According to this press release (translated), Seiko Instruments has developed a very interesting Bluetooth watch prototype. With the addition of software installed on your Bluetooth-enabled phone, the watch can do all of the following:
- Alert you with a sound or by vibrating when someone calls.
- Show you the name of the caller.
- Allow you to mute the phone’s ring.
- Allow you to reject the call and forward to voice mail.
- Indicate that you have new mail on your phone, and display the subject of the message.
- Inform you if the Bluetooth connection between the watch and your phone is broken.
- Use the phone to calibrate the watch’s time.
I think this is a hugely interesting experiment, especially considering the fact that a lot of people I know have replaced their watches with their mobile phones. And why not? In many ways, mobile phones make better timepieces than most watches. The time is always correct, they automatically adjust for daylight savings and time zone changes, they usually have built-in alarms and calendars, most of them can be configured to vibrate rather emit annoying beeps, and most of us have been trained to keep our phones charged and with us at all times. Glancing at a phone isn’t quite as convenient as glancing at a watch, but for many of my friends, phones seem to be convenient enough.
So what can the watch industry do to fight back? First and foremost, they can market watches as accessories and jewelry rather than timepieces. Having a Rolex or an Omega peeking out from under your sleeve says something a lot different than the latest and greatest mobile device clipped to your belt. A very different tack, however, is to make the phone and watch work together. At its core, what Seiko has done is exploit the one problem in switching from a watch to a mobile phone, and that is convenience. And they’ve done so by cleverly turning the problem on its head. They’re saying that watches are so much more convenient than cell phones that rather than moving your watch’s functionality into your phone, you ought to be moving functionality from your phone into your watch. Brilliant, if you ask me.
The concept reminds me of the relationship between pocket watches and wrist watches. Why did watches move from the pocket to the wrist in the first place? Convenience. So now that even the cheapest modern pocket watches (mobile phones) have far more functionality than even the most advanced wrist watches, the answer isn’t to sacrifice convenience for features. The answer is to once again step up to the technical challenge of shrinking down key features to the point that they can again be no more than a quick glance away.
Of course, Seiko clearly needs to work on the shrinking part. The current prototype (TR-006) is way too big to have any chance at commercial success in the US. But bulkiness is almost always temporary in the world of technology, and is certainly excusable in prototypes, so I’m much less concerned about the size than I am about the battery life. I’m probably the geekiest watch and gadget fanatic I know, and even I get tired of recharging my SPOT watches, which is why I usually find my way back to some form of solar atomic Casio. That doesn’t mean people won’t buy Bluetooth watches that integrate with their mobile phones, but it does mean they could easily go the way of the PDA if problems like size and battery life are not sufficiently addressed. In fact, I will go so far as to say that any watch that needs to be charged more frequently than your mobile phone is in very real danger of winding up in the back of a dresser drawer. Most of us won’t even put up with a watch that we need to remember to reach down and wind, much less plug in and recharge.