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April 16th, 2012

New Smart Watches Promise a Wearable Device Revolution

Blog Post written by Alan Dodaro

Tech circles have been exploding this week with news that both Sony and Allerta announced new smart watches- wrist accessories that are smart, connected and will replace the dummy timepiece popular with most non-millennial groups.

Both the Sony SmartWatch and Allerta’s Pebble show signs of what’s next- wireless wearable computers that can go anywhere while tethering data from iDevices and Androids- allowing for a form factor small enough to wear in our everyday lives.

Pebble, a new KickStarter crowd fund project that made its goal funding after only a few short hours, and has already raised over $3 million beyond their initial funding goal with over 30 days left to raise funds. Pebble sports an e-ink black/white display that feels more at home inside a Kindle than a smartphone. It also plays nice on Android and iOS alike. Like SmartWatch, Pebble pulls data from your smartphone, but the real promise lies in its own app store and soon-to-be-released SDK, allowing anyone to develop Pebble applications. This opens the device up to incredible potential that we may not be able to fully realize until developers have a chance to see how the device fits into their lives. The week-long battery life may usher in an era of long-lasting data devices, before only seen by e-readers with limited functionality outside reading.

This year, I predict the Pebble will do to watches what the iPhone did to mobile phones. In 2007, the iPhone received criticism for the lack of keyboard (unbelievably, this is still an issue) and high price point, but in a few short years, the entire marketplace was transformed. We’re at that same point with smart watches. As dummy watches begin to fall out of fashion among younger techies due to their simple, single-use nature, I foresee a wired generation quickly augmenting their smartphones with a smaller, wearable display to help digest more information even faster.

Sony also announced a new product called SmartWatch last week, that runs Android and sports a small but vibrant 128 x 128 pixel OLED color display. The device runs local apps that communicate with data on a nearby Android phone. The SmartWatch can alert you of new texts and incoming calls, while controlling media playback, and displaying emails or calendar events. Data streams via Bluetooth, and watch behavior is controlled by an Android phone app downloaded through the Google Play Marketplace. SmartWatch seems to be a promising start for Android users (Apple fans are out of luck) who want another smart device, and who don’t mind playing inside Sony’s sandbox or charging batteries of both smartphone and smartwatch every day.

Pebble has the most potential, thanks in part to its open approach. Arguably, Sony has opened up significantly, slowly shaking proprietary formats but the lack of a SmartWatch SDK will tremendously limit the SmartWatch potential. As Apple learned with iPhone and iPad, the developer community is where the real value is at for any given device platform. Embracing this, Pebble is allowing developers and the Pebble community to voice what apps should be created. And while these two are the first to the table with mainstream, data-driven smart watch devices that have the potential to sell, you can bet that other OEMs will quickly follow suit with their own products. Time will tell if these new devices catch on, and which model (Marketplace vs. stock apps) will resonate with users.

And as smart devices become smaller, there’s incredible potential to collect information about our world never before possible. Intelligent health monitors and context-aware notifications can be served up to our watches, adapting to situations, with much of the computational heavy lifting happening on phones and tablets, before being beamed to the device. An interesting side effect, these devices, physically attached to us all day everyday will shift the social acceptance of missed phone calls and messages. The current excuses of ignored calls, texts, tweets, and emails won’t stand when our devices become a part of us.

I know I’ll be watching for additional competitors to surface and new behavioral trends to develop as a result of these products. Have any of you purchased a smart watch yet? Have any predictions on the subject?