Having just wrapped up a thought-provoking session at #CES2015, “The Market for Smart Watches,” my mind is now racing into the possibilities of this futuristic technology. In truth, I’ve been a skeptic of smart watches. Why would I settle with a baby screen on my wrist when I could take in the majesty of my smart phone retina display? However, having heard the input and ideas of the industry’s leading minds — including the likes of Dennis Miloseski, VP, Design at Samsung and Jeff Bonforte, SVP, Communication Products at Yahoo — I now realize my skepticism has been resting on the wrong question.
The usefulness of the smart watch will not be determined by its screen; it will be determined by the extent to which it connects you to your own life. Smart watches will not challenge your smart phone. If they tried, they’d fail. At most, smart watches will act as extensions of your smart phone (at least in the beginning).
The Perceived (and Moderately Far-Fetched) Power of Smart Watches
Think about this through the lens of recent progress in the smart home arena—appliances, televisions, and other devices all connected and controllable with your phone or computer. Both Dennis Miloseski and Jeff Bonforte foretold that smart watches (or other forms of wearable accessories) may soon act as triggers to auto-direct various tasks in your home.
- For instance, your watch may sense your body temperature climbing and consequently instruct your home to lower the temperature in a particular room.
- It may feel your blood pressure rising and cue the audio system to play something relaxing.
- It may recognize your imminent proximity to the living room and fire a signal to power on television and subsequently flip to the 6 o’clock news, recognizing it’s nearly 6 PM.
- It may receive and display a notification encouraging you to switch the laundry into the dryer the very instant the spin cycle comes to a stop (assuming your washing machine even uses water, but you get the idea).
- It may be programmed to send a tailored message, such as, “I love you” to your wife, by simply tapping the glass in a certain sequence—like Morse Code.
- And in the future, as the prospect of self-driving automobiles transition from fantasy into reality, the smart watch may even alert the car you’re headed for the front door (as though to leave) causing it to switch on, exit the garage to an apt pickup spot at front driveway, and auto-open the driver-side door as you near the vehicle.
Miloseski also captured my interest when he described his ability to still feel technologically connected on his morning run when only accompanied by a smart watch. It linked him to maps, messages, and other basics — and what’s more — freed him from the burden of toting around a cumbersome smart phone. While this scenario makes a case for the convenience smart watches may provide, it also points out the infantile nature of these devices—there’s still a long way to go.
Getting a Little Sci-Fi
Perhaps Jeff Bonforte’s remarks aroused my curiosity most of all. Jeff spoke of a concept called “network effect,” which suggests that the perceived value of a product (like a smart watch) is contingent on the number of others using it. If this seems complex, think about the conventional phone. It’s only useful if all your friends and family can be reached by dialing their respective numbers. If you can’t call anyone, what good is owning a phone? That’s network effect.
Bonforte awakened the science fiction enthusiast in me when he shared possible situations for which families and close friends might become more deeply connected though mutual use of smart watches. He conceived of a husband’s smart watch literally becoming cooler in temperature to signal him that his wife, wherever she may be, is feeling cold. He called this “intimacy.” Perhaps that seems creepy or downright weird, but it indicates Yahoo’s interest in the sensory capabilities of wearable accessories.
The All-Encompassing Connectedness of Smart Watches
Ultimately, all of the ideas and possibilities shared throughout address a larger theme of emergent technologies, which involves prospective connectivity between smart (and foreseeably wearable) devices and everyday objects like cars, appliances, and so forth. So, if you think a smart watch is just a small touchscreen display on your wrist or a mere timepiece, you’d be mistaken—just as I was. While the future of the smart watch is indefinite, what is clear now is that it will be hinged on the notion that it be worn at all times in order to do the many marvels I have described. So I guess you could say, in the words of Fleetwood Mac, it wants to “be with you everywhere”—especially at home.
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