Where Apple’s Smartwatch Fails: We Can’t be Cursory

Why watches are meant to consistently live with us in a way our phones can’t

Apple’s event on Sept. 9 opened with a video entitled “Perspectives” that echoed the company’s famous “Think Different” ad. It was the ideal setup to a wondrous new product announcement with powerful lines such as, “while others are distracted by the new, you focus on the significance of a whole new take.” The problem is that this wasn’t a wondrous product announcement or “a whole new take” on smartwatches.

So far, early responses from consumers seem to agree. One study by Toluna Quicksurveys indicated that only 33 percent of respondents might buy the Apple Watch while another poll from CNBC says just 35 percent are likely to buy it. While these results are early, they are consistent in telling us one thing: the Apple Watch may have some appeal and may sell relatively well, but it hasn’t quite changed perspectives on smartwatches in the way the iPhone did with smartphones.

Let’s think for a moment about the core function of a watch. For the longest time, it has given us a quick glance of critical information: the time. As more devices started giving us the time, the watch became more of a fashion accessory. In order to generate demand, tech companies have infused their watches with new smart functions as a way to overcome any reservations about fashion appeal. The problem is that all of that functionality adds up to an experience most of us don’t want: spending a whole lot of time tinkering with our wrists.

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Even when the function of telling the time was a critical application of the wristwatch, the maximum time we spent looking at it was 1-3 seconds. By the very nature of its position on our bodies and its diminutive size, the wristwatch isn’t meant for browsing maps or opening secondary menus with hard presses. Watches are instead meant to consistently live with us in a way our phones can’t. The experience shouldn’t be immersive like a phone; it should be cursory, much like time itself.

Here at Red Peak, we spent a lot of time following the Apple Watch announcement discussing both the device itself and what we would like from an ideal smartwatch. We agreed on one major element: it should be an analog timepiece in every way but one: the glass casing, which should double as a transparent digital overlay. That translates into 3 key benefits:

-Unlike most smartwatches that turn into a slab of black glass when they fall asleep, the analog watchface would be visible at all times.

-Just as watches always have, it should deliver information short enough to be consumed in roughly 3 seconds. These are notifications that don’t require the full functionality of phone, just a display.

-Since it is truly a device that lives with you, it should decipher the context of the moment. If you start running, for example, it should automatically begin tracking and give you that contextual information when you lift the device towards you.

We understand that such transparent display technology may not exist yet, but we can dream. Check out what we came up with: The ICE, which sports a mechanical watchface with only one “smart” addition, a  “Glacial Glass” display that frosts over to show information in select situations.

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Anthony Perez is a senior strategist at Red Peak Branding. Continue the conversation with him: aperez@redpeakgroup.com.

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