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Is Steve Wozniak Right About Smartwatches?

Is the smartwatch really destined to fail?

9Oct

Danny Boyle’s upcoming film ‘Steve Jobs’ hit cinemas in New York and Los Angeles on October 9. It marks, almost to the day, the fourth anniversary of the Apple co-founder’s death. Boyle’s biographical account of Steve Jobs’s life is not the only foray into his background. The National Geographic’s ‘American Genius’ series did the same, focusing on the relationship he had with Bill Gates early on in their careers.

No TV show, however, can beat being there. Steve Wozniak - who co-founded Apple with Jobs - had a strong relationship with both his business partner and Gates. When asked about the main difference between the two, Wozniak stated that Jobs was more of a visionary, but that Gates ‘understood how to make money’.

Wozniak remains an employee of Apple, but now has little to do with the company. In fact, he’s been on the offensive recently, stating that: ‘Steve Jobs didn't know technology and just wanted to be important.’ He would also claim that Jobs had little to do with the design of Apple’s early products, and that the company’s been more successful under Tim Cook.

The source of Wozniak’s recent disdain for Jobs is unclear. It can’t help that he’s barely famous and his co-founder has reached almost god-like status among technology enthusiasts. And in his latest interview in the Australian Financial Review, he turned his attention to the Apple Watch. As someone who’s never shied away from giving his views on technological trends, he called the industry ‘disappointing’. He also called the Apple Watch a ‘luxury fitness band’ rather than a smartwatch, but did add that he felt that the product was more ‘distinctive’ than its alternatives.

The market, however, is still very much in its infancy, and judging its merits based on the smartwatches currently available is shortsighted. Pebble’s CEO, Eric Migicovsky, states: ‘When I look five years ahead, I see computers getting smaller and smaller, and I see them really worn on our bodies. We’re going to be wearing more computers on us: I think that’s inevitable.’ But as the Guardian points out, you would expect him to be confident - or at least give the impression - that the industry has legs.

But for every optimist, there are seemingly two pessimists. Many have yet to find the smartwatch’s main purpose, and remain unconvinced. When Migicovsky was interviewed by the Guardian earlier this year, he seemed as if he too was searching for benefits unique to his company’s smartwatches. He noted that people enjoyed customizing them and that the product’s alarm ‘wakes people up quietly in the morning by buzzing on their wrist’ as the two main advantages - hardly groundbreaking stuff.

Future projects, however, hold more promise. Pebble’s ‘Nightscout’ idea could see their products connect to glucose monitors, showing blood sugar levels for people who suffer from diabetes. In terms of Pebble’s overarching aims, Migicovsky states: ‘We’re focusing on building a core platform that provides a ton of value to people daily. We’re building something that we want to stay on people’s wrists, and provide the platform on which other developers can build early examples of what the future will be.’ One major development has been incorporating payment methods into the smartwatch. Apple Pay was made available on the Apple Watch in October, and it’s hoped that this will add another string to its bow. But again, it’s not a unique feature, and hasn’t made a huge impact to the sales of the watch.

When all’s considered, it’s easy to see why Steve Wozniak has been disappointed with the industry’s progress. And for smartwatches to become a commercially viable product, they need a unique purpose, and I am not sure they have found one yet.

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