The Future of Watches

When it comes to consumer electronics, I rarely rush to buy a product just because everyone else has it, or, it is in fashion. I usually make a purchase because I need it and it is value for money. Am I a picky customer? Probably, because I often look for these things in a digital product: simplicity, usability, and affordability.

In the last few years, we have seen that smart watches have been pushed into the market at lightning speed. However, this does not seem to work well. Although it may have whetted consumers’ appetite, their interests soon fade after seeing no major benefits. Unlike smart phones, smart watches have yet to become something that consumers have to use on a daily basis. Once again, the three things – simplicity, usability, and affordability – need to be tackled well for smart watches to rival traditional watches.

Simplicity

For example, in comparison with a traditional watch, how easy does it take to set up a smart watch?

Usability

For example, how easy does it take to use it? A watch with a big screen is good for reading but is not desirable for sports and outdoor activities, as it adds weight and reduces agility. On the other hand, a small screen improves agility but decreases readability. That’s the dilemma of watches. And, more research needs to be done!

Affordability

A smart watch generally costs hundreds of dollars. This makes smart watch fall into the price range of luxury traditional watch. Thinking about the cost and benefit of owning a smart watch. Is it worth the investment?

So, where does the future hold?

I often think whether we do need a display screen for the smartwatch. Can a smartwatch function as a “voice-driven” Q&A terminal – without a display screen? Can it operate as an identification card and trip adviser on the go? This vision can be turned into reality thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and clouding-computing. How?

In addition to face ID, we should be able to leverage AI technology to unlock the smartwatch through our voices. Once it is unlocked, I talk to my smartwatch and my words are then transmitted to and processed by a cluster of software (or robots) in the cloud. Let’s drill down further by looking at some of the user scenarios.

Q (user): Can I book a Uber taxi please?
A (smartwatch): Sure, madam. Where are you travelling to? Where and when do you want to pick up?
Q (user): I am going to my office. Please pick me up at my current location and as soon as possible.
A (smartwatch): No problem, madam. Your booking has been made.

In comparison with a traditional watch whose only feature is to show the “Time”, a smartwatch has a lot to offer – for example, making phone calls, advising travel routes, and making bookings and reservations. For the “Time” feature, a smartwatch has a competitive advantage over a traditional watch, say, if it can answer the arrival and departure time of our travels seamlessly – regardless how we travel. To understand this better, let’s have a look at the following scenarios:

Waiting for Uber…
Q (user): What’s the time now?
A (smartwatch): It’s 12:30 pm, madam.
Q (user): I have waited 15 minutes for my Uber. How soon will it arrive?
A (smartwatch): Please hold on. I will check it for you… It will arrive in 3 minutes.

In Hongkong…
Q (user): 明天第一班去深圳的船是几点的?
A (smartwatch): 早上七点的。

At airport…
Q (user): How soon will boarding start? And from which gate?
A (smartwatch): Boarding starts in half an hour from Gate 1.

At office…
Q (user): When will the train depart from platform 2 at the Olympic Park station?
A (smartwatch): It will depart in 3 minutes.

At bus stop…
Q (user): When will the next bus arrive?
A (smartwatch): It will arrive in 9 minutes.

In the age of cloud computing, the computer has become a terminal or thin client, leaving most of the computing capabilities to the cloud. In the case of smartphones and tablets, the screens are needed because people use them for reading, watching videos, and playing games, etc. For smartwatches, the screens are optional as long as they report time in a “better” way than traditional watches. Without a display screen, the smartwatch becomes a smart speaker – on the go. Can a smartwatch be as thin as a string, or even as small as a ring? Can it be reflective under low-light conditions?

For smartwatches which do have screens, they have to look more “attractive” than traditional watches to stand out – whether they are designed for business, sports, or fashion purposes. For business, a classy look is very appealing. For sports and fitness, it needs to be practical – sweat absorbent, lightweight, ultra-thin, nimble look-and-feel. For fashion, a chic look is very appealing for female consumers.

Creating a “wow factor” smartwatch is a great endeavour. We should avoid the linear thinking of developing a smartwatch into a mini smartphone. Start from what the consumers truly need and leverage the cutting-edge technologies in battery technologies, material science and engineering, and artificial intelligence.

There is so much to be done to reinvent the smartwatch industry. Are we ready for the future?

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