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Is now the time for smart watches?

By
June 27, 2013

Jen Quinlan is solutions director at Mutual Mobile

Jen Quinlan is solutions director at Mutual Mobile

By Jen Quinlan

If the idea of wearing a smart watch conjures up images of calculator watches, pocket protectors and being picked last in gym class, you may not be alone.

The concept of a smart watch is nothing new. Sales of smart watches in the past have just never gained the same fervor as smartphones. It seems many of us have replaced our wristwatches with smartphones.

But with rumors that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony are allegedly designing their own flavor of smart watches, could this mean there is suddenly a market for this type of product?

With ABI Research projecting more than 1.2 million smart watches will be shipped in 2013, these brands are either prescient or foolish. Incredibly, two upstarts have already beaten the big guys to market.

Pebble
Pebble, a Kickstarter darling, raised more than $10 million and racked up 85,000 orders.

Pre-order priced at $150, Pebble has a 1.26-inch backlit e-paper display and a resolution of 144 x 168 pixels.

Instead of a touch screen, this watch comes with four buttons that control screen options, menu selections and such.

Pebble wisely supports both iOS and Android. However, in his review for The Verge, Nilay Patel points out how Pebble works differently in each platform.

Connecting Pebble to your smartphone is done via Bluetooth. And according to Mashable, Pebble does ship with Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR and Bluetooth 4.0 (low energy), but for now only Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR is supported. The reason for this is that Android devices do not yet support Bluetooth 4.0.

Once Pebble is connected to your smartphone, you can receive alerts for incoming calls, messages and emails.

These type of glance-and-go interactions are perfect for marketers looking to make a quick impression, especially when paired with geo-location. While your phone is hidden in your pocket or your purse, your watch is right out there on your wrist.

Reviews of Pebble have been positive. However, some reviewers are waiting for the “software to mature.”

There is tons of potential for this watch once more applications are developed.

As it is now, Pebble works well as a time piece, a way to keep track of text messages and have Caller ID close by.

There are some apps available in the stock software package, but the real test comes when developers start creating their own apps.

Limited iOS integration hints that Apple is already trying to stonewall the competition. Still, Pebble has released the SDK for programmers to play with.

MetaWatch Strata Stealth
Another Kickstarter-funded product, the MetaWatch Strata Stealth, is priced at $179. The Strata has a 1.3-inch screen, a resolution of 96 x 96 pixels and comes with six physical buttons to control settings and menus.

The Strata does work with both iOS and Android, although it seems the MetaWatch app for iOS may be better than the Android offering.

In his review for ZDNet, James Kendrick noted that although the MetaWatch Android app is basic, the Android user community has helped expand the capabilities of the watch.

Once connected to your smartphone, the Strata is capable of Caller ID notifications, message alerts for calendar appointments and text messages. The Strata also has widgets for weather, calendar and Gmail.

Much like the Pebble, the potential is all about the apps.

The MetaWatch Strata, as Mr. Kendrick noted in his review, may be aimed at those who like to tinker with their gadgets.

With its active user community — and an open framework — the Strata offers many possibilities for advanced, third-party features.

What the future holds
Spurred by the hype around Google Glass, the future of wearable technology may soon find its way into everyday life.

But who will be in the market for products such as smart watches? Early adopters and those who like to play with gadgets?

The answer may rely on many aspects, such as price and functionality and maybe above all, the apps that go along with them.

Jen Quinlan is solutions director at Mutual Mobile, Austin, TX. Reach her at jen.quinlan@mutualmobile.com.

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