Saturday, April 04, 2009

Watch It

The famous 2-Way Wrist RadioImage via Wikipedia

Let's talk about phone watches for a minute. Yes, you read that right, the dream of having Dick Tracy's wrist accessory just won't die. After the stunning successes of the wrist watch calculator1, the wrist watch camera, the wrist watch TV2, and the wrist watch music player, some manufacturers are now trying for the wrist watch phone -- and by extension a combo of some or all aforementioned functions.

And I am not talking about Bluetooth-connected wrist watches that pair up with your mobile phone and display the latest SMS or number of an incoming call, like Prada (also by LG) and Sony Ericsson made. No, manufacturers are actually trying to slam full-fledged multi-function mobile phones into a wrist-watch.

All I can say for now is: It's Not Going Well. Let's start with a product demo video that is Exhibit A this week for How Not To Demo Your Product As A CEO At A Prestigious Industry Event. Hint: know your damn product. You may want to shut this video off after the first thirty seconds, but I am going to ask you to stay through the end when a secondary 'detaching' concept is demoed.

Neutrano's Nutec WristFone demo. It's not just the watch that is clunky.

It is actually possible to do this concept without looking like you crossed a Palm IIIc with all of 1986; here's LG's attempt.

LG shows off its watch phone concept. No fiddly stylus here.

The LG phone comes with a BT headset, which is the right thing to do. The most important point I want to make to the people designing these -- and yes, I already know manufacturers will try again and again -- is: take it from someone who let important calls go to voice mail rather than be seen sidetalking in public, your consumers do not want to be seen holding their wrists to their ear. Yes, those few inches between a hand and a wrist make an enormous difference; not only is holding a wrist to the ear very uncomfortable, it also looks stupid. And taking the watch, strap and all, and holding that your ear? No.

The problem with accessories is that they make things more complicated. That BT headset that LG supplies will be forgotten, or not charged well enough, or will need to be kept in the ear, all hurdles for different people. The idea of a quick-release object to be taken off the strap makes more sense, but there's still the implementation of plastic and fiddling there in that device...

The real problem is that these manufacturers are trying too hard to stay with in a known concept format. Meanwhile, the last ten years have proven that their target markets are happy to adorn themselves with all kinds of newfangled techno baubles as long as it makes them look cool. LG comes closest there, but hey, let's look at how an actual watch maker does it when they really want to show off new technology in just plain old watches:

Seiko Epson Electronic Ink watches, ladies' (2008), and men's (2006)

Don't like how they display time? That's no problem, since their whole faces are one continuous strip of electronic paper like the Kindle, one press changes their look, and these displays are only getting better.

Now that's plenty of space to put a user interface on, either with nice adorning buttons on the side to select regions, or a touch layer that now is big enough to actually allow some comfort when selecting. Hope voice-recognitions really is up to requiring a lot less physical interaction when composing a text. And ditch the camera, seriously, and the music player. There is no way that these wrist devices will provide more combined utility than having those functions separately, so don't try to put an iPhone on my wrist. Strip the phone down to a Nokia 1100: voice, text, um that's it. Integrate a detachable headset, pre-paired and kept charged by the phone, into the wristband so it is always with the phone, ready to quickly pick up when the call comes. And yeah, stick to the E-Ink, at least until the flexible displays allow for something that wraps around the wrist that much and thus doesn't require a flat surface limiting the available space, and uses that little energy. You may not want to read War and Peace one flashing line at a time, but a 140 character Twitter update? Sure. Especially if it looks that chic. I bet the battery might even hold a charge for a full day. Or just the night out on which you would wear this.

Oh, and once this happens, make the watch-chain version. My wrists really sweat too much for watches, I always end up hooking them around a beltloop anyway.

1Oh man, I wanted one of those so bad when I was 11, and I really didn't have anything to add.
2Wanted that even more, and this in a country that had no daytime TV except on Wednesdays.