Lately, wearable technology seems to be all the rage among the leading tech companies. Samsung is advertising its new Galaxy Gear smartwatch, rumors circulate about a possible Apple “iWatch,” and Microsoft’s Surface team is hinting at a possible “Surface Watch” sometime in the near future.
While these futuristic James Bond-esque devices might sound cool, whether they’re truly worth the extra $100 or more in addition to the smartphone you’ll have to buy to use them remains to be seen.
Take the Pebble smartwatch, for example. At 1.3 ounces and sporting a clear e-ink display, it’s certainly a cool-looking gadget. But its usefulness largely stems from the usefulness of the smartphone already in your pocket. The big selling point of any smartwatch is the ability to see notifications from your smartphone by simply glancing at your wrist, but in order to respond to any of these notifications, you’d need to take out the good ol’ smartphone anyway. The Pebble’s library of smartwatch-friendly apps is growing; however, its tiny screen keeps any serious interaction from happening.
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear takes the problems of the Pebble and adds to them: it only works with Samsung’s own smartphones. While it also adds new hardware, namely a 1.9-megapixel camera and two microphones and a loudspeaker tucked into the buckle that allow for decent call quality, it certainly doesn’t add $299 of utility to one’s life. A frustrating interface and a debilitatingly heavy dependence on its Galaxy device partner keep the Galaxy Gear from being truly worthwhile.
So far, the smartwatch market seems to be meant for the gadget-crazed early adopters, the same people who went nuts over the original iPhone despite its flaws and swore up and down that Zune would kill iPod. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no luddite, and I certainly look forward to new technology; when I get the chance to replace my arms and legs with robotic ones, I will. That is, when robotic arms and legs become useful enough to invest in.