Watchphones: The Future of Smartwatches?

smartwatch that makes calls

Smartwatches as we know them today are a relatively new innovation that have only become attractive pieces of tech on the last 10 years really.

Sure, we’ve had calculator watches for 25 years but has a wrist based calculator ever been that exciting?

Yes, the leading smartwatches in 2020 can do math but this is a feature that isn’t even mentioned in the sales pitch anymore.

The features that excite us these days are things:

Activity tracking – where a user can track and measure their exercise routines

Heart rate monitoring – an extension of activity tracking where accurate health and fitness reports can be given.

GPS – never get lost again as satellite systems tell you your whereabouts and map your exercise routes.

Smartphone capabilities – the ability to make and receive calls and text messages. Also, being able to access online services and apps such as social media.

It’s the last feature on our brief list that has still to be mastered. Being able to make and receive calls and take messages independently of a cell phone is no easy feat.

There are a few smartwatches out there that do it pretty well but they’re hampered by the same issues. Namely, battery life and limitations on the user interface.

Our opinion is echoed in a recent piece by Engadget that argues that smartwatches of this day are still plagued by the same issues that the Seiko Ruputer did (the very first smartwatch).

Let’s dive a bit deeper into these shortcomings.

watchphone on man's wrist

The Battery Problem

Smartwatch batteries are not currently at the stage where they can last longer than 6-12 hours if features like 3G or 4G (even 5G) data are being used frequently.

That’s a big turn-off for the consumer which in turn prevents manufacturers from getting involved. Currently, there are just a handful of good watchphones available.

The ever popular Apple Series is onto its 5th iteration (which is an awesome watch, albeit with slightly disappointing battery life) and Samsung have a couple of solid offerings in the Galaxy Watch and Gear S3.

Then there’s the Garmin Vivoactive 3 which is available on Verizon and the more affordable Ticwatch Pro. Garmin actually dropped this feature with the Vivoactive 4 which isn’t a standalone device, so you can see how important this is to them at the moment.

These are just the big name players that we’ve mentioned. There are numerous smaller brands that offer this kind of smartwatch. There were also Burg who really pushed this type of watch hard only to discover that technology just wasn’t ready for it to be done successfully.

The fact is until the technology that small rechargeable batteries are based on improves dramatically, we’re likely to see the ‘watchphone’ market dominated by just the two big players Samsung and Apple.

smartwatch and phone

The User Interface Problem

We love smartwatches because they’re almost invisible. They’re tiny and attach to the wrist. They give that instant connection to the digital world that our smartphones offer but without the bulk and awkwardness.

However, it’s their main selling point that leads to their greatest downfall. That limitation on size seriously impacts the level and quality of interaction we can have with such a device.

There just isn’t the space to have the same quality of interaction that we have with our large screen cellphones. At least not interaction of the same kind.

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The display needs to remain small. Nobody wants a bulky smartwatch on their wrist. Small displays just don’t offer a good touchscreen interaction or even a visual interaction at all.

Notice how cellphones have grown over the last 10 years. It’s a battle to have the largest screen with the thinnest borders these days.

A watchphone can’t compete with this and nor it should. In my opinion, the future of smartwatches relies on an innovative alternative.

We can’t do away with visual interaction completely, as display screen will always be there but a viable alternative method of interaction with a smartwatch has to become prominent.

Right now that seems like it could be voice interaction or gesture interaction or even better a combination of both.

We just don’t trust these methods of interaction yet as they are relatively young. Voice search is becoming more popular on search engines like Google but only for certain types of search. And gesture control has yet to be done well by anyone.

In my opinion, these smartwatches that can replace using cellphones will appear eventually but not for a while yet. There are a few technological jumps that need to happen first.

It’s an exciting time for technology. So much has happened in the last 20 years but there’s potential for even more exciting developments in the next 20 years.

One thing is for sure and that’s that smartwatches will still be here in 20 years time. They will be more popular than ever and they will be very different to the smartwatch I’m wearing on my wrist right now.

Where do you see smartwatches heading in the next 20 years? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments section down below. Let’s get the discussion started!

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