The Pixel Watch almost, almost, became a reality – until Google pulled the plug. But the Search company should reconsider having another go because hybrid watches offer new opportunities.
The hybrid watch market (mechanical timepieces with some smart functionality) trails the standard, full-feature, smartwatch market. Whilst large manufacturers like Huawei and Sony have bowed out of production because of poor sales, newer companies – like Fossil – are investing in new technology.
UK-based Juniper Research thinks there’s room for growth and that hybrids are likely to count for 50% of the smartwatch market by 2022, which will be down to new technology and companies focusing on building smartwatches for specific use cases. This is where a theoretical Pixel Watch can make a dent.
I’ve reviewed, worn and tried a few smartwatches over the years and one consistent takeaway – above all else – has been that I highly resent having another device to charge. It’s an additional, unnecessary stress for having the not-so-necessary ability to read a WhatsApp message on a tiny screen.
It is, of course, technically impressive that a gadget on your wrist can read your heart rate, measure your elevation, connect to 4G, make payments and make phone calls. But I’ve never been convinced that my watch needs to do all of those things, nor that it’s worth adding to my already large list of things that needs to be charged regularly. The latest Apple and Samsung watches look great, but do you really need a decibel reader on your forearm?
Similarly – in the hybrid market – I’m not entirely convinced a stylish, sober, non-techy-looking watch needs to double as a fitness tracker, It’s separate functionality that might be better suited to a dedicated device. Nor do I need constant updates of what’s happening on my phone.
What I do need, though, is mobile payments that doesn’t require me to fish my phone out of my pocket – especially for the the London Underground, and a simple maps functionality that points me in the right direction. Not to mention battery life that lasts weeks or longer. That’s it, just those three features.
Google does things slightly differently when it comes to its Pixel phones. The design is slightly outdated and it doesn’t participate in the spec war (except for the camera) that other Android makers like Samsung, OnePlus and Huawei are mired in. But it nails the basics and provides services that genuinely improve the smartphone experience, almost all of which happens through Assistant.
There’s no reason that a revamped Pixel Watch can’t follow the same principles. I’d be willing to bet that a good proportion of smartwatch buyers would be happy with a sleek, well designed, traditional-looking device with limited functionality and long battery life. Skagen’s Falster design, but with fewer – targeted – features and much better battery life. Google’s part acquisition of Fossil’s smartwatch tech, a company working on a new type of smartwatch with an e-ink display, suggests it’s thinking along the same lines.
Watches, despite their uses, are also fashion accessories and, unlike smartphones, the design likely matters as much as the functionality. If you don’t believe me, look at how Apple’s Airpods have morphed into fashion statements – to the point where online retailer ASOS is selling copycat Airpods that play no music.
Focusing on design, and adding modest features that are useful rather than impressive, is on-brand for Google (it also aligns with its Digital Wellbeing initiative) and provides a necessary antidote to the all-singing, all-dancing devices from the competition.
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