Primetime: The Solution To Smartwatch Problems Is Time

Smartwatches have definitely improved as the Android Wear platform matures and brings in more manufacturers, but there are still many key issues holding them back from reaching their true potential. When the devices first launched, they were distinctively clunky and functionality was somewhat limited. Their use was further limited by the fact that the wearables were tied directly to a smartphone via Bluetooth and that placed boundaries on how far away from a user's phone it would still work to do more than just tell time. Most of the manufacturers involved were primarily technology companies, leading to some problems with marketing the wearables. Although several of the problems have been solved and others have been consistently worked at year-over-year, most of the current problems are still hardware related. There are also challenges associated with the cost of ownership that still need to be addressed. To be clear, smartwatches are rapidly approaching a point where the novelty of seeing one in the wild, or of owning one for that matter, has long since worn off. In fact, the platform may have already moved beyond the point of novelty. Android Wear got its start more than 3 years ago and competing devices with different operating systems, or operating with different focuses entirely for fitness trackers, were either already available at the time or followed soon after. With the inevitable end to that novelty and competition on the rise, manufacturers are going to need to start addressing the complaints about the platform and those attributes of the devices themselves that are really holding them back.

Among the chief concerns for buyers of any product, whether that's an electronic device or not, is the overall cost of ownership. In general, with increasing functionality and build quality improvements that have been made over the last several years, the cost to own a smartwatch has gone up. Moreover, even a very affordable Android Wear-enabled smartwatch is pricey to start with. For example, while the watches featured on Google's online device store are hardly the only offerings out there, the cheapest wearable available there for U.S. buyers is LG's Watch Style, currently listed at $249. There are obviously other ways to buy a smartwatch but finding one for cheaper often depends on a customer's willingness to really shop around and a buyer is also limited, in many cases, by the region of the world they happen to live in. That cost doesn't include any money the user might spend on any of the applications available to customize the watch faces or expand on the number of actions that can be completed from their wrists, either. It also doesn't include the cost of buying a more likable watch band or several for different occasions. Companies such as Acer and Xiaomi are attempting to address the problem with offerings below $150 but, as has already been mentioned, those won't necessarily be available outside of very specific world regions.

With consideration for the fact that the devices in question are intended to last for a relatively long time and have a wide range of uses, initial buy-in cost admittedly may not seem too bad. However, the rate of improvement in fields of technology also needs to be factored into the overall cost. Many of the watches that are available now have included support for LTE connectivity for stand-alone use. Some come with embedded speakers, and other features that just weren't available a year ago. New software updates do improve the usability of older watches, but those updates often can't make up for lacking or obsolete hardware and the changes made often focus on using the new hardware that has been brought to the table. There is not much more that manufacturers can do to help bring down the cost and the market itself should eventually adjust and bring prices down. The only real option from a manufacturing perspective may be for those companies to take on short-term losses in order to increase adoption rates, which would almost certainly lead to more natural price drops and increased sales.

Moving beyond that aspect of the industry most likely preventing larger increases to sales figures, there are other key problems which need to be addressed by manufacturers themselves. The hardware, despite vast improvements that are certainly on the horizon, is just not there yet on the fashion front. Google, in particular, has been putting a lot of effort into a more fashion-forward approach to the platform and has teamed up with several big names in the industry to get the ball rolling. That said, a big part of the problem with the current range of smartwatches is that they are too big or heavy. Traditional watch manufacturers have come to a point where the more stylish offerings are slim and lightweight. Smartwatches are typically loaded with sensors, in addition to the screen itself and battery hardware, that generally make them bulky. In the fashion world,"bulky" is effectively synonymous with unsightly or ugly. If the industry is to keep growing, technology-enabled wearables are going to need to match the more traditional style guidelines and slim down. Unfortunately, slimming down and becoming more fashionable are only one-half of the hardware equation. Devices will also need to continue improving in terms of functionality and many of the sensors causing complaints are necessary for those functions.

Another piece of the hardware puzzle that definitely needs attention is the battery tech found in wearables. Large batteries are essentially non-existent and, despite optimizations on the software side of things, they typically don't last more than a day or two at most. The charging solutions available don't help with the situation either. With smartphones and tablets, cables are pretty much universal with one or two variations. So a friend's cable or another cable that technically belongs to another device can be used in a pinch if needed. For Wear devices, there really is no standard way to charge and most watches come with proprietary methods by which to juice up.

To be fair, there are several companies working on solving the issues currently facing Android Wear as a platform. While the pricing problem is mostly going to depend on the industry and market growth, it would probably be unrealistic to hope costs will fall as low as they have for traditional watches any time soon. Meanwhile, Google's decision to partner with well-known fashion brands is playing a key role in bringing new users on board and that should help get costs within what most people would call "affordable." On the other hand, that decision is already to have a profound impact on the other problems facing the platform and even mobile service providers carriers aren't resting on their laurels. Verizon, for example, has a new Android Wear 2.0 device set to arrive in just a few days and other carriers are also doing what they can to put their best wearable foot forward. Despite its flaws, the Android Wear platform has continued to grow and will continue to see innovation as the technology inside improves, and this year is already shaping up to bring substantial changes. In the end, as with most technological advances, what Android Wear really needs is more time.

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About the Author
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Daniel Golightly

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]
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