What to look for in a smart watch

The Apple and Google smart watches don't even exist, yet they're the talk of the town. Here's what they should deliver

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A smart watch wishlist even Dick Tracy could like

I'd like a smart watch to be more than a second screen for my smartphone. I'd like to be able to talk on it, Dick Tracy-style, instead of on my smartphone, such as when I'm hanging on to a crowded bus's handhold as we careen through San Francisco. I know there''s a power issue for such usage; even with low-voltage Bluetooth, the first generation of smart watches struggled to maintain their charges a full day to stay connected to the smartphones providing their data.

I'd love a smart watch to support both simple gestures and voice services such as Apple's Siri or Google's voice assistant, so I can manage my smartphone, tablet, and perhaps computer when my hands aren't free. I do that today when presenting slideshows at conferences, using my iPhone as a wireless, touch-based remote control for my iPad or MacBook. Why not from my wristwatch?

I'd also love a smart watch to connect to my home automation systems, such as the Nest thermostat, whether directly or through my smartphone. A watch face is perfectly sized to scroll the digital temperature dial or to turn the fan on or off. Its use as a garage door control would be great -- or as a Bluetooth fob for a car like the Toyota Prius or to unlock one of the Bluetooth-based door locks now coming to market. Sure, I usually have my smartphone with me, but I'd likely have my smart watch with me more often if it meets these needs.

Hon Hai's Foxconn unit, which makes devices sold by most tech firms, is reportedly working on a sensor-laden wristband that a smart watch could use for both athletic and medical purposes, such as heart rate and blood pressure monitoring. The idea is already fairly popular in the guise of wearable devices like the Nike+ and the Fitbit, and medical conferences are full of sessions about remote patient monitoring to reduce the cost of medical care by reducing the number of emergencies.

In all these cases, a general theme emerges: getting rid of one-off devices like pulsimeters and key fobs in favor of a multipurpose device. That's exactly what makes a smartphone so useful: It's a radio, a jukebox, a game player, a messaging device, a sports ticker, a weather checker, a check-in tool for flights, a reservations tool for restaurants, a to-do manager, a portfolio of family photos, and, oh yes, a phone.

To succeed as a market, smart watches will need to be as diversely talented as smartphones, for some of the same functions and some unique ones. Otherwise, they'll just be gadgets whose fad comes and goes, like those iPod Nano wristbands and digital clock faces.

This article, "What to look for in a smart watch," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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