There is no touchscreen or Apple logo. You’ve never heard of the designer. Its icons look straight out of 1992. And in fact, we found it in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog–yes, that living fossil of technological innovation from a time when plug-in shoe-shiners were all the rage.
It’s the “No Charge Smart Watch.” It uses Bluetooth to put email, call, and SMS alerts on your wrist. And whereas existing smartwatches like the Moto 360 can’t make it a day before plugging in (and the Apple Watch’s runtime is still undisclosed but likely similar), the No Charge Smart Watch runs for a year on a standard watch battery.
It gets the most important thing right in smartwatch design: It runs forever on the charge of a single battery. Keeping juice in your smartphone is already daily stress. No one has the mental energy to ensure that their watch, earrings, shoes, and T-shirt also have a charge before heading out in the morning. And no bartender has the patience to find outlets for five cords in our attempts top off our gadgets during happy hour. If we really are to wear more and more technologies on our bodies, those technologies need to be as simple and reliable to wear as their OG counterparts.
So does that one-year smartwatch sound impressive yet? Well it’s not–not by Casio’s standards. They actually have a pair of G-Shocks that will run for up to two years, connected 12 hours a day via Bluetooth to your phone. Again, these watches are loaded with features that will sound familiar: control music from your wrist, get Facebook friend alerts in real time, see Reminders from your iPhone. The G-Shocks look straight off the page of my second-grader forearm. But even still, I imagine that I’d wear it a lot longer than my test run with the latest and greatest in smartwatch technology on the market today, the Motorola 360.
Because while I’ve had a Motorola 360 smartwatch in my hands for a few weeks now, I’ve worn it for all of two days. As much as I appreciated the engineering feat of a round LCD on my wrist, and as convenient as it was to Google search with my voice, the thing couldn’t last from sunup to sundown. Motorola is attempting to address the issue with firmware updates, but even then, a smartwatch that lasts a day-and-a-half isn’t enough to win me–or any non-nerd–over. It may sound like a minor quip, but the first time that screen failed to come to life on my command, the Moto 360 became a small burden. The second time, its magic was extinguished.
And that leads us to the huge elephant in the wearables room. While products like fitness bands and smartwatches are loaded with the most cutting-edge displays and microchips, their battery technology is decades old, relying on science that dates back two centuries. Battery technology is downright stifling innovation. Why can’t wearables give us super strength, for instance? We can already build artificial muscles. We just don’t have the battery technology to power a tape-on exoskeleton.
But in the immediate, we have to make do with the lousy battery technology we’ve got. That’s what design is meant to do, to solve problems with whatever material and technological resources we have on hand. And unfortunately, it’s a reality that the most lauded smartwatches of our day by Motorola and Apple seem to be largely ignoring. These companies are opting to include battery-guzzling features like accelerometers that track our every movement, colorful screens that light up from across the room, and microphones to hear our voice queries, rather than optimizing their designs for extended practicality–or what we might fairly call “real-world use.”
The smartwatches of today are by all means bulky and inelegant, yet ironically, they’ve been designed for sizzle, for their superficial benefit in our lives and 20 features that can be checked off for the marketing department. But all the value-added features in the world mean nothing when the battery bites it eight hours later.
More from Wearables Week:
- It’s Time To Look Beyond The Smartwatch
- 4 Wearables That Give You Superpowers
- The Most Hated Design Trend Is Back
- This Wearable Tunes Out Your Annoying Boss
- The Problem With Wearable Technology, According To “Blade Runner” Designer Syd Mead
- This Is What It’s Like To Wear Smart Spandex During A Workout
- From The Designers Of Fitbit, A Digital Tattoo Implanted Under Your Skin