So, this is it. All the cards are on the table.
Apple just had their Apple Watch event and unveiled their approach to "wearables". Android Wear is well known (and mostly panned). Pebble has a new iteration, with new watches and features.
If Apple doesn't pull this off, then wearables, at least as they are conceived of now, are DOA.
There are basically two interactions with wearables: Notifications and personal tracking. These seem to be the interactions the industry has settled on, and truth be told, it will take some time to figure out if there are more.
Everyone has their own take on it. Pebble debuted first, as basically a notification platform, but added personal tracking (aka step counting) later. They recently, and perhaps smartly, added the concept of traveling through notifications in a timeline manner. Watches are originally for tracking time, this makes sense. As to their personal tracking capabilities, folks like FitBit and their ilk have shown that it's not hard to count steps, so I suspect that Pebble will do this menial function well.
Pebble, at its base, is a simple platform. There are no frills. There aren't even touch screens. You just press the buttons on the sides to navigate around. The newest models have 64 bit color e-ink screens, the old ones are black and white. The design is... toyish, though the Steel is attractive, but the screens do little favor here.
Android Wear is taking the traditional Android path and fragmenting the whole thing like crazy. Square faces, round faces, different hardware on every single device. Some have heart-rate sensors, all of them track steps. It's a grab-bag of design and craziness.
It's also clumsy and non-intuitive to use. You slide left, right, up, down, who knows which way, to interact with it. It's a little bit like using one of those old sliding puzzles, where you try to arrange the pieces into a coherent picture, except you only get to see one tile at a time.
Apple is taking a different approach in that it has a "home screen" and offers seemingly immense personalization. This personalization may be the defining factor, but we shall see, since very few have actually used a device yet.
The devices are attractive and range widely in pricing, with the base model being near $100 more than the average Android Wear pricing and well above the Pebble pricing. In terms of finish, they are typical Apple, top-notch, so perhaps that is warranted.
But, why is this the last hail-Mary pass for this category?
I've used Pebble, I've used Android Wear, and both are rather infuriating in a very specific way. Quite honestly, you can discount the personal tracking options. They don't do much more than track if your arm is swinging and the devices I've seen have not tracked well. Ironically, the phone in my pocket seems to track my movement more reliably though I keep my phone in my pocket constantly.
No, with personal tracking out of the way, that leaves notifications, and being pinged by every single notification on your wrist will drive you to the brink of madness. You never quite realize how many notifications you get in a day until every single one hits your wrist in a way that you simply cannot ignore.
I have had near panic attacks as servers go down or a tweet gets picked up by 1000 people. There is very little differentiation in the feel of a tweet or a server going down, so as your wrist lights up you just don't know what you're getting until you pull your wrist up to your face.
And you know what? You pull your wrist up to your face on every ping.
Now, at least on some platforms, you can customize that. But that's tedious and no one but the most die-hard geeks will do that. As a matter of fact, having to go in and do that myself is ridiculous on the face of it.
This device in my pocket quite literally knows everything about me. It knows who I interact with most frequently or who I put off til later. It knows which services I am terribly addicted to and which ones I barely touch. Why can't the OS itself do all of the personalization for me? Or at the least start the process?
Of course, that limits the wearable manufacturer to someone that is integrated with the OS. Sorry Pebble.
But until the problem of who gets to ping your wrist with privilege is solved in a way that doesn't require hours to set up wearables like what we're seeing here will be a niche. Google can do it, though who knows if they will. Apple could do it, but they seem to be against such things as a matter of principle, since it involves a lot of data. Pebble can only do it if the OS lets it, which I doubt will happen.
I will probably get an Apple Watch just to try one. But if my Pebble or my Android Wear devices are any indication it will be a passing fad. The day something blows up and drives me to constant distraction, the day I start to panic as I pull my wrist to my face over and over, that day I'll take it off and put it in a drawer.