Why haven’t smartwatches taken off? Because they’re all hideous


ugly smart watches headerCheck out our full review of the Pebble smart watch.

Are you ready to be inundated with smart watches? You better be. Apple, Samsung, LG and Google are all currently linked with building such a device, and should they all go on sale, you can bet many other manufacturers will soon follow. The thing is, smart watches – the name given to a wrist watch which connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth – are not a new concept. There are probably more examples than you imagine, but the reason they’ve never caught on has little to do with functionality, and everything to do with the fact they’re almost universally ugly. Seriously, they’re hideous.

Casio Calculator Watch

Wearable technology, a phrase were going to hear a lot this year, is a very different buying proposition than tech you don’t wear. It’s no longer something which is hidden away, left at home, or something where function matters over form. It’s a device we’re placing on our bodies and thus is in the public eye. Like it or not, wearable tech is as much a fashion statement as it is a boost to our geeky credentials. The watch itself has shifted from being an item of necessity to a piece of jewelry, where the massive faces hold back a shirt sleeve so it can be seen by everyone. To make the most of a smart watch, it’s going to have to be worn all the time, and who’s going to do that if it makes them look bloody stupid?

Smart watches are interactive, which means we’ll always be pawing at them, so it’s inevitable attention will be drawn not only to the design, but also how we look when we’re operating it. In our geek minds, prodding at a tiny screen on our wrist makes us look sci-fi cool, but in reality, we’ll look the same as people tapping out a few quick sums on a calculator watch in 1983. Do we need to remind you that wasn’t a good look?

Ugly stick at the ready?

Time (sorry) for some examples. Back in 2009, LG released the GD910 watch phone with the optimistic tagline, “Wear the future on your wrist!” The design, with its black strap and chrome face bezel, is quite subtle. In most pictures it looks perfectly acceptable.

Until that is, you see an image of someone wearing the GD910. Aside from it looking absolutely massive, anyone using it just looks uncomfortable and worse, damn silly.

However, the GD910 looks like a style icon next to the sWaP (that’s Smart Watch and Phone) Rebel, which measures 47mm across and 17mm deep. As a comparison, a sixth-gen iPod Nano is 40mm wide and only 9mm thick. It’s so hideous, there is only one picture of it attached to a person, something presumably done under duress.

Toshiba Smart Watch ConceptNow, neither the LG or the sWaP Rebel are particularly new, so it’s reasonable to think the industry has something more attractive for us in 2013. Wrong. Toshiba had a concept smart watch on display at CES in January, and if it’s an example of where the tech is heading, things are no better than they were in 2009. From the mismatched proportions to a bezel so big it would look at home on a shelf with a picture of your dog inside, it truly puts the horror in horology. 

Aha, say the Kickstarter masses, but what about the Pebble? While its exciting technology and comprehensive features makes the Pebble attractive, the design is sub-Swatch at best, and it’s still really bulky. It’s headed in the right direction, but as an everyday wearable prospect, it’s still not quite there.

Will Apple save us? Maybe not…

The trouble with all these examples is they haven’t innovated beyond mixing a traditional watch design with smartphone connectivity. There’s nothing clever or interesting about the designs, and as far as my male eye can see, none probably appeal to women either. If a smart watch is going to be successful – that means selling millions, not thousands – it has to gain its own identity, not just take on aspects of a watch and smartphone, and become desirable to both sexes, regardless of whether they want it as a cool gadget or a fashion accessory.

It’s a huge ask, and to get the formula just right may require technology which has yet to reach the market, such as flexible screens and components. Plastic Logic has the right idea with its smart watch design concept – a device with a color, 1mm thick e-paper screen which wraps around your wrist. However, at the moment there’s nowhere to put all the internal workings, so there’s a bundle of wires and circuit boards hanging off the back.

The temptation is to say if anyone can bring us a smart watch we’ll all want to wear, it’s Apple; but Google could have the jump on the iPhone manufacturer this time around, thanks to the work it has put in on Google Glass. Wearable technology excites us immensely, but gadgets and fashion have always been uneasy bedfellows. We’re not convinced the relationship can take the strain of yet another unpleasant smart watch that no-one wants to wear.

Showing 18 comments

  1. AlexEdison10 8 months Ago  
    I fully agree - there are many reasons why these smart watches are just not worth it, and not all that innovative.. Here's my take on smart watches - tmblr.co/Z5dFlstYzg_z
  2. John Sciacca 1 year Ago  

    My review of the i'm Watch "smart" watch.

    Spoiler....No es bueno. Or smart.

  3. peterkohan 1 year Ago  
    The thing about watch tech is that so much of it relates to durability, accuracy, and power source. Via solar power or atomic timekeeping - you don't have to worry about charging your battery the way you do with smartphone, tablet, or laptop/ultrabook. You just wear the darn thing.

    We're starting to get into areas where you will be carrying multiple devices that are superfluous and redundant to devices we already own.
  4. Muhamad Hadi 1 year Ago  
    Saya bersumpah akan like FP ini.
    ayo yg udh sumpah harus like fp ini.
  5. Anthony Maw 1 year Ago  
    Don't laugh. I had one of those in high school 20 years ago!
  6. Steak Niki Eco 1 year Ago  
    Kembali masa Tempoe Doeloe era Tahun,1980
  7. Tom Hughes 1 year Ago  
    They would have to be smaller and not so ugly plus functional.
  8. Kaleb Kirton 1 year Ago  
  9. Matt Smith 1 year Ago  

    I'm not sure about smart watches. I thought a lot of people stopped wearing watches because of cellphones and then smartphones. Now we're supposed to adopt watches again - why? So I can see that I have a text message as well as hear the beep?

    Apple has shown unexpectedly awesome stuff in the past, so maybe they've discovered something cool that I can't imagine. But I also wouldn't be surprised if this turns into another Apple TV - i.e. years of it's coming, no really, it's coming, really, just you wait.

  10. Marketing Wiz 1 year Ago  
    That looks like a calculator from 11 yrs ago. Very few people want to wear an old calculator on their arm.
  11. SCI Marketview 1 year Ago  
    Ease of use/ an intuitive UI, and a sleek design to up the cool factor.
  12. William Wright 1 year Ago  
    I have it on right now!
  13. Todd Fisher 1 year Ago  
    Plus, you can watch pr0n on your phone. I'd imagine trying to watch pr0n on a watch would make one dizzy...
  14. Digital Trends 1 year Ago  
    Sorry for posting what twice
  15. Langston Richardson 1 year Ago  
    Nothing. I have a smart phone that's eliminated the need for a watch. Unlike a watch, I can put it away from my body from time to time.

    Will these smart watches have the same dangers as cell phones, bluetooth headsets, and other devices?
  16. Todd Fisher 1 year Ago  
    Whats a watch? That like one of those old CD's & Land Lines my grandfather used to talk about?
  17. Richard Wills 1 year Ago  
    I'll take my pocket watch any day, those wristwatches are for yuppies and apple snobs anyway...
  18. Rhurazz_2012 1 year Ago  
    No doubt that smart watches are the wave of the future, but I think that for them to get the appeal they need thinner tech... Hte to say it but a jumbled mess of wires and circuit boards exposed is NOT my idea of a stylish watch on my wrist, especially if it costs an arm and a leg..