back to article Wearable hybrids prove the bloated smartwatch is one of Silly Valley's biggest mistakes

Imagine if Intel had decided in the 1980s that all of its CPUs henceforth would have a vast parallel processing unit worthy of a Cray supercomputer, integrated into every chip. This would quadruple the price of an Intel microprocessor, but "future-proof" its PCs. Samsung Gear S3 Smartwatch And lo, Qualcomm hath declared that …

  1. MooseMonkey

    Er, seemsd to have missed....

    Garmin watches and other watches like Fitbit thingies have been ticking along for years with tracking and smart apps. Nice advert for whatever that new thing was though.

    1. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

      +1 Garmin have just released a Fenix 5 Plus costing ~£1000 and even that is selling well. After Apple Garmin is probably the largest install base of smart watches, and they aren't dumbed down smart watches either so clearly there is a market here or the little guy couldn't be charging 3x what Apple are. Also my Fenix 5 battery lasts for weeks!

      1. NightFox

        Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

        It's actually £600 which is quite a way off ~£1000 (even extras like sapphire 'glass' only pushes it up a bit), but I take your point. And don't get me going about the 5+ battery life, although hopefully it's a firmware issue.

        1. Sam Jelfs

          Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

          I think the Fenix 5+ is aimed at a very different market than things like the ticwatch though. I have an older fenix3, and when it finally dies on me the 5+ will be the first choice I think (depending on what they have brought out by then, or if suunto ever make something decent)

        2. Lusty Silver badge

          Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

          "It's actually £600 which is quite a way off ~£1000 "

          The Ti one is nearly £1000. The point was that people are happily paying this over and above an Apple watch because the Garmin is a useful device that has a purpose. Garmin have sold Fenix watches in the millions, and many other models in large numbers too. That's not a failed category of device.

      2. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

        "Also my Fenix 5 battery lasts for weeks!"

        OTOH, the battery in my 10 year old $12.95 Timex watch lasts about 5 years. Of course, it only tells time, but that's all I want it for. (Well OK, I have been known to use it as a VERY light duty hammer, but it doesn't need a battery for that).

      3. Wibble

        Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

        Garmin Descent is £1000 or £1300 if you want the cock-watch metal strap.

        They've found that niche by going after rich wannabe divers. So a specialism in the sea of generics.

    2. Sir Bignose

      Re: Er, seemsd to have missed....

      Suunto have been doing smart enough watches for long time (since 2003)

  2. jpo234

    I have a Fossil Q Explorist and like it. For me the most useful feature is the Google Notes app. It's really nice to have the shopping list on my wrist. It's much easier to access than on the phone.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      @jpo234

      I have my shopping list on a piece of paper, and cross things out when picked off teh shelf.

      Low tech solution is fine!

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        @tiggity.

        I find writing on and stuffing a piece of paper in my pocket with a pencil the most efficient way to shop.

        In the supermarket holding my smart phone, negotiating to the notes app and then trying to delete as I fill my needs is not easy while pushing a trolley, however, holding a bit of scrunched up paper and pencil with the steering hand while loading with the other is easy and striking through each thing on the list with the pencil is faster and simpler.

        Low tech is sometimes a higher order of thinking.

        1. Oflife
          Stop

          Galaxy Note is where it's at!

          I have mine mounted on the trolley using the clipboards they sometimes include, or it rests on my pile of shopping bags and I tick off each item as I plonk it in the trolley. I use web app based software we developed. PiCosm.com. (Launching to you lot later in the year. Does it all, reliably.)

          1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

            Re: I use web app based software

            No mobile signal in our local Tesco. Local app or pen & paper also have reduced data slurpage risks (probably.) Still, nice ad comrade.

        2. arthoss

          Peasant, you have the shopping list on your wrist, every item you tap to tick disappears eventually - on the apple watch. It's easier and faster when you have two bags in each hand than using sticks and stones to make a fire.

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        I have my shopping list on a piece of paper, and cross things out when picked off teh shelf.

        I write my list of items out in the order I know I will find them as I walk through the shop. Taking a pencil with me is an unconscionable extravagance!

        1. AMBxx Silver badge
          Joke

          Can't you just send the wife out to do the shopping?!

          All my best

          Sid the sexist.

          1. David Woodhead

            Can't you just send the wife out to do the shopping?!

            All my best

            Sid the sexist.

            If you're referring to the one from Viz, I don't think Sid is going to find a wife any day soon.

        2. Captain Hogwash Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Taking a pencil with me is an unconscionable extravagance!

          Do you favour a spike over a chair?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: spike

            I see what you did there, Cap'n.

            Ebeer for you.

            Phone-post, so no icon. 8o(

        3. IsJustabloke Silver badge
          Meh

          yes...

          except that if your supermarket of choice is anything like mine , they swap things around on a regular basis for that very reason.

          I don't use a shopping list always found them more hassle that they're worth.

      3. I&I

        D’oh

        I keep forgetting to buy paper...

        1. Korev Silver badge

          Re: D’oh

          I reuse envelopes from (mostly) junk mail, means it was used for something useful at least once...

        2. Sureo

          Re: D’oh

          Where I live the real estate agents drop notepads off regularly so I have a stack piled up.

          1. DanceMan

            Re: real estate agents drop notepads off regularly

            You live in Vancouver too?

      4. vtcodger Silver badge

        "I have my shopping list on a piece of paper, and cross things out when picked off teh shelf."

        Indeed. A decade ago, I had a eeePC in the kitchen so that people could call up recipes, play music, and add to the shipping list. There was a printer on the shelf above to print recipes and shopping lists.

        Problem is that no one used it but me, and I didn't use it all that much (and mostly for music)

        Nowadays, the eeePC and printer are gone. Recipes are in a notebook and the shopping list is on a notepad hanging on the fridge next to a pencil holder.

        1. cray74

          and the shopping list is on a notepad hanging on the fridge

          I only went to a list-making app (Note Everything) on my phone after years of repeatedly forgetting my handwritten grocery list. I almost never forget my phone but my grocery list stayed at home more often than not.

      5. skalamanga

        I frequently write my shopping list while driving home from work. Since it's illegal to touch my phone while driving, and writing with a pencil and paper is frowned upon while behind the wheel, adding things using my smartwatch is a solution I find worth while.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          skalamanga

          In the UK? The charge is driving without due care and attention. Unless you kill someone. Then it's causing death by dangerous driving.

    2. Dabooka Silver badge

      Shopping lists?

      Am I really the only one that doesn't need a list when I go out, and instead just live with the consequences when I get home and the discoveries of The Forgotten© are made?

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Shopping lists?

        "

        Am I really the only one that doesn't need a list when I go out, and instead just live with the consequences when I get home and the discoveries of The Forgotten© are made?

        "

        My normal method is, "Shit, I'm out of shampoo!" Get out of shower, dry, dress, go to supermarket. Come home with 5 carrier bags of stuff. Put away. Get undressed, enter shower. "Shit! Forgot to buy shampoo!"

      2. A. Coatsworth
        Facepalm

        Re: Shopping lists?

        I usually check the fridge and the kitchen to see what I need to buy, and write it down in a list so I don't forget. I go to the supermarket and promptly discover I forgot to bring the damned list with me, so I have to buy from memory.

        Once I come back home, I check the list (which has been waiting for me in the kitchen counter he whole time) only to find out how many important items I forgot to buy, and how much unneeded crap I did buy.

        A couple of weeks later, I repeat the whole process

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Shopping lists?

          I have a small magnetic whiteboard on the fridge door. Through the week, as we run out of things or decide we need stuff for a recipe, etc we write on the whiteboard. When i go shopping I take a photo of the list on my phone. I find I can mentally "tick things off" as I buy them, with a last look at the phone at the end to check I haven't forgotten anything.

          If anyone complains that I didn't get "x", then they get the reply "did you put it on the list?". Of course I have the photo as proof.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Shopping lists?

            Way back when Mobile phones were a novelty, my wife phoned and asked me to pop into the local shop on the way home. I couldn't write a list but I can (well I could) remember arbitrarily long lists (not a brainiac but it's a party trick I learned).

            I had the feeling I had forgotten one of the nearly 40 items as the conveyor rolled. But I got home and my wife was hugely impressed as she ticked off every item on her list.

            Sometime later, she looked out of the window and asked me where the car was. It was, of course, locked in the car park of the local shop.

          2. jelabarre59 Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Shopping lists?

            I have a small magnetic whiteboard on the fridge door. Through the week, as we run out of things or decide we need stuff for a recipe, etc we write on the whiteboard. When i go shopping I take a photo of the list on my phone. I find I can mentally "tick things off" as I buy them, with a last look at the phone at the end to check I haven't forgotten anything.

            You should load Gimp or some other image editor on the phone, then you could load the image into the editor and cross-off items as you pick them up.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Shopping lists?

              I find the back of an old envelope works quite well, too.

            2. Terry 6 Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: Shopping lists?

              jelabarre59

              Erm, if the whiteboard is small and magnetic they could just use the low-tech option and take it with. Just a thought. Coat with whiteboard in pocket.

  3. Edwin

    Smart as a feature?

    I think the Ticwatch will work for people who really want to add a smart device to their wrist, but many people already have one - think devices like Suunto, Polar, Garmin and Fitbit. These are showing increasing signs of smartness, adding smart features (and better looks) to a device that is already very capable in terms of hardware capabilities (HR and GPS sensors, touch screens, etc).

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Well done Mr O

    A whole article on wearables and not one mention of that fruity company that this site just loves to slag off.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Well done Mr O

      Erm....

      So too did Apple, which revived the Watch by adding waterproofing – essential for swimming and outdoors activity – in its second-generation watch.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well done Mr O

      Your reading it wrong.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Well done Mr O

      It doesn't fit with the story to mention Apple because they've sold tens of millions of expensive smartwatches.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Well done Mr O

        The Apple Watch is equivalent in size to a Fortune 300 company - i.e. Netflix or eBay - and outsells the entire Swiss watch industry. In units, probably not revenue depending on the industry's exact Swatch vs Rolex sales mix...

        I would agree it is a solution looking for a problem, but enough people have identified a problem its a solution for (even if the problem was "I want to spend money on something I don't really need") that Apple has made a business out of it that's huge by almost any measure. It just doesn't seem like it because it is dwarfed by Apple's iPhone business.

  5. DrXym Silver badge

    Smart watches should be simple

    Produce a watch which lasts at least month on a charge, tells the time from an always-on, glare-free screen, doesn't requiring tethering to a proprietary app, phone operating system or app store / cloud service and we might be getting somewhere.

    That doesn't prevent the watch from linking to a phone and streaming songs or showing messages / reminders over bluetooth. But the device itself itself should operate independently of the phone and when it does interact it should be over standardised profiles.

    That's a smart watch.

    1. david bates

      Re: Smart watches should be simple

      That's pretty much a Pebble... Until fitbit killed it.

      Mind you they've killed it nicely and left it open for other people to offer support.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Smart watches should be simple

        I might have been interested in the Pebble but they looked so ugly and TBH they still had issues with proprietariness which is why when the store went they had their own issues.

        When you think about it why are smart watches tethered to a specific phone, phone operating system or infrastructure at all. It shouldn't be hard to devise a number of open protocols that are able to cover 95% of the things people want to do in a smart watch - date & time config, audio / music streaming with trick play, timers/events/notifications, biometrics, voice control & input, location / directions, simple HTML+JS app framework.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Smart watches should be simple

      DrXym,

      I'm not sure about that. I think the smartest design decision with smart wearables is to make them as dumb as you can get away with. You've already got a highly capable mobile computer within very short range (i.e. the phone) and it seems to me that the more work you can dump off on that, the better.

      The downside of that is that you need the phone OSes to have common protocols and Apple and Google won't cooperate with that. Apple are far more restrictive of what apps are allowed to do too, so you may face problems with compatibility there. I seem to remember that my brother's Pebble did less because he had an iPhone than if he'd used an Android.

      On the other hand, I do think some of the battery life concerns are over-played. Once battery life is longer than a weekend, it ought to be fine. If you're going away for longer, you're going to be taking chargers anyway - and you're likely to forget to charge a weekly/monthly watch and so run out of batteries frequently anyway. As most people take their watches off at night, surely you just need a nice little charging solution for the bedside table that can also charge your phone - and it'll soon become habit. We're all used to charging our smartphones every night after all? Most of us choose the flexibility of the smartphone over the long battery life of the dumb one.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Smart watches should be simple

        Pebble was excellent and as a "solution looking for a problem" I found it really useful. The did the obvious thing and made a watch with always on sunlight visibility. It ended the sound of a ringtone and released me from having to dig round in pockets to check a notification, replacing that action with a 1 second glance.

        Fitbit killed it, then brought back something similar called the Versa at triple the price of the Pebble Time.

        Apple sold almost 20 million expensive watches in 2017 alone. Some big name traditional timepiece makers had to sit up and take notice at that. Certain to be more cash into Apple's coffers and absolutely not a mistake for their business.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Smart watches should be simple

        For most use cases, you will not be fine with a weekend's battery life. For one thing, anything that builds a battery with the goal of it lasting a weekend will have a battery that really works for twenty hours. If you're going to build a battery for a weekend, don't accept it until it lasts a week in testing. Some watches are capable of tracking sleep schedules, so you don't charge it at night. Useless feature? Fine. How about that watches can use their vibration feature as an alarm. A silent one that doesn't wake up people who sleep nearby, especially if you're a sound sleeper. Incidentally, if you like that idea, I recommend the Xiaomi MiBand 2 (max $20) with the gadgetbridge app from fdroid.

        There are a lot of convenient things a smartwatch could do that would reasonably use up battery and make a month-long life untenable. However, if your users also have a smartphone that does a lot of that, there has to be some discussion as to what things the watch can leave to the phone in the interest of having a good battery life and a good set of features. Telling the time is critical. Most people who buy these watches want notifications. Do they use the watch apps? Do they reply to messages with the watch? Do they really need the watch to connect to cell towers, or would having a WiFi chip that is turned off unless requested be good enough for emergencies like my phone died?

        It's not just cost, although that's a problem too, but the fact that the more features nobody wants are shoved into the thing, the slower it runs and the faster it dies. You probably wouldn't buy a laptop that I built where it has three hours battery life, but it also has processors of many different types so you can look at how your code runs on each different platform without leaving the interface. And also it has two independent bluetooth interfaces, making it possible to connect to more devices and turn your computer into a bluetooth peripheral that still has connectivity as a host itself. These features, while you could probably think of a way to use them, aren't in demand. The cost of them, less battery life and a more expensive computer, don't justify it for you.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        overnight charging

        "As most people take their watches off at night, surely you just need a nice little charging solution for the bedside table that can also charge your phone"

        Very true. Only downside is that overnight charging eliminates the ability to monitor and analyze your sleep. Anyone have any data on how much that matters to smartwatch users? I know that was one of the nifty smart device features people were touting when smart watches started showing up.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: overnight charging

          In the morning the Mrs. will sometimes ask how I slept. I usually don't know, because I was asleep. If I know the answer it's because I didn't sleep so good ( fortunately rarely). I also know what time I went to bed and what time it is when I wake up ( hint, alarm clock next to bed). Why would I need to wear a watch to tell me these things.

          1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: overnight charging

            In the morning the Mrs. will sometimes ask how I slept. I usually don't know, because I was asleep. If I know the answer it's because I didn't sleep so good ( fortunately rarely). I also know what time I went to bed and what time it is when I wake up ( hint, alarm clock next to bed). Why would I need to wear a watch to tell me these things.

            For those of us with (relatively) normal sleep patterns, not much need. However, it could be handy for people with various sleep disorders. Using an off-the-shelf product could make it more affordable to more people (although "affordable" has never been linked with the whole "smartwatch" ecosystem ever). This would also necessitate the ability to customize and install/uninstall the precise set of apps needed for the individual, and seeing the level of bloatware and useless crap shoved in pretty much EVERY "smartphone" out there, that isn't likely to happen. Bob forbid you should actually be in control of your OWN bought and paid for hardware.

    3. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: Smart watches should be simple

      That would be a Garmin. Ticks all your boxes.

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Smart watches should be simple

      @ DrXym

      Casio and Citizen have watches that go a year on battery and alert you to notifications and page your phone. What they don't do is stream music or display the contents of a notification.

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    I have been observing this trend for years, "smart" watches are mostly worn by dumb people who want to look smart - the few smart people who wear and use them usually get frustrated because the damn thing isn't smart enough.

    Me? I wear a basic Fitbit - it's just a sensor that also tells the time - it's quite handy but definitely not "smart" - "Smart" anything is just a marketing term these days.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      "smart" watches are mostly worn by dumb people who want to look smart

      That's bollocks, it really is. It's more appropriate to say that fitbits are worn by fat people that want to look fit.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        re: That's bollocks, it really is.

        Is it? What's the compelling use case for a smart watch then? There are none in the article or comments so far....

        1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

          Re: re: That's bollocks, it really is.

          "What's the compelling use case for a smart watch then?"

          The problem with this question is that what it's REALLY asking is "What's the compelling use case for a smart watch FOR ME then?", which is unanswerable for anyone but you. I am reminded of this every time El Reg puts up a story about phone or tablet sales. The "I just want a telephone with $RidiculouslyLongBatteryLife," or "Tablets are toys with no compelling use case," brigades come out and proceed to ignore or actively dismiss EVERYONE who points out that, FOR THEM, $Function or feature is indispensable or has, at the least, simplified their life in some way.

          It's perfectly fine to say "I see no compelling use case in $Gadget for ME," but another thing altogether to generalizie to "There is no use case for $Gadget." One is intellectual honesty and one... isn't.

          1. RubberJohnny

            Re: re: That's bollocks, it really is.

            "What's the compelling use case for a smart watch then?"

            What's the compelling case for a smartphone?

            What's the compelling case for a watch?

            If the smartwatch means no more ringtone and an easy glance to check notifications, that's a really useful thing for me. Of course it's not compelling, but very little is compelling in anything.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: re: That's bollocks, it really is.

              I don't know what the best use case is for you. Consider these:

              Why do people use smartphones over older cell phones?

              Me: I like having my email there. I listen to podcasts on the go, and the phone can just download them rather than my syncing something to get them. I like that GPS is just on the phone. A feature phone doesn't do that. For me, the reduced battery life is worth it.

              Someone else: I need to have facebook and twitter open at all times. A feature phone can't do that, so smartphone it is.

              Another person: I like basic photography, and the best cameras are on smartphones. Also, the photo software on phones is most convenient for me, rather than syncing my photos to desktop.

              A fourth person: I want to watch video while I commute. I need one of those massive screens to do it, and a strong data connection. For all those reasons, a feature phone doesn't work.

              None of these people agree, and they probably have different kinds of smartphones, but they all have one.

              As for smartwatches, I technically own one. However, it is a $20 watch (the Xiaomi Mi Band) which I use as an alarm clock. It vibrates instead of making a sound, which I like. It can't annoy people, even if I've forgotten to turn it off and I'm not there when it goes off. It can do notifications and has fitness tracking features. I don't use them. In fact, I'm so used to using my phone for time that I didn't ever use the watch for that. After a few weeks assuming I might, I no longer even wear the thing except for an alarm.

              Others might want the fitness tracking. Others want the GPS on your wrist. Others want the voice assistant. Others want the watch to play music. Many others don't want any of these use cases, either mine or the others. That's a thing that you decide.

          2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: re: That's bollocks, it really is.

            It's perfectly fine to say "I see no compelling use case in $Gadget for ME," but another thing altogether to generalizie to "There is no use case for $Gadget." One is intellectual honesty and one... isn't.

            Which is why my major complaint over tablets/smartphones/smartwatches is the fact that you cannot properly pare-down and customize them to fit YOUR own particular needs. Short of hacking/jailbreaking/re-flashing them, they are going to be weighed down with a shit-ton of useless and unwanted crap. The very idea that you don't automatically have root access on hardware YOU OWN is just plain wrong, and nothing will ever quite meet your needs.

      2. Spanners Silver badge
        Pint

        It's more appropriate to say that fitbits are worn by fat people that want to look fit.

        I wear one so that I can reassure myself that I do enough to become fit but it does not seem to be helping me with the willpower problem.

        As for looking fit, like many overweight people, I have body dysmorphia. I look in the mirror and don't see a problem...

    2. 2Nick3 Bronze badge
      Coat

      I've been observing these forums for years, rude and insulting comments are mostly made by people who want to look superior to others - the few not trying to be superior are usually just frustrated by the other comments they are seeing.

      Me? I' keep it simple - I'm only passive-aggressive to other posters when I'm trying to make a parody of their posts.

      (Yeah, I'll be heading out now...)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still need that "killer app" ?

    Unless - or until - a wearable device provides a unique feature (not one that needs a tethered phone or that could be done by a phone alone) we really are looking at silly.

    I've become very skilled at calling out future trends. My secret is "What would Jesus do ?". Jesus in this case being an avatar for the man in the street who actually needs value from what he buys. In the case of wearables or "smart" watches, or whatever you call them, the cold, hard truth is that if you have a smartphone, and add a wearable to it, you don't have any more functionality. It's just on your wrist rather than in your pocket.

    (I'll leave the famous El Reg Commentards to do something with that last sentence).

    If you can think of a feature that can ONLY be delivered by a smartwatch AND which DOESN'T need a phone, you might have cracked it. You'd think techies would understand how logic works.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

      Watches themselves being a perfect argument for your case.

      Young people today (the lucky bastards!) no longer wear normal watches. Why? Because they've got a phone in their pocket and so don't need one. So even the use-case of the watch itself is dying out. Let alone the smart one. Well reducing really, as I'm sure some younger people wear them and there's still a bunch of old codgers around the place who are in the habit.

      I wear a watch because I'm in that habit, and I was given a reasonably nice one twenty years ago. I like to be able to just glance at the time rather than taking my phone out of my pocket. But if I want to look at the date, I don't get my reading glasses out to squint at the tiny one on my watch, I use my phone. Anything that requires more attention than a quick glance means that the cost in time of reaching to my pocket to get my phone is now worthwhile.

      So I'd say the one application that would work for a watch for me, would be changing tracks when listening to music. But then I'd need my reading glasses to pick from a tiny watch screen, or I'd need a bigger watch. Or just get the phone out... I still use an iPod Classic anyway, so even if I wanted this, it wouldn't work.

      The same problem applies for satnav, when out walking. The screen isn't big enough to be less hassle than getting the phone out of my pocket.

      Which brings us to fashion. Fashion brands of watches do very well indeed. And I suspect will continue to do so. The same will power the smartwatch market.

      And maybe the tech will reverse someday? And we'll have small enough batteries and processors so that everyone will wear their portable computer as a watch, rather than having to carry the thing as a smartphone. And some people will still have smartphones but as a legacy device tethered to the watch to give them a bigger screen - and something to use as a game controller.

      1. NightFox

        Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

        "Young people today (the lucky bastards!) no longer wear normal watches. Why? Because they've got a phone in their pocket and so don't need one..."

        "The majority of people stopped wearing watches once the mobile phone took hold, who needs a watch to tell the time when you already have it?"

        Yet the irony is that about 100 years ago the wristwatch came into being as something that was more convenient than having to remove an object from your pocket every time you wanted to check the time (admittedly more critical back then when you were fixing bayonets about to go over the top and charge Fritz, but the convenience outlasted the initial driver).

        1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

          Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

          Just as a followup to this: Wristwatches were considered effeminate (we still see some echoes of this in the fact that metal bands are often still referred to as "bracelets") until they were taken up by pilots in WWI who could look at their wrists more easily than digging a watch out of a pocket of their bulky flying suits in a cramped cockpit.

          The More You Know...

      2. graeme leggett

        Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

        My son wears a watch - ordinary for school, waterproof Timex for Scouts etc.

        It doesn't help him look to his mobile because its a huge smartphone (Moto 5)

        I don't wear a watch because I got out of the habit when working in laboratories and with strong magnets in mass spectrometry.

        What I'd like to see in a smart watch is a basic information I get off the top line of my mobile - time, date and the alerts that come up. Not really a smartwatch but more a dumb repeater so I don't have to fish my phone from my pocket each time it goes ping.

      3. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

        "Young people today (the lucky bastards!) no longer wear normal watches."

        Some of us old farts also don't wear watches either. It's been almost two decades since I last wore one.

        1. John H Woods Silver badge

          Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

          "Some of us old farts also don't wear watches either. It's been almost two decades since I last wore one."

          Yep... RSI put paid to wearing anything on my wrists...

    2. DougS Silver badge

      You don't need a killer app

      To produce a nice business selling stuff to a niche market. A killer app is what would be needed for smart watches to become ubiquitous like smartphones are, but Apple is making a crapton of money selling watches that don't have a killer app and every other business in the world would love to create a product that did as well.

    3. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

      "Unless - or until - a wearable device provides a unique feature"

      For instance tracking activities while not carrying a phone? Or mapping without a phone? or music while running...without a phone. Scuba Diving (Garmin Descent) without a phone.

      Your phone isn't a part of you, you will survive leaving it at home. Without it, many activities become considerably more pleasant, especially given the bulk of modern phones.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

      My secret is "What would Jesus do ?". Jesus in this case being an avatar for the man in the street who actually needs value from what he buys.

      Er, I think you're reading that online Bible wrong. Those highlighted bits are ads. They're not actually part of the Bible.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

        "Er, I think you're reading that online Bible wrong. Those highlighted bits are ads. They're not actually part of the Bible."

        And in any case, Jesus would kick the smartwatch makers out of the Temple. Sunrise and sunset are good enough.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

      Well in my case , and many others the killer app is sports tracking. A sports watch with GPS and Bluetooth music means that you can leave the phone at home. OK not 'ONLY' by a smartwatch - but definitely 'BETTER' by a smartwatch. If I run with my phone it's in a pocket, and basically just a dead weight that sits slightly uncomfortably in a pocket. Hence the success of Garmin etc.

    6. FelixReg

      Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

      The unique feature a watch provides is the time and date. Instantly. Fusslessly.

      Checking a phone for the time or date is a hassle. Try in in the middle of a game. Even during a time out. Your phone's off-court in a bag. Try it climbing a gonzo hill. Try it driving when the car's clock is light-washed. And, if you're doing anything more exuberant than sitting at a desk, your phone might be securely tucked in somewhere not easy to slip out.

      Battery? A $15 Casio's battery lasts longer than the pins that keep the band on. And longer than the band, itself. And such a watch can be on you 24x7. No fuss. No muss.

      Killer app other than the time? Fashion. Apple, Rolex, and other jewelry outfits have that covered. Boring.

      1. quxinot

        Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

        "The unique feature a watch provides is the time and date. Instantly. Fusslessly."

        Arguably, a mobile phone's unique feature was the ability to make telephone calls remotely. Instantly. Fusslessly is debateable.

        The big killer app was ...er... the app, actually. Suddenly the smartphone became something that the cell phone was not. Calling a smartphone a phone is almost ludicrous, as they're pocket computers more than anything else.

        The reason why everyone in manufacturing jumped onto the watch platform is because they didn't want to miss out on the prize if it became as important as the smartphone did. It didn't, mind you, so they all have dropped back out again. There's still a bunch of niches available, from sports-tracking devices, handy GPS reference for golfers who want to know exactly how far they hit/need to keep hitting, diving computers, and so forth. What we're all waiting for is something that takes the smartwatch out of the category of niche and blows it into "basically everyone on the planet will want one" like smartphones did.

        Hasn't happened yet. If I knew the answer, I'd probably be a very rich man--or more likely, complaining and irritable when someone with more means gets the same idea and gets there first. But then, manufacturers can't do basic things like include reasonable pockets in women's jeans despite demand, so maybe there's hope yet.

        1. aj558

          Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

          I forgot my car key inside my car. Not a big deal, as I had a backup one in my wallet.

          Fast forward a few years. Wallets and keys are history. Everything is an app on your phone. Convenient?

          Then, one day, phone is lost/broken/stolen... and you're in the middle of a city, Payphones don't exist so you can't call your friends. Heck, you can't take a bus. Gotcha.

          Compelling enough to have a backup phone/payment/transit card on your wrist for a peace of mind?

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

            Hmm. Nice try. My car won't lock if the key is inside. In fact "key" isn't really the right name for it anymore, because it works keylessly. As long as you have the key-like-object on you the doors will open and the car will start. And I don't think I'd want that on my wrist. It'd be like a sign saying "mug me".

            1. aj558

              Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

              My Nissan Sentra managed to half-lock the door (!) with running engine once! And I don't take remote with me - why carry extra piece of crap if it needs the key anyway?

              Backup is one idea, mostly for the future. Also, small things, like not needing fingerprint/password to unlock by using smart lock. "Fruit' understands fingerprints are hackable so invented heavily in facial and how much does it cost on 'X'? Its cheaper to buy a phone without facial+smartwatch.

              I think smartwatch has potential. Otherwise, 'fruit' won't jump on that wagon.

            2. aj558

              Re: Still need that "killer app" ?

              So OK, you key-like object is lost/stolen/battery dead...need I repeat that having a backup is better than not?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The majority of people stopped wearing watches once the mobile phone took hold, who needs a watch to tell the time when you already have it? Trying to get people to wear watches again is a fools folly, it's just not going to happen and transferring apps from phone to watch is also a waste of time because you will always have your phone. Health devices work but are limited and not profitable. I personally don't see any solution to the problem that's not been found.

    1. gotes

      I find a watch is a far more convenient timepiece than a phone. I don't take my smartphone with me everywhere.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        gotes. I also don't have my phone in my hand at all times, or when driving I just angle my wrist to see the time rather than (illegally) fumbling with a phone to see the time.

        I spend a fair amount of time in environments that would damage or destroy even my tough phone but the titanium watch I wear will withstand a lot more.

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          When I'm driving...

          I have a clock on the dashboard, failing that the radio has one, failing that, the phone is mounted for use as a sat-nav and displays the time.

          Failing that, and only when looking isn't convenient - "OK Google, what is the time?"

        2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

          @Chris G.

          oooh, Titanium,... what you got? I have an Invicta 9302 in Titanium.

          1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

            Seriously, a downvote for owning an Invicta? There's a watch snob about,....

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        I take both everywhere.

        The only place I go without my phone is in the shower (or when I swim), and I leave my watch next to it. But I do wonder how much of my watch wearing is habit? I miss it when I don't have it - but that's because I had a watch years before I had a phone.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          I ain't Spartacus.

          I can swim with my watch and phone, the phone takes pretty good pics down to two metres, the watch doesn't take pics but is good to dive with.

          Being an old sod I expect my preference for a watch is as much habit as convenience but a watch fits on my wrist, the phone not so much.

      3. Spanners Silver badge
        Happy

        @gotes

        I find my phone more convenient. It goes with me everywhere. However, my watch is in a box in a drawer along with ties and other things that I rarely need.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      I do love how people see their own personal preference as canonical and write off other's ways as "silly" and "fools folly".

      Plenty of people find smartwatches and fitness trackers useful. Because you don't see it, it really not relevant as nobody except for yourself accepts that you are the centre of the universe.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @werdsmith

        I'm sorry I'm not allowed to have an opinion, so are you telling me the majority of people wear watches? I never said you can't wear them or that some people don't find them useful. It is a fools folly for the people that make these devices, look at the number of sales. I love the internet, it's a place where your own personal opinion that you are not forcing on others can be taken out of context by someone that doesn't read it properly and gets offended.

        1. RubberJohnny
        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          I'm sorry I'm not allowed to have an opinion, so are you telling me the majority of people wear watches?

          Nobody has said you can't have an opinion you strawmanning diva. Of course you can, but you have to accept that other people may have opinions about your opinions and they are allowed them too.

          And "majority" is irrelevant. Mean nothing. Even if they are a minority they are still popular and a massive market and commercial money making business.

          And nobody is offended, just pointed out that it's not all about you. Companies making money out of watches is not a "fools folly" because you don't get it.

    3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      @AC

      I can't be in the majority then, because I still own and wear about a dozen watches.

      At work, I wear one of my mechanical analog watches, often a Vostok, when I'm out with the dogs, it's usually my Suunto. I need a waterproof watch 'cos I need to know the time when I'm out and about, and outdoors it occasionally rains (I do live in blighty after all) and pulling my phone out wouldn't be wise, as it's not waterproof. Plus there are the occasional times I try to be fit, and I run, and surf, and snowboard. Again, I don't take a phone with me on those occasions. It's a Note4, and a bit big to carry during sport, it would leave a hell of a bulge in my lycra running shorts. I'll leave you with that image.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ok, this is easy to settle, if you go out at lunch the next 20 people you see after paying or finishing your lunch, check them for a watch and report back, lets see if I'm wrong or right?

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Devil

          ok..

          32 and counting.

          You didn't say in what time period.

          What - your phone only does now?

          Sad.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You know what Mr Werdsmith, you win, you are right and the reason why fake news is a thing, I tried to reason but alas it seems reason is dead, you accused me of thinking for everyone else and it worked because others believed you. Welcome to the future, hope you are proud and to every other lemming, I hope you enjoy this brave new world.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Welcome to the future, hope you are proud and to every other lemming, I hope you enjoy this brave new world.

            Just relax man, it's not supposed to be taken seriously, its a discussion banter forum on The Register. Not the end of the world. Even your world - which is not the only world :)

            .

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Thankyou

        Thanks for that image - now I need laser surgery to excise my eyeballs.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @GruntyMcPugh

        How many arms do you have???

  9. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    The Number of the Beast

    My watch must have been massively over-specced because it's still working to spec. after 50-odd years of almost constant use.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: The Number of the Beast

      It's not really that the processors are too powerful for the job - they do the job fine. The bigger problem is that they are too powerful for the batteries you can fit in them...

      If batteries could deliver ten times the power for the same volume, then the drain would be less of a problem.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about an app that trains your wrist for optimal self delectation? If someone can pull that off I think they may be onto a winner.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      iTug?

      iTug?

      1. Andytug

        Re: iTug?

        iFap?

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Devil

          Re: iTug?

          iFap therefore iAm?

    2. Geekpride

      Vibrate function?

  11. gotes

    First paragraph

    Surely if Intel only sold super high power CPUs in the 80s we'd just be using a different vendor's CPUs now, rather than not buying computers at all.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: First paragraph

      ...Yes, we'd be using ARM for all our portable computing.

      ...looks around

      ...oh yes we are, aren't we?

  12. Oflife
    Flame

    Pebble! Did all you want, reliably.

    Nothing more to say.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Pebble! Did all you want, reliably.

      Reliably? I think my brother ordered 3 and only ever got 2, and the first one had to be replaced twice.

      Had they been better at logistics, they might not have gone bust and had to be bought out.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Pebble! Did all you want, reliably.

        I'm sure your one off anecdote about your brother reflects the entire Pebble logistics.

        Here's my one-off anecdote: Ordered original Pebble, recieved original Pebble, worked perfectly. Ordered Pebble Time, recieved Pebble Time, worked perfectly.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Pebble! Did all you want, reliably.

          It's not a one-off anecdote. They massively over-funded on Kickstarter in their first campaign - and so unsurprisingly had huge delays in getting their product to their customers. And as far as I can tell, had the same problems with every product launch. It's not surprise - logistics is bloody hard, and presumably they were a techy company which was all about the shinies. But the point is that their logistics never improved and they were pretty much always delays and waiting lists to get them.

          And when you say your Pebbles were delivered on time, I presume you mean they turned up when specified to you. But they missed their delivery deadlines for both the Pebble 1 and Pebble 3 - as in they didn't even ship in the same quarter that they announced when they launched the products.

          I'm too lazy to look, but I think they also admitted publicly that they had quality control issues with the early model, and had to do a lot of replacing. Again not unusual.

          This isn't exactly a unique problem in the tech industry.

  13. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Depends on the watch

    Having a nice watch on the wrist is convenient for a quick time check, more so than picking up my phone. Ditto, in other circumstances having a tough old watch that doesn't mind a few knocks, that I can risk getting scratched etc. if I'm doing a bit of gardening, tidying, cooking, other messy work.

    If I could have such a watch that would also pass me my messages I'd be pleased and might even get one. GPS could be useful to me too if it was made practical, since it saves holding the phone in my hand. I'm a bit puzzled by the fitness app thing. Yes there are plenty of joggers. But really are there that many fitness fanatics around?

    As to any other "smart" features; what's the point? If you want to do BookFace/Twitting and so on you are going to spend long enough to make it worthwhile to pick up your mobile with a decent screen.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'But the industry convinced itself'

    That sums things up right there.... Whether its Reality-Distortion-Field economics or the Surveillance-Economy, its clear not many of us want this. Yet our input is never listened to anymore. From Silly 'con' Valley to South Korea, tech executives are tone deaf! You know, with Android-slurp, Win10-slurp, SmartTV-slurp, IoT-slurp, Car-slurp etc.... CES should really be renamed 'Surveillance-World'! But no one gives a fuck what we think. We're supposed to give thanks anyway, like we're dealing with God!

  15. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Also applies to mobile phones when Silly Valley (Android and iPhone) got involved

    any use case was considered. The hardware would have to be more powerful than it needed to be. Just in case. [...] It would be nice to think that Silicon Valley has learned something from the experience, that it doesn't need to shove an expensive chip into everything, or that "smart" is always preferable to "does the job". But I doubt it.

    Gold-plated future-proofing or terrible inefficiency, or probably both...

  16. DropBear Silver badge

    The point that smartwatches may or may not be overly powerful does have merit, depending on what exactly one expects from a smartwatch (and frankly I can think of at least some that would warrant all the processing power possible); however insinuating that this is a _price_ problem is beyond ludicrous seeing as how the cost of the smarts itself is effectively zero dollars in anything from a five bucks bracelet all the way to a thousand pound smartphone. Whatever spondulicks you're being mugged for buying your smartwatch, the SoC inside isn't what you're paying for...

  17. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    I don't get the distinction...

    This : "Meanwhile, "dumb" wearables optimised for health and fitness tracking had been selling quite nicely"

    I really don't get the distinction you are making between the iWatch being a "smart" watch and my Garmin 935 being a "dumb" wearable? There is nothing smart at all about the iWatch, and it does nothing that my Garmin can't.

    Can someone explain? Although I think I already know the answer...

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: I don't get the distinction...

      'I really don't get the distinction you are making between the iWatch being a "smart" watch and my Garmin 935 being a "dumb" wearable?'

      Might be the same distinction I've been noticing recently. Some people call an iPhone a smartphone, but all others are not smartphones. The distinction is likely marketing driven.

  18. Tim 11

    power consumption

    Re: the TicWatch part of the story, what's sad is that the manufacturers have to switch to a different operating system to conserve power - surely any OS intended to be used primarily by battery powered devices (android, IOS etc) should be designed to use next-to-no power when inactive, and perform only the necessary functions at any point in time.

  19. Dark_Ronius

    Handiest thing about android aear was sneakily checking my messages while at work. Besides that, I've now settled on a Mi Fit instead for health and notification features. It means it can last a couple of weeks on one charge, rather than having to charge the Google LG watch every night.

  20. theOtherJT

    Positive reviews eh?

    Well, come on Reg - lets be having one then :)

  21. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Coat

    The smartest watch of all...

    Of course

    Mine's the coat with a piece of paper in the pocket.

  22. sabroni Silver badge
    Happy

    Anecdotal

    My sister's partner bought a second hand iPhone that came with an apple watch. I asked them what it was good for. "Charging" was the reply.

  23. Mage Silver badge
    Devil

    Amazon Prime

    Evil.

    Cheats consumers (because most subscriptions do) and cheats content creators. Makes Amazon massive profits. Hence desire to have "cool" exclusives.

    The article has a lot of sense (pity about Pebble). Sad it promotes an Amazon Prime Exclusive.

    1. rocklands.cave

      Re: Amazon Prime

      Was going to say exactly that - come on Reg?

  24. Berwhale

    The Real Hybrid Smartwatch Experience

    I have an Alpina AlpinerX. It's a proper Swiss watch, hand assembled in Geneva. It has a very discrete LCD display under standard analogue watchface. The watch tracks activity, sleep, temperature, altitude, barometric pressure and UV exposure. This information is presented in a very slick smartphone app (Android in my case).

    I don't have to charge the battery because it lasts 2 years (which is guaranteed by Alpina).

    I paid £420 for the watch as a Kickstarter Super Early Bird, retail price is likely to be closer to £1000, so I realize that it's not for everyone.

    The AlpinerX is based on a movement from the MMT Horological Smartwatch platform. https://mmt.ch/

  25. IGnatius T Foobar ✅

    computers...

    PCs would have been more likely to run a network of green screen terminals using Sequent Unix or Microsoft Xenix.

    That would have been a nice world to live in.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've often thought that smart watches went off in the wrong direction. The problem is that vendors always fall into the trap of thinking "let's use our existing platform, then we can leverage all the synergies!" (or something).

    I would have thought that you should go relatively low tech and cheap and simple. Maybe an E Ink display and modest CPU, and a tightly written custom OS to maximise battery life. Then you do what Apple did - put out an SDK, so the early adopters can have fun making their own apps. There are plenty of clever people out there, and someone would be bound to come up with a killer app, sooner or later.

    But what do I know....

  27. JohnFen Silver badge

    I agree

    I've been using a Pebble for years now, and once Pebble bit the dust I started looking at the other smartwatches. I haven't found one that actually meets my needs -- it seems like they're all trying to be a "smartphone in a watch", meaning that they're overly complicated and have terrible battery life. I'm still looking for a suitable Pebble replacement.

    1. Ron Swanson

      Re: I agree

      You should check out the amazfit bip (https://us.amazfit.com/shop) available from places like banggood for about £50 with a 45 day battery life, gps, heart rate, customizable faces, does everything my pebble used to do and much more. best smartwatch around IMO.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: I agree

        Thanks, I will!

  28. topicref

    I rather enjoy my Amazfit Pace for fitness tracking. I'm not sure what it runs, but it's not trying to be a phone on my wrist. It has GPS and a really nice battery life, and is waaaaay cheaper than a Garmin. Things that try to do everything seem rather silly - it's nice to have a purpose-built option.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      I have exactly zero interest in fitness tracking, but if it can do the other things the Pebble can do, then this looks like a winner.

  29. melgross

    This article is nuts! First of all, he’s to afraid to mention the Watch, which is very successful. Yes Android watches are failures, because people buying $300, or cheaper, phones aren’t going to buy a $300 smartwatch. That’s pretty obvious.

    It’s just like “regular” watches that start at $250. There’s a market for them, but not for people who aren’t interested in spending the money. It’s why the Watch is a success. The average Watch sells for $385, but the average iPhone sells for almost $750.

    My Watch saved my life back at the end of May, by notifying me of a very elevated heart rate, and stating that I should seek immediate medical attention. I went to the emergency room, and ended up in the hospital for 2.5 weeks. If it weren’t for that, I could be dead. So is this trivial? No, it’s not. It’s worth every penny. Your smartphone can’t do that.

    1. quxinot

      "My Watch saved my life back at the end of May, by notifying me of a very elevated heart rate, and stating that I should seek immediate medical attention. I went to the emergency room, and ended up in the hospital for 2.5 weeks. If it weren’t for that, I could be dead. So is this trivial? No, it’s not. It’s worth every penny. Your smartphone can’t do that."

      So they save lives?

      Arguably, a cheap plastic band around everyone in the world's arm that said "Don't smoke, and don't drive drunk" would save more lives by a bajillion percent. Your needs are not the needs of the market, when talking about absolute mass-market products, rather than niche ones.

      (I would of course have the geek version--a mobius strip.)

  30. Anonymous C0ward

    Smartwatches, like any other technology, will take off

    when the porn industry discovers them.

  31. DCFusor Silver badge

    Reverse snobbery here

    Haven't worn a watch for quite a few years. I'm bragging that I don't have to know the time accurately for anything -

    The world can wait for me, I own my life and my time, not someone else or their schedule.

    The only reason I use a clock is so I don't have to wait for some appointment. The one on the wall or in the car handles that fine.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Reverse snobbery here

      Well, my time is increasingly my own. But I do inhabit the world, I do associate with other people and meet them at prearranged times*. I divide my time so that I can end one activity ready for another. And I use my watch in preference to my phone for most of this because it's there on the end of my arm, ready for a quick glance without the effort of putting down anything I'm holding to fish in my pockets for the mobile.

      *I try to be punctual, not keep people waiting, and I expect the same from them. In fact at home if the agreed arrival time is approaching we say they are "nearly late". But then I'm a "glass is nearly half empty" sort of person.

  32. N2 Silver badge

    I have a smart watch

    I paid £330 for it and some 25 years later I could sell it for £500

  33. aj558

    Generally, its silly to bluntly reject something. Time will tell :) if people prefer to embrace smartwatches en masse or not. Event if not, it could be a nice niche cash generator.

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