Smart Watches are Still Kind of Dumb

Ever since I saw Minority Report, I’ve wanted a smart watch.  If you don’t recall, Tom Cruise wore a slick (not real, unfortunately) timepiece that had popups and all kinds of geeky stuff:

When I saw it I was hooked. I wanted a watch that did stuff like that.  When smart watches finally hit the scene I was excited to try them.  But like so many new technologies before them, smart watches suffered from pumped up expectations.  The movie ideal was a stylish watch with an enhanced, digital face. The reality was…well, not that.

Smart watches have been around for a while now, and they’ve matured and improved, but overall they still suffer from a lot of “meh”, and are still kind of a let down for me.

Bulky, blocky pieces of tech, they offer some neat features, but take away too many of the things I’ve come to expect in a watch.  To be honest, I didn’t think my expectations were all that high. I wasn’t looking for a full-blown phone on my wrist, just the coolness of what I’d seen in the movie, and a little bit more. I didn’t need a heart rate monitor, or a remote for my tv, or even a fitness tracker. I was just looking for a more high tech version of what I already had.

First and foremost, I wanted something with changeable watch faces. Today’s smart phones have those in droves. Even the cheap knockoffs have at least a handful of faces to swipe between. I also wanted animation and touch capability. Here again, pretty much any smart phone has that down.

So what I wanted was there for the asking. But I still couldn’t bring myself to buy one. Why? Well, looking past what I’d gain, I had to consider how much I’d be giving up. So much of what makes a watch a watch had to be sacrificed for those cool, new features.

Let’s start with size. I have relatively small wrists, and I’ve always preferred a small- to medium-sized watch. I don’t want a child’s size, or even a woman’s size. I just like something that looks reasonable. Unfortunately I have yet to see a smart watch that doesn’t look either like a tiny tablet or a cartoonishly large hunk of metal on my wrist.   Yes, there are traditional watches that come over-sized, but I’m not interested in those either. I want a watch, not a wrist weight.

Not that my biceps couldn’t use the help

The fact that many of today’s smart watches (the Apple watch, for instance) don’t even look like watches is a problem for me too. The square style gives them a toy-like look, and make it obvious to everyone exactly what it is. Maybe that’s a selling point for some; many people are more interested in others knowing that they have something than whether they actually need it or not. Like kids with their sneakers, or pretty much anybody with their phones, maybe having an Apple watch on your wrist is more about status than anything. Personally, I don’t want my watch to draw attention to itself; I want it to be stylish but subtle.

Pictured: NOT subtle

Looking past the size and shape, there’s the fact that you pretty much have to charge the watch every day.  Most smart watches have a battery life of a few (very few) days, and if you leave the watch face on all the time, the battery lasts a matter of hours. This seems beyond impractical to me. As I write this, I’m wearing an old fashioned, some would say archaic, wristwatch.  Its battery lasts years. I can’t even remember the last time I had to swap it out.  So that means if I’m stranded on a desert island for weeks or months, I’ll have no trouble knowing what time it is.  With a smart watch, I’d be lucky to make it a week before I had to build a sundial out of seashells and coconuts.

I’d much rather work on creating fire

And let’s say you’re the type of smart watch owner who sets the watch face to shut off so you can save that precious battery. That means you either need to tap the display to turn it on, or make an exaggerated gesture with your wrist to see the time.  Well, I don’t need a watch that takes two hands to work, or that I need to become some sort of hand wizard to use.

Of course I realize there’s a huge market for smart watches these days. They’re selling like proverbial hotcakes. I do see the appeal, and the geek in me drools over them when I see them up close. But it seems to me the makers of these magical little wrist computers spent too much time on the “smart” and not nearly enough on the “watch”.  You just have to give up too much of what makes a watch a watch.

So, for now at least, I’m still sitting on the sidelines, waiting for my Tom Cruise watch. I’m hoping as time goes on battery life will improve, size will go down, and smart watches will become better watches. Until then, I’ll just have to suffer with my silly old “dumb” watch.


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