Smartwatches: Productivity Tools?
Smartwatches are nothing new, but coming up with a good enough reason to own one might just be! You see, until recently (and this is debatable) smartwatches were chunky, ugly devices that looked very much like somebody took a smartphone, shrunk it down, removed some of the ‘phone features and put a strap around it. They were relatively big, ugly, squared off devices that could be used to tell you that your ‘phone was ringing or somebody had sent you a message. Samsung introduced new features with the Galaxy Gear range, including a camera. but really; these were hardly inspirational new features.
In June 2014 at the Google I/O event, Google announced Android Wear. Android Wear is a variant of Android designed for wearable technology and not just smartwatches. It emphasises voice control, small screens and sensor input rather. That's not to say that Android Wear is incompatible with larger screen devices, but the idea is that ordinary Android is designed for this form factor. Two devices were showcased at Google I/O but more have followed with many more to follow. And of course, Apple have announced the Apple Watch, but I'll touch on this product later.
Okay; so we have the smartwatch as a platform, but what can we do with it? I believe that the trouble with most smartwatches is that they are reactive. By this, I mean that they'll notify you that somebody is calling you, sending you a text message, or has engaged with you on social media. That's all very well and good but in that sense, it does exactly what my smartphone does only it's a smaller form factor. This means it's harder to reply or otherwise make the smartwatch a smaller vibrating pager that sits on your wrist. Yes, there's a real advantage to having something more subtle than a smartphone but wait… have you seen the smartwatch designs? They are not subtle. Even the most elegant of designs is not subtle.
Google Now is one of those killer products that will make a smartwatch a more engaging and useful utility. You see, Google Now anticipates what you, the wearer, may be wanting from your device. It knows your location and learns your habits. It's scarily accurate; too. My Google account knows the bus stops I tend to use and where I often go on a weekend that's different from a weekday. It's started to learn some of my less frequent trips such as going to see my Dad. I've only just scratched the surface, but working in an office I tend to keep my ‘phone in my pocket. If I worked from different sites and drove, Google Now's commute home feature and subtle way of letting me know that I'm not going to get home any time soon (sigh) might be more relevant and useful.
The other killer product is the ability to pay for something with a flick of the wrist or presenting it to the cash point. By a happy compromise, the Apple Watch has the Apple Pay feature and Android Wear has Google Now. Will the two converge? Will Google write a Google Now application for the Apple Watch? If they do, and assuming that Google don't produce (or buy coughs PayPal) a wireless payment technology, then the Apple Watch is going to be the killer product of 2015.