Why Nobody Wants A Smartwatch Even Though Tech Companies Insist On Making Them

It has been a bad, bad week for people who think the future of computing is sitting on your wrist. The Samsung Galaxy Gear is getting ripped to pieces by the tech press. A new look at demand for the iWatch essentially says it’s not worth the enormous amount of money Apple is throwing at it. So why is so much money being spent on something seemingly nobody wants? And why don’t they want it?

The Concept Is Dated

Take a look at this Galaxy Gear ad, a supercut of people talking at their watch, and see if you can spot the common thread in the clips:

If you said “There’s not a clip in there that dates past 1995”, congratulations, you have more insight into pop culture than the ad agency who made that clip. Not coincidentally, a lot of these shows happen to be items of pop cultural significance the people who run companies like Apple and Samsung grew up watching.

The sad fact of the matter is that cellphone watches have been on the market for years. LG even had one at the 2009 CES. They never went anywhere, and for a simple reason.

Watches Get Trashed

I don’t own a watch. Not for any sort of pretentious hippie reason, like some nonsense about how not owning a watch makes you live longer, but because I destroy them. Around the time, right out of college, I accidentally wrecked a $100 watch, I decided my cell phone was going to be good enough for checking the time.

I doubt I’m alone in that: Watches are fashion accessories in a world where everything is trying to tell you the time at every moment. Which leads to the final problem.

Watches Are About Fashion

This is probably the biggest roadblock. It’s fairly easy to make a smartphone fashionable, or at least look good enough that people who color-coordinate their socks with their belt will be seen in public with it. It’s a lot harder to make a watch, which sits on that invisible line between accessory and tool, fashionable enough to endure for more than a few days on someone’s wrist.

Part of the problem is that, well, Jony Ive is not Versace, and most design teams at the other manufacturers are not Jony Ive. The Galaxy Gear actually pairs well in terms of looks with Samsung’s phones, but phones go in pockets, not on wrists.

What Problem Does It Solve?

This, though, is still the problem. Nobody’s been able to offer a good answer for what problem wearable computing can solve. Google has yet to make a real pitch to consumers for Google Glass, but so far it seems predicated on the idea that Google Glass is a Cool Thing. Which it is, but it’s a Cool Thing consumers feel little need to own, so far.

The same is true of the Galaxy Gear; nobody can quite figure out what annoyance it clears up, or what it does that a phone can’t… so why buy one? It’s hard to see Apple solving this problem either; what’s the sales pitch for the iWatch.

In short, the phone watch will remain a dream of nerds and no one else. But, hey, at least now our Dick Tracy cosplay will be more accurate!