NEW YORK -- There are only two significant platforms in the smartwatch arena and neither are up to snuff, according to Pebble’s Myriam Joire. The chief evangelist discussed the past, present, and future of smartwatches at Wearable Tech Expo, held here July 22 through 24.
“Other than Pebble [Steel] and Moto 360, I don’t think we have a smartwatch that looks good. More than ever with wearables, it’s super personal. You want this thing to reflect who you are. Customization is super important with gorgeous designs, choices of materials, shapes, and sizes,” Joire said in her keynote speech.
While Pebble and Android Wear-based Moto 360 take the cake for best smartwatches in a burgeoning field, both smartwatches are battling charging, display, and usability challenges. Chief among these issues is battery life - Pebble’s original 130 milliamp battery can last up to a week while Android Wear devices may be sucked dry in a day. Joire noted that a 15 minute charge could juice a Pebble watch for a day.
“[Battery] dictates a whole bunch of technology. If you want to make a wearable device, your software and your hardware need to be super efficient -- that means picking the right display, the right processor, picking the right radio communication,” she said. “That also means your OS needs to be lightweight. Android, Tizen is not going to cut it, they’re heavy OSes based on Linux. You need a real-time OS based on a Cortex M3 or M4.”
She said charging methods are another hurdle to widespread smartwatch adoption, pointing to wireless charging as a near-term alternative to using micro USB connectors that take up valuable real estate. She called out AT&T as a supplier of wireless charging devices and encouraged the company to stick with Qi - an inductive-based coil system - instead of promoting its proprietary system, Powermat, to grow the wearable industry.
“What we’re trying to do now is to rally a whole bunch of the other manufacturers to get them on board with a standardized connector that’s waterproof and low profile,” she said. “But making a watch waterproof and wireless-charging capable is difficult because of the size of the coil.”
Battery life in smartwatches -- and most mobile devices, for that matter -- are often compromised by display. Joire said displays in the smartwatch market were a “pick your poison” situation where users can opt for a daytime-readable display in black-and-white, or a more draining high-resolution color display.
“There is no magic pill. You have to pick one. For the next two years wearables will be suffering from this problem… Until then, solutions are compromised. We’d like to have color, more resolution, but in daylight you can’t beat [smartphone displays].”
Successful smartwatches of the future will also go beyond Bluetooth LE and smartphone-based connectivity. She envisioned a system of smart personal area networks to connect devices, perhaps brought online by a credit card-sized device with an RF chip that users charge monthly.
“Creating a secure world around your body, that’s the future and the present and foreseeable future of connectivity for wearables,” she said, adding that users will also need to trust manufactures. “You need to trust the tech world and give us your data. That’s the only way we're going to be able to predict what you want to do. Context is key.”
Creating context and positive use-cases in daily life is key to making smartwatches accessible to the masses. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, she noted, is too specialized to make the leap beyond early adopters and tech-savvy users.
“You need to keep things simple. Right now my beef with a lot of the technology I use today is it’s not simple enough,” she said. “If you want to go beyond early adopters… The people who buy a watch at Target don’t want to do anything. They want to take it out of the box and have it add value to their lives.”
Smartwatches of the future should focus less on complex modes of operation, Joire concluded, and instead set sights on simplicity and out-of-the-box usability.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times