There have been many false dawns in the past but we should look back on 2014 as the year that the smartwatch turned up for good. That said, with the most popular smartwatch, the Pebble, selling somewhere around 300,000 units, this branch of wearable tech hasn't exactly gone mass market….yet.
At Wareable, we've been wondering what it's going to take for these devices to reach that critical mass, so we called in the experts for their opinions. We put it to traditional watchmakers, fashion designers and CEOs of wearable tech companies both big and small. In their words, the perfect smartwatch should be...
...independent (of your mobile)
"Current smartwatches and many other wearable devices represent an amazing step forward in innovation, yet still they do not achieve a unique level of value in most cases and often duplicate functions and capabilities that are already available via smartphone. Among several factors, they will need to provide the user with valuable information when not tethered to a smartphone; they will need to be smarter and more capable of providing the right information at the right time; and they will need to have new means of charging and staying charged as nobody wants to carry another charging cord. Ultimately, they will also need more unique innovations to differentiate their functionality from other devices and become an essential part of everyday life."
Steven Holmes, Intel VP, specialist in wearables, key player in creation of Nike+ FuelBand
...made from authentic materials
“Things like aluminium, leather and glass; I think they just feel good. They have a tactile sense to them. They have a heritage that is meaningful and real. There are stories about these things which are much more interesting than cheap plastic. Your Cartier is probably not made of plastic. If you're going to use plastic, then go all the way and have fun with it. Go with neon green or something. Just don't try to be elegant and sleek with it. You can't. For my perfect smartwatch, I would not want it to be plastic. I just don't like plastic stuff.”
Sonny Vu, CEO and president of Misfit Wearables, creator of the Shine
“I haven't identified a very compelling use for the existing functions of a smartwatch. If it wants to sell, it has to look absolutely gorgeous. That's why there's this exceptional interest in the Moto 360. I think it's solely because of the way they've designed it. Until we see a really unique and compelling feature, I think, for now, aesthetics is what counts."
Edward Tiong, co-founder of Ring Theory, creator of the Sesame Ring
“It should be a watch I could fall in love with and wear all the time - even if it wasn't working.”
“A wrist should be reserved for a nice watch. Thegreat thing is that you can have a real luxury. It’s an acceptable form of jewellery for a man anywhere in the world. Take that away and a man is really restricting himself in showing who he is and what he is.
“It’s like putting on handmade shoes or a Savile Row suit. It distinguishes a person. Watchmaking, at this level, over many year, is very specialised and steeped in tradition. It's not only about the styling and aesthetics but it’s about the mechanics of a watch. Personally, I think trying to add an app would just water that down.”
Roger W Smith, master watchmaker, creator of luxury watches
“Let's not try to squeeze all this information onto a small space. Stop thinking about always redoing things. The iPhone has really a beautiful user-interface. It's useless to squeeze it in and do it worse.”
Cédric Hutchings, CEO of Withings, creator of the Pulse and Activité
“All smart wearable devices have to be, in some sense, invisible. You should not be burdened by carrying an extra thing around with you and it should be very natural to how you already act as a human being. It should be able to make a human better at something they already do; an augmented human being."
Olivia Seow, co-founder of Ring Theory, creator of the Sesame Ring
...more fashionable and more feminine
“Mostly, the problem is that they’re just not very fashionable. They don’t make them desirable enough with their moulded plastic models. That’s what’s happening. They sit round in focus groups and ask people, especially women, if they’d wear them. They might say 'yes' but the reality is that most women won’t. Smartwatches are just not a feminine product. At the moment, they’re more of product for a gentleman that’s on the geeky side and that’s not into fashion and wants to go to the gym to wear this.”
“There is a difference between something that you can only wear when you go to the gym and something that becomes part of your daily wardrobe and becomes a statement about who you are. Because, if you think in terms of fashion, every piece of clothing you wear is a statement about who you are as a person. It reflects your identity.”
Francesca Rosella, creative director at CuteCircuit, the leading fashion designer of wearable tech clothing
...made with an analogue face
“I think the analogue face we've chosen is a very strong expectation. It's still here for a reason. Having an analogue display, there are a lot of studies on it and it's a very intriguing way to provide information. When you read time on an analogue face and hands, it does not use the same brain parts. It uses the intuitive parts. You do not have to quantify it. Your brain has already understood it and that's what we wanted to leverage.”
...self-charging or no charging at all
“Certainly I would never want to charge it. I've never had to charge my watch before so that would definitely be a feature that's a detriment; an anti-feature.”
“If possible, it should be self-charging without using a battery source; mechanical power or kinetic power; not something that takes up an extra 10 minutes at the end of the day – taking it off, plugging it into your computer, charging it up, checking notifications. It would be too much of a hassle.”
...8mm thick at the most
“I also would not want it to be really thick. Some people like thick watches. I like thin; nothing more than 10mm at most. Actually, that's pretty thick; 8mm. That's really hard though. Every millimetre you shave off is painful. It's so hard.”
...not your smartphone on your wrist
“I think some of them are interesting and others are just like trying to duplicate your smartphone screen. I don’t think that model is successful. You need to have the 'I have to go back home' factor; if I leave it at home, I cannot survive today. I don’t think that the idea of going back for something with the same information I could get on my smartphone screen makes sense.”
...an open platform
“The way I see wearable tech – and the way we're going to be delivering our wearable tech – is to make it open source. A lot of things at the moment are very closed off. They're very big data driven to try and get all your vital stats so they can build on it as a company and gain all that data control. We believe, slightly differently, that it's actually the people that are going to lead this trend of wearable technology to a degree, and they’re going to want to. So, we should be opening these devices up to them and letting people build on the platform.
“Otherwise, it's only as smart as your team is. At the end of the day, we've got 10 people working full time and we can't think of everything. Whereas if you have 1,000 people round the world building software, using the product; you'll get a lot further.”
Simon Weatherall, founder of Glowfaster smart clothing
...more than just a smartphone companion
“I would love to be able to get rid of all my credit cards and just be able to swipe my watch. I would like it to be able to open my doors and control my temperature in my house because it knows how warm I am and the ambient temperature and it tells my Nest want to do. That's already possible.”
...nothing to do with photography
“I think the pictures are a waste of time. It's too clunky, and you can't see what's in the frame as easily on a watch.”
...lots of different watches
“There is such a variety of watches that it would be hard to call the perfect watch. I don't think they'll be made in only one way. It would be very hard to make the perfect watch that would appeal to everybody.”
...first and foremost a watch
“There will be smartwatches but there will be watches that become smart. You will see a lot more classical approaches to watch design, and then they will make those smart, but they won't look like what you see as smartwatches now. I don't think smartwatches in the future will look like anything what we see now.”