Like many of us, I am addicted to technology and a self- diagnosed tech geek.
I love to learn about new technologies and experiment with the latest product and service offerings. But on the flip side, I am a demanding and practical customer. As a result of having been involved in technology for decades, I have been burned and disappointed by the promise of new products or the fleeting utility/lifespan of the investment.
So with that background, I have come to render the following assessment of the smart watch product segment:
I began this journey a couple of years ago, investigating and researching a variety of early adopter products. Until about 18 months ago, I felt as though the category was in such an early stage of maturity that none of the offerings would provide long-term value or a positive ownership experience. Like many early-stage tech products, they might be fun to play with and add some panache to your personal brand, but core functionality and utility would be sorely missing.
That changed with the launch of the second- and third-generation of products from Apple, Samsung and LG. By 2015, the smart watch market was in full swing with second- and third-generation products from leading technology brands. My apologies to the pioneers in the space, but you have already been pushed to the margins. After significant consideration, I decided to enter into a long-term user test of the LG Urbane gen 2.
The intent of this review is to assess the long term ownership experience of the product rather than to provide a detailed product technical overview. There are numerous technical overviews available for all of the leading watch categories. The questions that are most often unanswered are, “Should I buy one? Will it make my life better? Is the technology far enough along the technology ‘S’ curve to provide the owner with a positive experience and return on their investment (or both time and money)?”
Let me begin by saying that after investing a year using and investing my time in modifying my behavior to best leverage the capabilities that the smart watch facilitated, smart watches are not without merit. But on balance, the immaturity of the entire product offering falls short of a must-have device. Great products challenge designers and engineers to provide a degree of uniformity of experience that assures that no element so distracts from the experience to render the product poorly received.
To illustrate this, imagine how our passion and addiction to our smartphones would change if the battery needed to be charged every two hours or even mid-call. The product and all of its amazing and addicting capabilities would still be in place, but the unevenness of the poor battery life would dramatically affect consumer adoption, even though it is only one of many critical attributes. Furthermore, a great product must provide some killer features that you just can’t live without in order to motivate the behavioral changes necessary for adoption.
The smart watch category falls short in both of these attributes. As I stated earlier, they are not without merit, but the unevenness of the experience and the lack of an overwhelmingly powerful benefit rendered my experience to be disappointing. You could take my smart watch away tomorrow and life would be just as productive and enjoyable. That is not the case with my 60-inch flatscreen TV, my smartphone or my gaming laptop.
So what went wrong?
1) First and foremost, battery life and charging systems are not up to the challenge. I don’t know about you, but charging another device every two hours is not something I was looking for or want to deal with. Even worse, it requires a unique charging platform; when you travel, you need to haul even more peripherals around, another behavioral adoption I have no interest in.
2) Form factor is another. This comment is not for the Millennial crowd, but for those of us over 50: Anything that makes us put our readers on to use is a negative experience. This is a struggle for the form factor of the smart watch, but with thoughtful UX design this could have been not only addressed, but it could have been that feature that I had to have balancing some of the other functions that disappointed.
3) The killer function is missing. Yes, it could tell me my heart rate, my steps, notify me about calls, texts and emails … but in the long-term test none of that really changed my life and made it worth the hassle factor. It was just way too easy to leave at home. In the end, the most important functions it provided were just repeating what my phone already does and because it has to be connected to the phone, it means that that device is always within reach.
So is there any promise? Yes!
1) The Urbane got style right or at least in the right direction. From the reactions I got all year, style matters and wearing a computer on your arm is not style. The Urbane, with its sophisticated classic watch design, made it an edgy and fashionable accessory.
2) Providing subtle connectivity. It has never been more important for us to put down the phone and focus in the moment. We are overly distracted – just look around in any restaurant or meeting, it is getting harder and harder to actually hold someone’s attention for any length of time. I found the smart watch allowed me to put the phone down, out of sight and, for all practical purposes, away. This allowed me to focus and stay in the moment with those I was with. The subtle connectivity hidden under my cuff kept my anxiety in check. This was by far the best function and offers the most hope for smart watches to become a killer product.
So there you have it. In the end, I don’t think the current smart watch offerings are quite ready for prime time killer product status. After a year, I have no problem leaving my watch at home and, because the charging issues, I don’t bother to travel with it. But with that all being said, if the product category has the potential to provide real value, it will take a laser focus on users and their use cases and awesome physical and UX design. Apple, Samsung, LG, you can do it, you just haven’t yet.