Rumor has it that Google, just like Samsung and Apple, will be building its own sparkling smartwatch to decorate your wrist. Details are sparse, but we know that: (1) It will likely be a different gadget than whatever Samsung's working on, and (2) It'll run Android. We've discussed previously why such a device would succeed, as well as the potential problems a wrist-mounted computer would initially face. And the big question, of course, is whether average consumers (not just gadget nerds) would take a liking to them.
I have faith that these companies know what they're doing, and the devices will sell like hotcakes. That said, here's my unsolicited advice.
1. Make it subtle
Take a look around. How many people do you see wearing a watch? Not too many, I suspect. And that's understandable. Phones have become our primary time-telling device.
Still, I'm a fan of simple watches like Timex's Easy Reader. I also really like the easy lines drawn by Nike's FuelBand. (We gave one to my decidedly non-tech-savvy dad last Father's Day. He loves it.) Pebble is too bulky and cumbersome for mass-market appeal. And the rumored "curved-glass" face? No, no, no. To appeal to as many different types of customers as possible, I'd like to see Google, Apple, and Samsung cram their hardware into a chronograph-sized face (around 40mm, ideally) with interchangeable straps: Leather, metal, canvas, plastic — whatever suits your lifestyle. The default time display can skeumorphically take on a real watch's character, whether you want something digital or something more classic looking, like a Swiss clock.
The iPod Nano already proved that size shouldn't be an issue. Let's ease into the future for once.
2. Give it truly responsive voice controls and audio feedback
Advantage: Google, Samsung
Unless you rubber band an iPhone 5 to your wrist, any smartwatch's touchscreen is going to be lousy, even if the display is a perfectly reasonable 1.2 inches across and wraps around the whole wrist like a slap bracelet. And unless you have slender fingers and a surgeon's steady hands, it almost goes without saying that voice controls are crucial for any futurist Dick Tracy gadget. Google Now's the leader in that category, while Siri's Wolfram Alpha brain has some major catching up to do. Speech-to-text for sending a quick message would also be great! That said…
3. It should also have side-mounted touch sensors
We can't have a civil society with everyone yelling into their wristwatches all day, can we? As an alternative input method, I hope the smartwatches have discreet side-mounted buttons or touch sensors (think of a laptop's touchpad). With a touchscreen you're effectively blocking your own view anytime you're tapping something. That's dumb. Give me some hardware that let's me scroll from the side of the thing.
4. Simplify the navigation software
Everyone got all boo-hooey when Apple booted Google Maps from iOS, this writer included. Now everyone loves Google Maps simply because it works. The thing is, though, that using any mapping software on a smartphone is still a frustrating experience. You have to type in the address and select how you want to get there. With a watch's limited display real estate, navigation would have to be even more elegant and to-the-point than it already is. How about a compass (with arrows) overlaid on streetview, pointing you in the direction of your next move?
5. Load it with single-touch applications
Advantage:Up for grabs
Picture this: You're just getting seated at a new restaurant. You tap a corner of the watch, and boom — Foursquare check-in. The top three reviews pop-up, you read about how the skirt steak is a total can't-miss, and you're back to talking with your friends like a real human being with a mouth and a brain.
I don't want the watch to be a distraction the way our phones already are. Ideally, I just want to use it the way I'd use a real timepiece — steal a quick glance and it's out of the way.
We also asked a few of you what kind of features you wanted to see. Thanks for the great responses! Here's a sampling:
@theweek A smartwatch sounds cool, but all I can think of are the big calculator watches we had as kids...yuk. Needs to be thin & sleek.
— Kathi Kwiatkowski (@kkwiatko) March 22, 2013
@chrisgayomali Sleek and compact; not bulky. Phone tracker. GPS with in-ear voice prompts. Emergency call button for slips and falls.
— Nonito Cabrera (@nokneetoe) March 22, 2013
@chrisgayomali It would have to look pretty, with a metal chain and a not-blocky design. Basically, it would have to look girly.
— Megan Friedman (@megancarol) March 22, 2013
@theweek to tell the time, to give presents to people, to massage mine face
— Ed Zitron (@edzitron) March 22, 2013