7 troubling similarities between the Apple Watch and Google Glass

apple watch tim cook
Credit: Susie Ochs

Like Google Glass before it, the Apple Watch offers a real-world preview of technology that will one day be considered essential. Today is not that day.


Call it heresy, but now that I've had the chance to actually get my hands on the Apple Watch, I keep being struck by the parallels with the much-maligned Google Glass. That doesn't necessarily mean the Apple Watch will fail spectacularly the way Glass did, just that it will face many of the same challenges. Let's take a look at a few of them.

(Note that I tried the Apple Watch only at the Apple Store. Actual deliveries don't begin until Friday, April 24. I have spent much more time with Google Glass… just not in public).

They're both too expensive

The Apple Watch starts at $350, but the "nice" ones start at twice that price and soar well into five freaking figures! Even more annoying, if you just want to upgrade the aluminum sport model with a slightly less-cheesy leather band, it'll cost you another $250. Really? $250 for a leather watchband?! In comparison, the $1,500 price tag on Google Glass no longer seems so outrageous.

Their unclear use cases lead to scattershot implementations

In some ways, Google Glass and the Apple Watch are both victims of their own limitless potential. There are so many intriguing things that you could do with a fully capable smartwatch or augmented reality goggles that it can be difficult to figure out what you should do. Or, at least, what you should do first. The result is that these early devices try to do everything at once, making it more difficult to do any one thing exceptionally well. Over time, it will become clearer exactly how people will use wearable computing devices, but in the meantime there's a distinct lack of focus.

Complex and not completely polished UIs

Both Google Glass and the Apple Watch are so complicated that the companies recommend hands-on training sessions to explain how they work. Yikes! Apple is a recognized master at creating seamless user experiences, but even a quick look at the Apple Watch reveals that this process is not yet complete. I'm sure Apple will refine this over time, but it will still require you to learn a new interface, one that's not yet as thought-out as veteran operating systems like iOS or Android.

They're too big… and too small

042115 apple watch photo review Fredric Paul

Even though it's annoyingly thick and bulky for a watch, trying to do useful things on a device as small as the Apple Watch seemed to require a magnifying glass. (And I tried the larger model! Folks will small wrists may need an electron microscope to see the darn thing.) Google Glass suffered from similar issues, with tiny buttons and a small, low-res "screen." Both devices turn to voice control to try to circumvent these issues, but that technology remains far from perfect.

They have limited battery life

Google Glass had to be recharged every few hours (which, ironically, also gave users a chance to rebuild their social status). But for a watch, anything less than a full day of power, with enough buffer so you don't have to think about power management or other compromises, is the price of entry. The Apple Watch is reportedly trying to walk this line, and that's simply not good enough.

They both face imminent obsolescence

I've written about this before, but watches—especially expensive watches—are meant to last generations. Today's Apple Watch will be outmoded—and embarrassingly laughable—the minute Apple comes out with its first hardware upgrade. Google Glass, meanwhile, was always sold as a developers' preview, and everyone knew that it couldn't possibly be the final version. (As it happened, of course, there is still no consumer version of Google Glass.)

Less would have been more

Both Glass and the Apple Watch are new categories of devices that rely on your smartphone to work. They don't replace anything. Worse, apart from gathering some biometrics, they don't really do that much that your smartphone can't already do. They just do those things with a different interface and in a different place (on your wrist or your face instead of in your pocket.) Ideally, wearable devices would let you forego your other devices, at least in certain situations, but we're not close to that reality yet.

Important differences

Of course, there are significant differences between the Apple Watch and Google Glass. Starting with the fact that the Apple Watch has already sold millions of units, while most people will never even see a Google Glass in the wild. The Apple Watch won't carry the social stigma of Google Glass (it doesn't instantly make you look like a Cyborg Geek), and it may even be a status symbol for a while. It also seems much better looking and better-built than the awkward and flimsy Google Glass. Ideally, the Apple Watch's wide variety of options will help it seem more like a personal style choice than a nerd totem.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I'm a huge fan of the promise of wearable technology. I firmly believe that wearable computing devices like enhanced reality glasses and smartwatches will inevitably and dramatically transform the way people live and work. Just not yet.

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