Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Skipping Pebbles

“Smart” watches — wrist watches which integrate with your smartphone’s notifications and information — are the new hot category of product, apparently. One of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever was for the Pebble, which has finally begun shipping. The Starfish was a star at Macworld, if for the wrong reasons. And, lest we forget, Apple is rumoured to be developing their own watch. Despite their popularity, however, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to buy a smart watch.

I would wager that most people carry their smartphones in their pockets, which means that the current time is in your pants, as are your notifications. It’s has become socially acceptable to check your email, make a phone call, or read your tweets while you’re walking down the street. The watch has therefore taken the role of a functional accessory; there are other ways of telling time, but none classier than a beautiful watch.

The most stylish watch has long been one with an analog face. Digital watches mostly remain aesthetically-challenged, and aren’t suitable for wear with anything higher-end than a hoodie. While the design of the Pebble isn’t ugly by any means, it simply lacks the refinement and class of an analog watch. Everything from the materials to the craftsmanship are made evident with a Tissot, or a Breitling, or an Omega. They signify a refined taste (and a high credit limit) on behalf of the wearer, and a digital watch can’t compete with that. Neither, I suspect, can a smart watch.

There are other issues, too. While a glance at one’s wrist is arguable more acceptable in a meeting than a glance at a phone display, it’s still signifies a lack of focus and a desire to be elsewhere. I barely need to mention that neither is acceptable when you’re on a date, lest the person across from you think you’d rather be somewhere else.

When Nilay Patel reviewed the Pebble for The Verge, he explained the use situation rather well:

Any incoming notification will quietly buzz the Pebble and light up the screen. Frankly, it’s great — being able to see who’s texting, emailing, or calling you without looking at your phone changes the entire dynamic of being connected. The upside is obvious: only reaching for your phone when it’s something important means you reach for your phone much less often. (I particularly enjoy screening calls from my wrist.) The downside is that it’s harder to simply ignore your phone and let messages stack up while you focus on something else; having the Pebble buzz your wrist for every email and text means you’re hyper-aware of your inbox at all times.

Is reaching into your pocket a little less worth the hundred-odd dollars for a Pebble? That’s up to you to decide. Maybe Apple (or another company) can convince me that there’s a reason looking at my wrist is better than reaching into my pocket. As far as I can work out, however, it allows distraction in a decidedly unclassy way. I’ll skip it.

Addendum

It strikes me that I framed this the wrong way. Rather than make a prediction of what I may or may not like about a future technology, I should instead have established that I dislike the Pebble of today for those reasons. In a nut, then, it’s possible that I may purchase a smart watch in the future, but it needs to overcome the stigma associated with that category of products.