Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Samsung & Apple, iWatch and wait ..

Rumorville is closely watching and rumor-mongering Apple's iWatch. Apparently Samsung is also watching (pun intended), confirming today that they too are working on a watch (article here).  I hope it looks better than the current ones. As a gadget lover, I've fallen in love with the idea of the "computer watch" long ago, so long ago that I'm already on the 5th divorce without ever getting married.

Yes, hello everyone, my name is Nick, I'm a gadget addict, I've never had a smart watch and still want one.

My first love was the Casio databank watch. Never had it, but so wanted it. This other guy in basic school had it. It could do so much things and it looked so cool on his wrist (not too sure it made him any cooler, but I was not one of the cool guys too so who am I to judge if he was cool or not). Whether a cool gadget makes the wearer cool, that's a long debate and every marketer will sure tell you "Oh you silly boy, of course it makes you so cool"

Then David Hasselhoff showed up on tele with the talking car and every so often he would talk into his watch. The watch would occasionally even prove to save his life automagically like when he is unconscious. Who could forget that photo of the Hoff-man with his hand to the wrist - what a classic. So we wanted that watch too. Couldn't get one, not even a plasticky pretend-it's-real toy version.

And as trends go cold, they go very cold - everyone ran away from digital watches and the Hoff-man like it's the plague. So for a while watches were safe from having to do anything other than tell you the time, and of course tell everyone who you are and what your net worth is - a Rolex or a Tag Heuer, a CK or a Replay.

Meanwhile, twenty years went by, David Hasselhoff is somewhat cool again, Casio while not back to its glory days have shaken off the plague-problem. And suddenly Sony decided that since they can do phones, they could do watches too plus you can't argue that they do have the bragging right of "hey look we're the kings of personal and portable we gave you the walkman". The first time I saw it, my first thoughts were who are you trying to fool, that's not a watch, it's like a blocky bulky mp3 player with some strap that you can strap to your wrist and you call it a watch. Not to blame the form designers, it's probably the technology - it's not there yet, the electronics are not small enough for the designers to be able to play with forms and shapes. The idea is cool though but I sure ain't buying this. So let's wait.

Of course the Chinese Factories had to follow up with their Android watches in all shapes and sizes. Innovation is sometimes like evolution, a case of hit and miss, just try all kinds of combinations and mutations. I was at that time in Shenzhen - the capital of China electronics - when a friend was visiting and saw online all the mutant Android watches and absolutely wanted to get one. Convinced me that I should help him get one (the sales people didn't speak much Chinese). After years of experience with factories and product photos, I was already a little wary. His enthusiasm did rub off on me and I felt the tingling of optimistic anticipation too as the nice sales lady offered to bring the watches to us (instead of us having to go to the factory). There we sat at the Starbucks (only reason for choosing Starbucks is that everyone seems to know where it is) as she took out the watches - my heart sank sank sank sank and sank. True enough as I suspected, product photos tend to hide thickness pretty well, every decent product marketer knows that, to show photos of products from a certain angle. There was nothing wrong with the devices - she has no less than 10 different models - they function well and you can make bluetooth calls. There was no breakthrough I was hoping for - it's still a bunch of devices with a strap, and since it's strapped to the wrist and it can tell time, let's call it a watch. In my books, a wrist device is NOT a watch. We didn't buy any.

Pebble, the 10 million dollar Kickstarter record holder. Cool, there's THAT many people loving the idea of a smart watch. I must say this is getting very close (still not there, for me). Love what they did with the display, the clock faces. It is thinner than previous Smart watches (and as I said earlier waiting for technology to allow form and shape), but again don't be fooled by the product photo angles, it's still thicker than it looks on the photos. Nothing wrong with thick if the form and shape is good (think huge thick diving watches). Pebble still hasn't evolved smart watches beyond the let's strap a device to our wrist with any strap and call it a watch. And I can see the Pebble team's strengths is in 2D design - the faces are really awesomely cool - not so much on 3D form. All in all, a solid Kickstarter project that's done more than any of the the big corporations have in moving forward in the quest for the smart watches.

Thirty plus years on and we might just be finally getting there? Samsung's preview photos are sadly not exciting me, it's the same old same old device + strap story. Apple? The iWatch concept phots in rumorville is are awesome but remember how exciting the iPhone5 was supposed to look like, according to the concept rumors?

Smart Watches - I'm still waiting to say the Yes, I do... with all the cynical optimism of an old post-menopause 5-time-divorced-without-ever-getting-married single. iWait.

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