you take (and other activities) and figures out how many calories you’ve burned and how many you are (gasp!) entitled to if you expect to fit into that holiday outfit. Even your blood pressure and glucose reading can be entered so that you have an up to the moment digest of the many important health parameters that are unique to you.
So it had to happen at some point. The sleek wristband that formerly simply lit up to tell you about some goal reached has morphed into a watch with a digital readout where the blinking lights used to be. Now Fitbit is a data collector and a watch that synchs with your iOS and Android devices and can feed any apps in those ecosystems with your unique data for further processing. Think about that.
Watches that enable two way communication or social media hookups or listening to songs or that let you watch the World Series on your wrist have missed the point. A compass? Spare me. All those functions have homes on the device and they are not needed on the wrist. They might run on the wrist the same way that spreadsheets also ran on the laptop but it took the graphics packages and slide show software to make the laptop an indispensible part of business life.
And so it is with the computing watch. Sure it tells time and so does your handheld or a Timex but just as the handheld became the social location (close to us but still somewhat apart) the wrist has now been claimed as true personal computing space. The watch sleeps with us, showers with us; it is designed to not come off except for charging about once a week. The Watch is part of us yet at the same time it incorporates our other devices and computers through ecosystem apps — a good balance that’s low on redundancy and high on added utility. Most importantly, it captures some of our most intimate data helping us manage our bodies.
That’s it. Future generations of watches might incorporate more personal functionality (blood chemistry through sweat analysis, perhaps?) but they won’t bother with email or they’ll end up looking like over engineered Swiss army knives. That knife has a lot of useful stuff, many even have a knife and fork but did you ever try to cut a steak with one?