Everyone is talking about smartwatches and other wearables as “the next big thing.” The Pebble saw massive success on Kickstarter, and companies as well-known as Samsung and Sony have jumped into the ring with their own smartwatches. Future smartwatches from companies as diverse as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are rumored to be on their way. So, should you buy a smartwatch today, or wait for the smartwatches to come?
What’s the Point of a Smartwatch?
Every smartwatch manufacturer is scrambling to figure out why you would want a smartwatch. They know why they want to sell you a smartwatch — to create a new product category and make more money — but why would a normal person want to buy one?
Current smartwatches connect to your smartphone over Bluetooth. The “killer app” for a smartwatch seems to be notifications. When you get a text message on your phone, you don’t have to pull your phone out of your pocket — you can glance at your watch and see who sent the message and even read it. The same goes for emails and other messages you might want to receive. Smartwatches can also take advantage of this Bluetooth connection to do other things — for example, you could have a phone conversation while talking into the smartwatch on your wrist. You could control music playback from your wrist. Smartwatches also allow you to use apps, so you can play games, read, or even watch videos on your wrist.
Let’s be really honest here. If you’re interested in a smartwatch today, you’re probably a gadget geek or just someone who loves playing with new technology. It’s early days in the smartwatch market, and manufacturers are still polishing them and figuring out what they’re for. Samsung’s “A Long Time Coming” Galaxy Gear advertisement focuses on how smartwatches were once science fiction and how cool it is you can buy one today. The advertisement doesn’t explain why the Galaxy Gear would actually be useful.
Smartwatches You Can Buy Right Now
There are some other smartwatches on the market, but the watches below are the ones you’ll probably be most interested in:
- Pebble & Pebble Steel: The $150 Pebble was the smartwatch that really took the gadget market by storm. Raising more than $4.7 million dollars on Kickstarter with an initial fundraising target of only $100,000, there was serious demand for this watch. With its e-paper display, the Pebble has a strong focus on notifications and offers 5-7 days of battery life. The $249 Pebble Steel is the successor to the original Pebble, and offers a less-geeky looking watch. Pebble watches work with both iPhone and Android phones. Check out our review of the original Pebble.
- Samsung Galaxy Gear: Where the Pebble offers an e-paper display with a focus on notifications, Samsung’s $299 Galaxy Gear offers an LCD display that consumes more power. Where the Pebble offers about a week of battery life, the Galaxy Gear offers about a day. You’ll have to recharge it every night, and if you use it heavily you may not make it through a day. The hardware is more capable, but you pay for it with less battery life and it doesn’t have the dedicated developer community the Pebble has.
- Sony Smartwatch 2: The Sony Smartwatch 2 has an LCD screen with an Android-style interface. Unlike the Pebble, Sony’s $199 Smartwatch 2 only pairs with Android devices, so you can’t use it along with an iPhone. Reviewers noted the interface was slow and laggy. Like the Galaxy Gear, you’ll have to recharge this watch every day. Sure, it’s pretty and has a nice screen, but it’s like strapping a small smartphone to your wrist. Check out our review of the Sony Smartwatch 2.
- MetaWatch: MetaWatch’s $129-$199 watches have a black-and-white screen for receiving notifications and run for 5-7 days on a charge, like a Pebble. They’re being positioned as a device that’s closer to a watch than a tiny smartphone strapped to your wrist. New MetaWatches are being designed by former Vertu designer Frank Nuovo — Vertu being a company formerly owned by Nokia that created luxury phones that sold for up to $310,000 each. MetaWatch’s future watches will probably be more interesting and stylish than its current ones, so it’s worth holding on and seeing what they release next.
Smartwatches On the Way
The most interesting smartwatches on the way are from Apple, Google, and Microsoft. It’s no coincidence that these are the companies in technology. The challenge with making a smartwatch isn’t putting great hardware together; it’s creating great software that provides a compelling experience.
- Apple “iWatch”: Apple has reportedly been working on a watch for years now. We’d expect to see the “iWatch” released sometime in 2014. It will reportedly include fitness-tracking features to also compete with fitness wristbands like the Fitbit. As it’s an Apple product, it will likely be extremely polished and have a focused user experience. The iWatch may do for smartwatches what the iPhone did for smartphones and the iPad did for tablets — take an existing type of product, polish it, and cause it to explode in popularity.
- Google “Nexus Gem”: Google purchased smartwatch maker WIMM Labs back in 2012. They’re reportedly working on an Android-powered Nexus smartwatch that emphasizes Google Now. Google Now displays relevant information all the time — for example, if you’re walking by a bus stop, you’ll see the bus arrival times. Putting this information on your wrist so you can always see up-to-date information about the world around you could be amazing. Google Now also supports many voice commands, which would be a useful way of controlling a smartwatch.
- Microsoft “Surface Watch”: Microsoft is also working on their own smartwatch. They were actually one of the first players to the smartwatch market back in 2004 with the SPOT watch, but this product was discontinued in 2008. We’ll have to see if this product makes it out of Microsoft’s research labs or if it falters like the Courier tablet, which was cancelled because it didn’t run Windows.
The below images isn’t a real photo of an iWatch. It’s one of the many concept images people have created over the years.
Should You Buy a Smartwatch Now?
Smartwatch manufacturers are experimenting with hardware and software, frantically trying to provide a compelling user experience. Smartwatches from Apple, Google, and Microsoft are on the horizon and we’ll probably see many new smartwatches later this year. Now’s probably not the time to buy a smartwatch. You’ll have many more options if you can wait until later this year.
If you’re a gadget geek, you may want to buy a smartwatch right now so you can get notifications on your wrist and experiment with the latest gadgets before they become mainstream. We’d recommend the Pebble as the smartwatch to get right now. It’s the most well-reviewed smartwatch today. Fueled by Kickstarter demand, the Pebble has a dedicate developer community behind it and a strong focus on notifications and providing a user experience that makes sense
Samsung is known for throwing products at the wall and seeing what sticks, and it feels like this is what they’re doing with the Galaxy Gear. The Pebble Steel also looks much more stylish than the original Pebble, which had a look that many people didn’t appreciate. The Pebble feels like an actual device designed for displaying notifications, while many of the other devices feel like little Android computers on your wrist. Pebble is onto something.
Have you picked up a smartwatch already, or are you waiting for a future smartwatch? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!