So what is a smart watch?

Apple_iWatchIf you’ve been following the latest tech news, then you can hardly have missed the surprising revelation that everyone and their dog is about to release a sparkly new smart watch onto the market. We’ve seen smart watches from Sony, LG, Nike, and others, but the hype reached fever pitch with Apple’s rumored iWatch, and now we’re hearing that LG is going to have another go, and Google and Samsung will be making smart watches too.

Hold on a minute there…didn’t we stop wearing watches? For most of us, the smartphone rendered a traditional watch redundant, but some people still wear them, largely for fashion reasons. The idea of wearing a device on your wrist that just tells the time seems old-fashioned in this age of convergence. Smart watches are seeking to reinvigorate the watch market by adding lots of new functionality and/or linking them up to our existing smartphones.

What do they do?

There are a couple of types of smart watch currently on the market. You get devices like Sony’s SmartWatch range and you get standalone devices like the Nike+ FuelBand.

Sony’s SmartWatch links in to your Android smartphone via Bluetooth and displays things like incoming calls on the watch. The face is touch-sensitive and the main purpose is to provide you with a discrete notification system. The watch vibrates and you glance at your wrist to see what it is, instead of pulling the phone out of your pocket. There are a few companion apps that extend the functionality, so you can have things like music controls for your phone on the watch.

Nike’s FuelBand is a fitness device that tracks your physical activity when you go running or work out. You upload the information later, via your computer or your smartphone, and you can share it on social media. The idea is to gamify your workout routine and encourage you to compete and to work harder to get fit.

Wearable technology is hot

Driven by the Google Glass project, which is looking to deliver smart glasses which you give an augmented reality display, and the Apple iWatch rumors, the world of wearable technology is attracting a lot of interest. Just like smart watches, smart glasses do actually already exist, but the fact big manufacturers are climbing onboard and the technology itself has advanced, is stirring up the idea that this market is set to take off and hit the mainstream. ABI Research is predicting that the wearable computing device market will grow to 485 million annual device shipments by 2018.

What’s so great about the new wave of smart watches?

Well, to be honest it’s not entirely clear. Apple, Google, Samsung, and the gang are all working on devices that fall into the smartphone accessory category, as far as we know. It looks likely that they’ll link up to your smartphone and offer a discrete notification system, just like the Sony SmartWatch does currently. Perhaps they’ll throw in some extra functionality, and they could certainly encourage developers to get creative with dedicated apps.

There are two reasons they might kick the smart watch market into gear. Firstly, we may see thin, curved, or even flexible designs that actually look attractive, and tick the fashion box which appeals to a large percentage of current and potential watch wearers nowadays. Up until now the designs have been chunky and far from stylish. Secondly, we might see some useful standalone functionality. Maybe they’ll combine with a headset to enable voice controls, calls, and entertainment. There are lots of possibilities, but the more you pack in to the watch, the bigger it has to be and the greater the strain on the battery will be.

Return of the wrist watch?

There’s no doubt that smart watches have a place as fitness devices and for monitoring your health. These kinds of smart watches are already selling well. The question is whether people really want a smart watch that does more. Is there a demand for smart watches that hook up to the smartphone in your pocket, or are you content to just take your phone out when you need it?

It looks like we’re just talking about a device that provides a small subset of your smartphone’s functionality and your smartphone has to be in range for it to work. Hopefully the smart watches of tomorrow can offer something more enticing than that. We’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, post a comment and tell us if you want a smart watch. Have you used one? Are you excited about the prospect of an iWatch?

About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.