Home Gadgets Smartwatches are boring now, just as they should be

Smartwatches are boring now, just as they should be

I think smartwatches are pretty great. I’ve been wearing one for over a decade, starting way back with 2011’s MotoActv. That watch was a small brick on your wrist, the software was clunky, and you definitely weren’t getting any real apps on it. But the device gave me a glimpse of what a smartwatch could do for people. While it primarily focused on fitness first, i.e., the ‘Actv’ part of the name, the rudimentary notification system and other bits the watch tried to offer were enough to keep me on the smartwatch bus.

In the time since that wearable, I’ve tried many of the best Android smartwatches and, gasp, even an Apple Watch, and if I’m being honest — the smartwatches of 2023 aren’t that different from the one that got me interested in the space in the first place. Take a breath. When I say these devices aren’t that different, I’m stating this from the view of the primary ethos of what smartwatches did and now do. Would I go back to wearing the MotoActv today if I could? Nope. But a decade of smartwatch progress has led us to the point of highly refined wearables that are actually quite boring, and I think that’s totally acceptable.

Everything that was old is new again

Alright, now that I have you all wound up, let me defend myself a bit. When we look at what old wearables did in the beginning, there are a lot of changes. Well, maybe change isn’t the word to use. Perhaps evolved is better. This is because features like notifications, reminders, a calculator, exercise tracking, and others were there and are here now. So, if we really look at it, much like the smartphones that so many of us once berated as being boring slabs of glass and metal, wearables are much in the same place. You know what? The absolute best Android smartphones that we have today weren’t and aren’t boring if we consider what we were once forced to use.

Both of these technologies have grown and matured so much that we begin to take the capabilities of products like smartphones and smartwatches for granted. Maybe these things are boring, but like I tell my kids when they tell me they’re bored, “You are probably just ignoring what you could be doing.” When applying that to our smartwatches, we have to keep in mind that there are millions of people who don’t want to use a smartwatch. Are people boring? Perhaps, but it really comes down to perspective and what your needs are.

Are we asking too much from our wearables, or are we so spoiled by technology that we can’t appreciate what we have?

At the core, a smartwatch like the Mobvoi TicWatch E3 is purely an extension of your smartphone with health and fitness monitoring built-in. But wearables like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 and Google Pixel Watch 2 are designed and made by two massive companies that also happen to have entire ecosystems of software and hardware aside from those wearables. So, these two companies, and others like them, utilize wearables as a way to leverage the web of devices and services offered. But, in the end, regardless of the broader ecosystem of the device’s overlord, it is still just an extension of your smartphone.

What more can or should smartwatches do?

Samsung Gear S smartwatch

Smartwatches have offered the same two shapes since we first got the devices — square(ish) and round. For the most part, mechanical watches have as well. The one exception, sort of, to this was the Samsung Gear S from 2014, which was more of a rectangle with a curved screen to fit your wrist a bit better. Perhaps this is why many think that smartwatches are boring now. Like those slabs of metal and glass we call smartphones, we’ve essentially had the same design for over a decade, and with innovation in technology happening so rapidly, to see the same thing over and over gets boring — but that is mostly a society thing.

Sure, there are people in this industry like me who will repeat things like, “The design of the watch looks just like last year” or “There isn’t anything really new in this year’s watch.” Those statements are true, even if they do perpetuate the sentiments of smartwatches being boring as a bad thing. It wasn’t until Samsung finally released the first Galaxy Z Fold that we all said as a collective, “Finally!” Since that phone came out in 2019, we’ve seen an uptick in overall excitement in the smartphone space, with more and more innovation and players getting into the foldables. With options like the OnePlus Open, Motorola Razr+, and, of course, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5, we have choices for the top folding smartphones.

Maybe we’re all just waiting for a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold moment for smartwatches to shake us out of the current boring funk.

So, do we need something to shake up the wearable form factor like the original Galaxy Z Fold did for smartphones? Maybe. But unless a change in form factor brings along new uses that we don’t have now, that newness will likely wear off quickly and lead us all back where some are — bored with smartwatches. If that’s the case, we need to consider the devices we currently have at our fingertips and think about what we’re missing now and what we want from these wrist computers.

Apple Watch Ultra next to the Pixel Watch 2 and Galaxy Watch 6 Classic

As I mentioned before, we can do with smartwatches right now — track our heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, steps, sleep, exercises, location, take an ECG, get and respond to notifications, take phone calls, and so, so much more. With all of those things available today, what more do we want from our smartwatches? Again, these devices are currently meant to be extensions of our smartphones, even those with cellular radios, and I’d say they do a pretty great job at that.

For as much as I love new tech and seeing how devices change and evolve over time, I don’t know that I need much more from my watch. What I do need/want is for the entire smartwatch industry to make a major jump in battery life. If you want more than a couple of days from a Wear OS smartwatch, the only option you have is the TicWatch Pro 5. Otherwise, you have to go outside of Wear OS and look to a third-party smartwatch brand like Garmin or Amazfit. Both are great in their own ways, but for some, the lack of apps and other integrations is a deal breaker. What I’m looking for in smartwatches is less of a small step in the improvement of features we already have, which is what we’ve been getting, and truly make offered features work consistently.

Boring isn’t always bad

I’m here for the day we get a new kind of smartwatch that’s less of a shrunken-down version of our phone to wear on our wrist. Maybe in the form of some of those crazy concept wearables we’ve seen in recent years, bands that project a display onto our wrists or even something like the Humane AI Pin. But again, while something like those form factors would be less cumbersome to wear, unless we get functions that we don’t already have — boring?

I want excitement and change as much as the next person. But I also like to appreciate what I have in the now, and with smartwatches, we’re leaps and bounds from where wearables were a decade ago. From the design and materials to the software and features, the devices we get to enjoy today are fantastic in many ways. Is there room for improvement on those products? You betcha. But I’m more than happy to stick with the smartwatches we have now because until there is innovation with a purpose that truly works, boring is just fine with me.

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