All the Time in the World: Smartwatches are doing just fine

by Uluroo — 22 March 2018

The Internet is an interesting thing. You can just say something and it becomes true, even if you offer zero proof of what you're saying! Here, let's try it:

"Smartwatches: Why they've failed and what they need to do"

That was not Uluroo's doing but the work of SlashGear's JC Torres, who claims smartwatches are a failure and, um, offers a very clear explanation of what Torres thinks "failure" is...

Actually, the opposite happens! Failure is given no definition whatsoever, and we are led to believe that Torres's complaints about smartwatches translate to a real-world epic fail.

Fitbit just announced not just one but two wearables, a smartwatch and a fitness tracker for kids. Google is expected to do a rebranding, and maybe even a re-envisioning, of its Android Wear platform. Amidst all of these announcements, one can’t help but wonder what has become of what should have been the next phase in our mobile evolution.

Fitbit announced two devices? Google is about to improve its smartwatch software? The horror! The horror!

If we were to use an objective standard such as, Uluroo doesn't know, sales [¯\_(ツ)_/¯], to deduce whether smartwatches have been a failure, we would see that since 2014, smartwatch sales have been approximately (or more than) doubling and are projected to reach 141 million units this year. Sounds like a terrible failure. Teeerrrrrrible.

Smartwatches still exist, no mistake about that... But smartwatches need to do some heavy thinking, maybe even a U-turn if it’s to remain relevant...

Are smartwatches on the precipice of irrevelevance, ready to fall into Newton Gorge at the slightest push? Nnnnnnooooo. Smartwatch sales are already increasing. Any sales problems Torres imagines here are simply wishful thinking.

So yes, there may be some accurate criticisms of smartwatches as they stand, but don't say "Smartwatches need to take my advice because they'll be irrelevant if they don't!" No. The product category is faring well, and even if you can point out problems with the products themselves, that doesn't mean the market will suddenly collapse if all is not resolved.

Uluroo isn't using the sales of smartwatches to discredit Torres's complaints about smartwatches; he's pointing out that said complaints are not shared by everyone and that they do not translate into real-world sales decline. That said, let's take a look at Torres's criticisms; these seem to be his only way of clarifying what he means by "failed." Smartwatches have failed... to please Torres? What makes smartwatches so bad?

Lack of focus
What is a smartwatch anyway? Or more importantly, what is it for? You probably won’t get a straight, standard answer because smartwatches today do anything and everything.

What is a smartphone anyway? Or more importantly, what is it for? You probably won't get a straight, standard answer because smartphones today do anything and everything.

Does that mean that smartphones have any serious problems? No, and Torres agrees.

They’re easily compared to smartphones that indeed do almost everything. Except with a smaller screen. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exactly work for something that you strap on your wrist.

Of course. That's why smartwatches have simplified user interfaces. There's nothing wrong with being able to write an email on your watch. Uluroo would never do it, but the fact that his Apple Watch has unused functions doesn't have an impact on his user experience. If anything, it's good that smartwatches are so versatile — individuals don't use them for everything, but anyone can take one and use it in a way that suits them.

That lack of focus and purpose has made smartwatches something nice to have but ultimately not something compelling.

In your isolated opinion. Clearly not in the opinion of the millions who bought smartwatches last year. Have your opinion all you want; don't categorically dismiss smartwatches as a failure because of it. You can acknowledge a product's success without liking it.

A few wear it because of its technological benefits, often because it’s part of their job or area of interest. Most of those that do don’t wear it because of function or design.

Torres offers no proof of what he's saying. He merely dumps the claim on the information superhighway and speeds away in his misinformation supercar.

Those that do keep wearing smartwatches, more often than not, wear it because they’d rather not wear a regular watch and a separate fitness tracker if they could.

If so, why do they have a smartwatch in the first place? Torres details smartwatches' lack of focus. They have too many features! he cries. And then he claims that people only really wear them for the fitness tracking. If so, why don't they wear a fitness tracker?

The fitness tracker market may have plateaued, but they remain stronger than smartwatches.

That must be why the Apple Watch overtook Fitbit as the largest wearable!

... they have a subtle yet distinct advantage over smartwatches. They’re fitness trackers first and foremost that just happens to also tell the time. They may be able to do more, but their primary purpose is unambiguous. And what they’re able to do is pretty limited.

If it's true that this is an advantage, why does Torres think smartwatches exist in the first place? (It's because people want more than just fitness tracking, but don't tell Torres.) Uluroo owned a Fitbit Charge 2 before moving to an Apple Watch. He doesn't use his Watch exclusively for fitness tracking; he likes being able to read (and respond to) messages; check notifications; and have a more fluid, better-designed user interface than anything Fitbit can offer. There! Uluroo's anecdote runs counter to Torres's anecdote (Torres's entire article is essentially an anecdote). Whom should you believe? Well, you need only look at the sales. Smartwatch shipments show that people want more than just fitness tracking.

Smartwatches offer the ability to use your smartphone without using your smartphone, which is probably more a curse than a blessing. It is naturally limited by its design to a few functions and gestures, but the actions you’d want to use a smartphone for would really require the size and power of a smartphone.

Probably a curse. Torres isn't sure. How about a story from Uluroo? No, it is not a curse.

And for those functions, you can conveniently do on your wrist? Those pretty much don’t need a smartwatch at all. Some fitness trackers already support call and message notifications, media control, and alarms.

What does Torres think makes a fitness tracker different from a smartwatch if you can do all the same things on it? "Oh, well, it has a clearly defined primary purpose." So what? The primary purpose of an Apple Watch can be time-telling, fitness tracking, messaging, or whatever the user wants. Uluroo thinks the primary purpose of his Watch is connectitivy. It can do other things, but he can ignore the features he doesn't use. Torres tries to say that fitness trackers can have the best of both worlds, but if they can, so can smartwatches.

Smartwatches are also supposed to save us from our smartphones by reducing the need to fish out our phones and look at them. They can’t, however, save us from ourselves and we end up looking at our watches instead.

... Yes, ten points to Gryffindor. The purpose of a smartwatch is to be looked at rather than a smartphone.

Maybe Torres means people are constantly staring at their watches. But he literally just mentioned that fitness trackers nowadays have notification features. Why does he think it's any different for them? And besides, Torres provides no proof that constant watch-staring is even a problem.

And while we can indeed screen which notifications arrive on our smartwatches and which don’t, the defaults aren’t exactly helpful and take too much work to tweak.

"This is a problem! I have no proof that it's actually a problem! No, don't make me take five seconds to open the settings for the device and turn notifications off!"

If smartwatch and platform makers did a study, they will most likely learn that majority of the uses smartwatch users have revolved around health, simple notifications, and media control.

"If they did a study, I think they'd probably find this out. I'm not sure. I can't be bothered to Google 'what people use smartwatches for' and check out this study that shows that people use smartwatches for a wide variety of functions, not just the ones I claim they use them for."

You can criticize smartwatches all you want! Criticize the tar out of them! But A) ensure that your complaints actually make sense and B) don't say "Now smartwatches are doooomed!" Because they're not. You haven't proven anything by trying to scale your opinion to cover an entire market of users.