Even though I didn't attend CES this year, I was watching the coverage closely in hopes of seeing a new smartwatch that could drive the acceptance of high-performance wearables deeper into the mainstream. But while there were some interesting introductions—notably the Fitbit Blaze—I didn't see any single device that came close to pulling together everything I'm looking for in a smartwatch
1. Weeklong battery life
Recharging every night is a non-starter, especially if you want it to track your sleep patterns. That's hard to do from the charger on the nightstand.
2. The ability to work with more than one mobile platform.
The Apple Watch works great with Apple's iOS, but doesn't speak Android at all. Most Android devices don't play very nice—or at all—with iOS. Third-party smartwatches may offer only rudimentary connections to both platforms.
But as long as a smartwatch is an accessory hanging off your phone, they're never going to be able to challenge the long-term appeal of fine luxury watches. After all, people keep luxury watches a lot longer than they may stick with a mobile platform.
3. A thin and/or elegant case that offers an alternative to fine analog watches.
In 2016, no one needs a watch to know what time it is. People wear watches for many things, and telling time is only a small part of the equation. That's especially true of high-end and luxury watches, which seem mostly intended not to send information to the wearer, but to convey information about the wearer to other people. Smartwatch makers—including Apple, which for a tech company seems quite in tune with these kinds of issues—don't seem to get that. At best, most smartwatches have all the cachet of a Swatch. They may be cute and clever, but hardly beautiful and lasting.
4. A realistic upgrade path
Smartwatch technology is still evolving quickly, which is great. Unless, of course, you just spent big bucks on an awesome-looking watch made out of the finest materials that becomes suddenly obsolete (I'm talking to you, purchasers of the $17,000 Apple Watch). There has to be some protection against obsolescence for high-end buyers, or smartwatches will never make it past “Swatch” status.
Some devices have more of these attributes than others, but none has them all. That may be because smartwatch makers haven't figured it out yet, or because my list is inherently contradictory (it wouldn't be the first time, and doesn't change my point).
Also note that I left a lot of good things off this list. I didn't include standalone GPS, for example, because I really think that most people are still going to carry around their smartphones, so there's little need to reinvent the wheel on that one. (Runners might disagree.)
What should smartwaches do?
The bigger unsettled issue, of course, is functionality. No one really knows yet exactly what a smartwatch should do. Track fitness and movement? Sure. Give notifications? Absolutely!
But that's only the beginning of the possibilities. What about letting you make and take calls? Take pictures or video? Start your car, unlock your house, access your office building, and log into your computer? Present navigations directions? Give you information on the people you meet and the places you go?
We're still shaking out the answers to these questions. And I'm aware that some of my “perfect requirements” won't be achievable any time soon, if ever. But in the meantime, let's at least make the devices that do this stuff into things we'd actually want to wear on our wrists in public.