Gizmodo wrote a piece yesterday that “Smartwatches Are Dying Because They Are Worthless.” Pointing to slowing sales, fading interest, and FitBit’s purchase of Pebble, the author makes a compelling case that poor battery life is the ceiling that needs to be shattered. This is a week after Apple’s CEO Tim Cook told Reuters that “the gadget’s sell-through – a measure of how many units are sold to consumers, rather than simply stocked on retailers’ shelves – reached a new high.” This makes sense with the gift-giving season, but the second version of the Apple Watch is not the big ticket holiday item shareholders were hoping for.
From a patent perspective, the best inventions and gadgets are devices/services that (uniquely) solve a problem. Smart watches are mostly redundant to phones today–especially while at a desk! My daily cost-benefit balance pits the daily inconvenience of charging my watch against the minimal handiness of quickly seeing text messages.
The core pieces of smart watch technology are (i) the display, (ii) the processor/wireless system-on-a-chip, and (iii) the battery. The sensors can be neat features, but they are typically superfluous and can kill battery life. What this boils down to is that IoT innovation should benefit the smart watch industry, but it won’t drive consumer need. Smart watches need to make the jump from digital jewelry to digital appendage.
Perhaps improvements in batteries and the impending ubiquity of wireless connections will unfetter the smart watch. Until the smart watch develops a true unique function it’s relegated to JAS status (“just another screen”). It will be important to watch what FitBit does with Pebble’s IP and know-how (See also PatentVue’s “Acquisition of Pebble Will Include a Narrow Patent Portfolio for Fitbit.”
Maybe the true killer app for the watch will be Siri? Then again, aside from the traditional watch location and access for heart rate measurements, the wrist is an unnecessary spot for a personal assistant and AI.