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Smartwatches are basically useless

The buzz around smartwatches will fade once people realize there's no actual reason to buy one.

By Open Source Community on Thu, 11/21/13 - 11:34am.

A new smartwatch project called the Neptune Pine is on its way to becoming the most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time, according to Quartz. In just three days, the Neptune Pine has surpassed $192,000 in funding against its $100,000 goal.

The reason is pretty simple: the 19-year-old behind the project has decided to make a smartwatch that's actually smart, and not just an extra Bluetooth-enabled display for a smartphone. The Pine runs Android, has a unique user interface, and supports SIM cards to make voice and video calls to the user's contacts.

RELATED: 15 high-tech wristwatches that would make Dick Tracy jealous

Contributing to the Kickstarter campaign is some convenient timing. Smartwatches are still popular enough in mainstream media, what with Samsung's rush to market and Apple's mysterious purported plan to join it eventually, that the Neptune Pine project has received press coverage from Yahoo, Business Insider, TechCrunch, Mashable, Fox News, The Boston Globe and a handful of others. All a good Kickstarter campaign really needs is exposure. Somehwere in the millions of page views will be those willing to donate a few dollars here and there.

That's not to say that the Neptune Pine isn't an impressive piece of work. It is. That a teenaged college dropout was able to do what Samsung failed to do deserves praise, and the Quartz article on how he did it deserves a read.

Ostensibly, smartwatches sound like a cool step forward. It's everything a smartphone does, but on the wrist. They've been in TV and movies for about 80 years, and, just like flying cars, they just seem like one of those things we should have by now. Isn't it the future already?

But imagine using this kind of device in lieu of a smartphone.

Making voice calls from a watch seems a lot less practical than making them from a smartphone. Are you expected to make all your calls on speakerphone? Or are you supposed to use it like a walkie-talkie, talking into the watch and then holding it up to your ear to hear the response?

You could connect headphones, like many iPhone users do to make phone calls. But those headphones would have to be connected to the wristwatch. Headphones were adapted to voice calls to make the process hands-free. Connecting them to a device worn on the wrist negates that, unless your headphones have a really long cord.

The Neptune Pine is detachable, so if it is compatible with headphones for voice calls, it can be placed in your pocket or held in your hand. Then again, so can your smartphone, and it has a much bigger screen.

That brings us to the next issue - are people going to pay for a smaller-screen device just because they can wear it on their wrists?

Texting is unwieldy on today's modern-sized touchscreens and has yet to improve upon even the hard-key QWERTY keyboards of the BlackBerry. Trying to do it on a 2.4-inch screen isn't very enticing.

Then there's the simple process of using the device while it's on your wrist. The user would have to turn one hand over awkwardly to do anything, leaving just one free hand to navigate the unbalanced screen. That's probably why Samsung is now in recovery mode regarding the success of its first version of the Galaxy Gear, promoting the 800,000 figure for shipments in favor of the embarrassing 50,000 figure for sales reported by Korean publication Yonhap.

The Neptune Pine's main advantage over the Galaxy Gear is that it's detachable. That alleviates some of the issues I mentioned earlier, allowing the user to text and navigate the screen with two hands as they would with a smartphone. That was a smart move, but it really just pits a 2.4-inch screen against screens of 4 inches and larger. Recent IDC research suggests that that's a losing battle.

The smartphone created an entirely new ecosystem in the tech market in 2007, and the tablet did it again in 2010. Since then, the technology world has been eager to jump on board with the next big product that could shake things up again. Remember the Ultrabook? They're still being made, I think, but they never became what they were meant to be.

Cellphones long ago reduced wristwatches to fashion items. For all practical reasons, it's not likely to go the other way. Unless there's some kind of major breakthrough coming up that I haven't seen or considered yet, the smartwatch just seems like a trend that will fizzle out in the next few years.

Others will press on for a while, like Pebble, which has found some success in the niche smartwatch market, or perhaps even Neptune. But the smartwatch will never be what many in 2013 said it would be.