Where's the innovation to solve the big problems with smartwatches?

Where do smartwatches still need to get to & who might take us there?
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When it comes to the smartwatch game, consider us the cheerleaders on the sidelines. Strike that, consider us the demanding divas who throw a strop when their side starts losing. Strike that, consider us the wise, old coach who always knows just what to say.

We can squabble about notifications and pixels and straps but let's zoom out for a second and look at the biggest reasons stopping regular folk from thinking about buying a smartwatch. Some of which we thought would finally get some solutions in 2017 - 4G standalone connectivity is the only real one that is being addressed - but, for the most part, we're still waiting. In no particular order:

We don't want to choose between small and good

Say what you want about the Apple Watch but it's still way ahead of the competition in terms of engineering. There is just no equivalent when you take size, weight and comfort versus features and specs into consideration.

Case in point: the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style, the first two fresh Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches we saw in February. What LG has done is broken out the two core tenets of the Apple Watch Series 2 - it's sporty, it's stylish - and asked us to choose.

Where's the innovation to solve the big problems with smartwatches?

Samsung's latest flagship got bigger, Huawei's latest flagship got bigger. These aren't smartphones, we're going in the wrong direction. And I don't mean every watch has to have LTE and GPS and a bunch of sensors. But features like NFC for payments should be standard now.

The answer: The Apple Watch Series 3? Or the teased 39mm Tag Heuer Modular Connected for women? Alternatively, we'd quite like to see Motorola (Lenovo) make a return to smartwatches. It skipped out on Wear 2.0 and might not come back but, particularly with the Moto 360 2, was one of the only big tech companies showing it was taking sizing and customisation seriously.

No, we haven't forgotten about battery

At the turn of 2017, if you'd have asked us what we most wanted to see in smartwatches, I bet we'd all have mentioned battery. (In fact, it came up a lot when we recently mustered to discuss what makes our perfect smartwatch). The likes of Qualcomm are helping smartwatch makers eke out another half day here and there but it's still the biggest pain. Until we get to Wi-Fi wireless charging (the dream), we need more work here.

The answer: It's all hearsay right now but the latest coming out of anonymous sources is that Fitbit's first 'real' smartwatch will arrive in fall 2017 with a colour display and a four day battery life. We're itching to know what tech this display is or what kind of efficient processor it's using, if true.

Smartwatches are still too expensive

Our best budget smartwatches round-up is slowly turning into a bit of a sorry sight. There are two or even three year-old devices, Pebble watches - that still work, just about - and $150 or so watches that push the definition of affordable. Plus most Kickstarter watches that make headlines with splashy low prices end up twice the price once they're shipped and you know... real.

So why do prices come down? When volumes go up and everyone's making essentially the same thing, components parts go down, the discounts and affordable models get cheaper etc etc. So maybe the number of smartwatches that are being manufactured hasn't reached that critical mass yet but maybe it won't until prices come down. Chicken and egg scenario but, like we said, in some respects, the Apple Watch is out on its own so that should apply to price too.

The answer: We've seen a couple of cheap-ish smartwatches lately including, of all things, Acer's Leap Ware. Xiaomi could come out with a true, international smartwatch too as the Amazfit is more mid-range and the $80 Weloop Hey S3, on Xiaomi's crowdfunding site, will probably be China only.

Where's the innovation to solve the big problems with smartwatches?

Is this really peak smartwatch?

In tech/product speak, what's happening is the commoditisation of a category - which starts when a product stops seeing so much innovation and there's a choice of manufacturer, specs and price for the people buying. It's on the verge of happening for VR headsets too. But is this really it? This is where we're stopping with smartwatches? Here? I hope not.

The answer: So where are we seeing new ideas? Well, startups are still playing their part. Cronologics was bought by Google and we're looking forward to seeing elements of its intuitive OS turn up in future versions of Android Wear. Dagadam plans to resurrect the Pebble Timeline (sort of) with its smartwatch, even if Fitbit has essentially killed it.

And with designer and tech hybrid collaborations, plus companies like Withings/Nokia and MyKronoz, we're seeing a series of experiments of how to better marry a display and a watchface. The smartwatch isn't set in stone just yet.

Think we're being too unfair/demanding? Let us know in the comments.

TAGGED Smartwatches

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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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