A decade ago, most of us were still using our mobiles primarily to make phone calls. Some of us had what were then referred to as “PDAs” or “personal digital assistants” – precursors to the modern smartphone. We were forced to carry separate cameras for photos, and MP3 players (or iPods as they came to be known) for our music. The obvious convergence had yet to take place.
And then slowly, in small faltering steps, they came. Almost imperceptibly, smartphones were with us, and they were here to stay. They could do all the things which had previously required several devices, and much more besides. We had the sum total of all of human knowledge at our fingertips, accessible at any time. We could instantly engage with whomever we wanted, wherever they were.
“The huge phones we now wielded had become a burden, susceptible to loss and damage”
Paradoxically, where once phone manufacturers were trying to outdo each other to bring to us the smallest, lightest device they could, this trend had now changed. We increasingly needed greater screen-acreage to do all the movie-watching, email-sending, spread-sheeting and browsing that had by now become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Screens had to get bigger, and with them, so did the phones.
And so we found ourselves, in the main unwillingly, hauling around great slabs of glass and metal to feed our need for connectivity. The huge phones we now wielded, and which increasingly carried within them every aspect of our personal and public lives, had become a burden, susceptible to loss and damage. We were forced to designate bags and pockets to carry them, constantly having to fish around for them in order to check things or do things. Clearly, something had to change.
And it was this problem to which the smartwatch was the solution. Small, neat, safe and a mere glance away, whenever you wanted it.
But we are not there yet. We are once again learning to walk. To make those same, small, awkward steps towards that consummate device which will fulfill our every need.
But where is this all heading?
The early mainstream units, such as the first generation Sony Smartwatch, were little more than notification devices, requiring a constant connection to the phone in order to function even at the most basic level. Simple and perfunctory, lacking any real processing power or storage capacity, they relied entirely on the phone to provide the information they needed to operate. They were convenient, but for the casual user they were also unreliable, unappealing and ultimately uninspiring.
“we may find that we have come full circle, and that our main device is now the one safely wrapped around our wrist”
Then one manufacturer, Samsung, took a rather different approach with its “Gear” range of smartwatches. They were the first to begin to build independent computing power into their wrist devices. Originally this seemed a curious direction to take. It increased both the size and weight of the device, as well as the cost, and introduced a confusing element of functional and data duplication into the mix.
However, it now seems plausible that, eventually, we may find that we have come full circle, and that our main device is now the one safely wrapped around our wrist, while the phone itself will be relegated to the status of a mere accessory, a simple screen upon which we engage with the world at our leisure. No longer any danger of leaving our data on the train, or losing it down the toilet.
Already manufacturers are exploring the possibilities that a permanently-connected identification-verifying mechanism could present to us. Travelling, accessing buildings, personalising the ambiance of each room we step into – the possibilities are as limitless as they are mind-boggling.
It could be that the future of the smartwatch is a lot bigger and brighter than we can possibly imagine right now. Only time will tell.