5 Tech Trends That Will Bring Back the Wristwatch

The smartphone killed the wristwatch. And the smartphone will bring it back. It's about time.
Posted January 23, 2013

Mike Elgan

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People don't wear wristwatches like they used to. And the reason is clear: Since everybody's got a mobile phone, and the phone tells the time, a watch is unnecessary.

But the mobile phone has always been an insatiably greedy platform -- it needs more features, more power, more convenience and, above all, more pixels.

Get used to the idea of the big platform companies selling or supporting wristwatches that serve as additional screens for and controllers of the phones in our pockets. I believe that Apple and Google will do so, and a large number of small companies -- including Pebble (which shipped it's long-awaited smart watch today).

Pebble is a great example of the coming wristwatch revolution. It connects via Bluetooth to either an iPhone or an Android phone. You install apps on the watch through your phone. It has a high-contrast, sunlight-readable eInk display.

Pebble is cool, but it's just the beginning.

Five strong trends are all converging to make smartphone wristwatches a near certainty. Here are those trends:

1. The Multi-Screen Functionality Trend

Until very recently, every device we used had its own screen. And the screen on one device wasn't connected to apps displayed on another screen, for the most part.

But now, thanks to Apple's AirPlay Mirroring, Microsoft's SmartGlass, Nintendo Wii U and other products, people will get increasingly familiar with the idea that two devices work together as one.

With these "living room" technologies, your smartphone can be a controller or provide additional contextual information for whatever's happening on your TV.

This is how the new wristwatches will work. Your watch will show you incoming texts, emails and Caller ID information, as well as other data fed by apps running on the phone. You'll be able to control what happens to some degree on the phone by interfacing with the watch.

2. The Wearable Computing Trend

Nerdy geeks like me (and possibly you) are looking forward to becoming cyborgs when we wear Google's Glass gadget.

Google's Project Glass involves the development of eyewear that beams visual information into one eye. It has a camera, and other sensors, and it enables the wearer to get contextual information, communicate and take pictures and videos without the fondling of a phone.

Google Glass hardware is interesting. But the secret sauce of Google Glass would work equally well on a wristwatch -- voice commands, augmented reality information and so on.

It's very unlikely that Google Glass will ever become a widespread, mainstream device and for several reasons.

First, it's got a camera on it. Humans don't like cameras being pointed at them all the time. If you don't believe me, go ahead and point your smartphone or digital camera at someone the entire time you're speaking to them. Second, single-eye display technology bothers some people like 3D does. Third, eyewear is fashion and people aren't going to turn to Google for fashion.

Eyewear-based wearable computing will be huge, but among geeks and specific professionals. The general public, including white collar workers, will never go for it en masse. But they will wear wristwatches.

3. The Voice Interaction Trend

Apple's Siri, Google's Voice Search, Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking and other products are training the human race to interface with computers and phones by talking -- just like on Star Trek.

Products like Wolfram Alpha, Google Knowledge Graph and to a certain extent Facebook's Graph Search, are moving us toward a world in which queries are answered not with possible options, but with specific answers. Ask a question, get an answer.

When you tell Siri to reschedule your lunch meeting or when you ask Google Voice Search who's playing in the Super Bowl, you don't need to type and you don't need to read. You talk, then listen.

And if you can do that with a phone, you can do it through your wristwatch without taking your phone out. Tap the watch, talk and hear the reply.

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Tags: Google, Apple, smartphone, tech

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