March 27, 2013
As our gadgets get smaller and more powerful, the smartwatch seems like a logical progression. Instead of whipping out our phones at every turn, we could absorb a lot of our notifications and messages on our wrists.
But somehow, smartwatches haven’t caught on. Many companies have tried and failed. If Google and Apple come out with smartwatches, as the rumors predict, will those flop as well?
According to VEA Digital, a watch creator based in France, the problem is that smartwatches try to do too much. Companies “have a tendency to do things because they can. It doesn’t mean that it’s very useful,” says firmware engineer Patrick Azria.
But a watch has natural limits, Azria says – namely, it has to fit on your wrist. And trying to consume content or play games while holding up your arm in front of your face is kind of awkward.
That’s why the VEA’s latest watch, the Buddy, takes a step toward the simple. Its main function is notifications: for Facebook and Twitter, email, and text messages. If you insist, you can also listen to music, browse pictures, and get GPS directions. And it works with nearly all smartphones.
“Simpler is always better. When people understand what a product does, then they’ll buy it,” says Azria. He points out that tablets don’t do everything that computers do, but that’s okay. “When you present them with a product that does too many things, it’s kind of overwhelming. . . . Instead of trying to do something that is very nice for uber geeks and nobody else, we’re trying to make a product that is going to be useful for everybody.”
However, several companies are trying to pack their watches with features. The Pebble, a Kickstarter project that raised over $10 million, will run apps made by independent developers (much like Apple’s app store). The Neptune Pine, coming in fall 2013, goes even further: it lets you make calls, take video and pictures, and browse the web, effectively replacing the smartphone.
VEA has built more complicated watches in the past, but not for general consumption: its Sportive watch is designed for runners, for example.
The Buddy has raised over $80,000 on an Indiegogo campaign that runs until the end of April. Backers can pay $150 to get a Buddy in the summer; afterward, it will sell for $249. VEA plans to produce the watch whether or not they meet their $320,000 goal.
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