[Opinion] What an ideal smartwatch should be like



Smartwatches seem like all the rage right now, and I am extremely excited about the future of them and wearable computing in general. I have spent about a year using the Motorola Motoactv, and it has become almost as close to me as my phone. My primary use case for the device is that of a fitness tracking device, but what I really wanted to do was explore the possibilities regarding how such a watch should work.

The key advantage that the smartwatch platform brings is giving developers the capability to add another key element to the experience their mobile apps provide. I personally see the platform as being capable of providing most of the advantages of Google Glass, with significantly less intrusion.

While they have been around for a couple of years, I believe that the reason we’re seeing so much interest around the topic is that, finally, we seem to have the right set of software and hardware features available to create a truly exciting device. We still haven’t seen one that checks all the right boxes (I was disappointed with Sony’s latest effort).

What are the key factors to me for the first “successful” smartwatch?

Physical Buttons

This might seem a little strange as the first thing on my list, but in my experience with the Motoactv, I have often found that the hardware keys are central to many aspects of the UX. A touchscreen should be there, of course, but several of the “key functionalities” should be controllable by physical keys.

The Motoactv gets this perfectly, with a single button-press required to start music playback, controlling the music via the volume up and down keys, and also launching the fitness tracking app with another dedicated button. It also switches on the screen if you shake your wrist, which is an extremely natural gesture for long-time watch-wearers.

In a consumer-version of the device, however, I believe the fitness button should be replaced by one that quickly takes the user straight to the notifications, or better yet…

Voice Controls

As you can imagine, the worst part of a smartwatch is using it for any kind of input. While developers should focus on building some kind of bridge between the watch and their mobile app, so that the mobile app basically configures their watch app for things such as logging in and settings, a true smart device will need the user to interact with it often.

A button press or some other quick gesture should be the equivalent of nodding your head with Google Glass before saying “Ok Glass, …”. In fact, if Google were to release a smartwatch, I would be very, very surprised if voice interaction nearly identical to what we’ve seen so far in Glass doesn’t make it to the watch.

Ability to swap straps like any other watch

A watch, regardless of how much additional functionality it contains, will always be an important accessory in the user’s wardrobe. Smartwatches already struggle with limitations as to what the watch itself can look like, since where a designer of a normal watch would work hard at designing a dial, all they can really do is put a screen.

However, they don’t look…. bad. On more than a few occasions I’ve been complimented by others for the Motoactv, and these are people who didn’t know it was anything more than another watch before they said what they did.

This might feel like asking for too much, considering how important add-on accessories have become as a revenue source. But for mainstream popularity, a smartwatch can no longer take the Motoactv route, which can only be attached to a their black strap. It works, and the strap is of pretty good quality, but I’m certain a lot of people wouldn’t mind keeping a couple of extra-color bands with them.


The omission that I missed the most on the Motoactv was that of a vibrator, so that the watch could notify me whenever I got calls, texts, etc. With no speaker either, it meant that I was reliant on my phone for being alerted to notifications. You can make do without it, but you really shouldn’t have to.

Colored screen

I really had to debate with myself about this one, and I’m still not certain about which way to go: a colored screen that offers poorer visibility and battery life, but, well, colors, or E-ink? While a lot of people would lean towards the latter, my belief is that the colored screen, even with the shorter battery life, would win over more of the general populace.

I can easily get through three days with my Motoactv, if not more, so I don’t personally see it as a major problem. That also gives me greater freedom when it comes to designing custom dial for the watch, something I have enjoyed to quite a degree with the Motoactv. The only usability loss that I see is that the screen cannot always be on like it is for the Pebble, which uses E-ink. I am personally fine with the shake-to-wake gesture, so it’s a sacrifice I’m ready to make.


Raveesh Bhalla

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  1. Since OLED can be curved, I’ve always wanted a new watch to act as a bracer of sorts. And regardless of how you look at it, with the aid of accelerometers and gyro sensors, only the strip that you would need would display.

    To get a better idea, the display would roll around your entire wrist and the entirety of it could display but if you had your palm facing your eyes the display on the underside of your wrist would display.

    1. you’d have to frequently rotate it though, otherwise you’d get uneven wear causing bands of lower brightness to appear after some time.

  2. the term smartwatch is a bit too vague, I can think of 4 different types of watches that fall under this name:
    notification watches, which are regular watches with a small display for song info, caller ID, and small messages.
    wrist mounted displays like the liveview, which do nothing but display whatever an app on the paired phone tells it to.
    smart companion devices like the Sony smartwatch 2 with a proper OS and the ability to install apps on the device itself, but which still communicates with a phone for certain features.
    and stand-alone smartwatches which connect directly to the internet(and possibly a mobile network), and act as complete replacements for a phone/tablet.

    I currently have a liveview collecting dust because of short battery life and frequent disconnections, but I’m thinking of replacing it with a pebble because of the always-on screen, 1week battery life, and nicer design.
    I don’t mind being stuck with black and white, it’s not like I plan on watching movies on my watch and for other things battery life, visibility, and always-on are more useful than color.

    1. The screen bit was the hardest for me to pick, and I still feel most of the early adopter community would prefer E-ink. However, I think a colored screens marketing potential is just bigger, particularly since it gives the company more room to create an interface that looks much better at least at first glance.

  3. Heart rate monitor without the need for separate chest monitor (you can check it from your wrist too). Also have it connect either via Bluetooth to your phone or have a Sim card sdlot. GPS!!! Waterproof!!!! I want a smart watch to workout as and the heart monitor is a must. I don’t want to have a phone and heart rate monitor (which aren’t cheap)

    1. haha you sound like me!

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      The screen bit was the hardest
      for me to pick, and I still feel most of the early adopter community
      would prefer E-ink. However, I think a colored screens marketing
      potential is just bigger, particularly since it gives the company more
      room to create an interface that looks much better at least at first

    3. I don’t care about the heart monitor, but GPS and waterproof are must-haves for me as a runner.

    4. There are apps on your phone that can monitor your heart rate. Unless you’re 70+ it’s a stupid reason to wear one.
      Just my opinion.

      1. ….which require a chest strap. The point being, for fitness metrics it’s imperitive that it be easily accessible (not on a phone in some armband or waist pouch of sorts) and also if you’ve EVER worn a chest strap you know they suck. That’s not just because I’m a girl either, because they sit at the top of your ribcage. You sweat right where it sits, it cuts into your skin, and overall just sucks. With a pulse light HRM (like the things they can stick on your finger at a DR’s office – pulse oximiters) and have it in the wrist form (Basis B1 or Mio Alpha) is the way to go. Plus, phone batteries last for S when you’re doing long distance running and GPS is draining the battery. I suppose if you can run a marathon in 2 hours and you’re from Kenya then you’re good to go. I’m not one of those types.

  4. As a women, I’ve yet to see a smartwatch that isn’t too ugly for me to wear with business attire. If smartwatch makers want my money, they’ll have to work on the part of the wearable equation that says that it has to not really ugly. For what it’s worth, Google Glass needs to work on this too.

    1. There are dress watches for business, and if you’re dressed for business, just carry your phone.

      These are workout watches — that’s who buys them, so that’s who they’re targeted for.

      There will never be a “business attire” smart watch, because the size of the face would look out of place and foolish, particularly on a woman.

      1. I’ll bet Apple figures out a way to do this…..and sell them. They have a habit of doing that.

        Oh….and I own no Apple products and I am not, in any way, shape or form, an Apple fan. I own two Android phones and a tablet. I’m very happy with Android. I also know that I’m not the only woman who wants a smartwatch. Many of those women *are* Apple fans and will flock and spend their money on an Apple iWatch if it looks wearable as women’s attire.

        If Android smartwatch developers are shrugging and saying, “Nope, can’t be done.” … more’s the pity. Because Apple will most assuredly not shrug off 50% of the marketplace and profits.

      2. I disagree entirely. Not only are these not only for workouts, but your comment about watch face size is entirely incorrect. There’s nothing stopping things from having a different watch face/size, just like pebble has already done.

    2. I work in a portion of corporate America that just happens to be very big on mobile tech. I can most certainly fit a sleek looking smartwatch into my jacket and tie environment with ease. I understand that as a woman this may be much more difficult. I feel like Google Glass could easily be implemented so that it could easily work just the same, but I hope it doesn’t. I would like to be able to attend meetings and still be able to see.

  5. A watch? I wore them for years, but after the cellphone, NEVER AGAIN. Watches are sweaty, bulky, often gaudy, and snag on crap all the time. A PITA.

    There’s only 4 types of people I see wearing watches anymore:
    1) Grandpa wearing it out of habit
    2) Chicks wearing it for fashion
    3) Douchy dudes wearing expensive man-jewelry to impress other douches and gold-digger chicks
    4) The new “fitness band” trend

    1. 1) Phone batteries don’t always last
      2) As a female a lot of clothes (generally work attire) don’t always have pockets and I don’t always have my phone in my hand.
      3) I’m not going to use a phone for my fitness tracking (at least not in my hand or anything where I can constantly see it if I did and controlling things you track with a phone while running is clumsy).
      4) I don’t wear a watch for fashion. If I’m dressed up, I usually don’t wear one at all, but outside of that I wear my Nike+GPS not trendy/cute/fashion watch basically 24/7.
      5) Tracking fitness isn’t a trend, it’s a lifestyle and motivator. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without Fitbit and Nike+GPS. It seriously has changed my life.
      6) If you look at your phone for time, you see notifications and tempted to be distracted and “not present” to whomever you’re with or whatever you’re doing. Even if you’re checking time it’s more distracting and rude to someone you’re speaking with than glancing casually at your watch. If you constantly check the time on the phone people get antsy on you because you’re perceived as not having time for them. True or not, that’s what people get from it.

      Just my $.02. I know plenty of people that use their phone for time, but not me.

      1. pretty girl that reads phandroid? D: lol jk. I agree though. A smartwatch with a smarter version of google now on it would be nice.. I wouldn’t wear a smartwatch unless it looks nice either.. i wouldn’t wear something like the pebble watch because it looks ridiculous.. its also overpriced and not as functional as i’d like.

        1. Haha, I love Phandroid! I’ve had lots of compliments and questions about my Nike+ watch. Usually it catches the attention of other runners. For one, it’s a good indicator you’re a runner and have stuff to talk about and then they usually want to know if you like it and if it’s worth the investment. Now, in terms of God awful looks, I’d say that’s the Garmin watches. They’re totally functional, to be sure, but they’re huge and hideous!

          1. TRUE…. i’ve seen all of them.. Right now I just use a regular ass watch(
            http://www.amazon.com/CASIO-watches-g-shock-GDF-100-1AJF-watch/dp/B004P5NWSI/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1372746375&sr=8-11 ) .. It looks okay and has the basic functionality I need.. I can definitely see myself using a james bond type of watch in the future with googley features in it, as long as it looks fashionable too..

    2. you have zero sense of style or class…pfft to your whole rant about nobody wearing watches anymore…i feel naked without a watch…grow up peter pan

      1. Haha, I also feel naked without a watch on. Long sleeves feel huge and bulky on my left wrist when I am not wearing mine.

  6. If we’re talking smart watch for fitness (which you aren’t but I’m going to put that out there since that’s what *I* want), my list includes: on-board GPS (ala Nike+ / TomTom/Garmin), EInk (If you are running a marathon a color screen is too much and will drain the battery and it’s clear in daylight, sensors (like Basis B1, but the HRM would be constant like Mio…to clarify HRM throught he pulse light not via a chest strap), Bluetooth capable w/ API (ala Pebble and specifically so it could do RunKeeper offline – like record it like Nike+GPS does, but when it syncs it can do it to RunKeeper or at minimum that you can export standard GPX files and I want to be able to use the physical buttons on the watch to control mp3 tracks via BlueTooth), good strap (like Nike+ or MotoActiv…straps like the Basis are traditional and don’t work well for sport – even as a female I like the wide 2 hole clamp down type strap), Pedometer built in with accelerometer (to get rid of my need to separately wear my FitBit), and last but not least sleek design….basically I want it to look like my Nike+GPS or a Pebble. The interchangeable straps would be a plus, but I want that size/durability/be able to whack the screen/flick my wrist to turn ont he right and that sort of thing. Ok, not whack it, but tap it :) That being said, the Bluetooth/MP3 control is the least of my worries. To be honest, I like my Sansa Clip Zip since I can use MP3’s at a bitrate I choose, without DRM, the battery life is great, and it’s lightweight and can clip to my shirt. Right now I regularly use my Nike+GPS, sometimes I export the runs via mattstuehler’s website/tool to RunKeeper, and I wear my FitBit. I had a MotoActv which broke when I barely dropped it and the screen shattered (and it was horrible on battery), and I have a Basis B1 (the screen is not near what I like with E-ink, the strap isn’t fitness-y enough, the battery could be better, I had hoped it would do constant HRM, and the pedometer isn’t accurate) and then I’ve got my Fitbit One (started with the Ultra and after a lost one and then a water damaged one, I’ve got the One). I love the accuracy and their website. To be honest, I’d like to see TomTom since they’ve branched off from Nike, do a watch collab with Fitbit and then find a way to do the sensors like Basis/Mio (not sure what legal stuff that would involve after the whole BodyBugg debacle when they tried to block Basis unsuccessfully). Anyway, that’s my wishlist, so I wish TomTom would get to it, because I think they’re the best bet. There’s a market for it, big time, but no one has fully stepped up to the plate.

  7. Voice Controls??

    Do you want people to think Power Rangers are real?
    If you need voice, or keyboard input, the smartwatch is already doing too much.
    Same would apply for Google Glass, were it not for the fact that those are already on your head, so no need to talk to any other bodypart

    1. “I read you, Zordon.”

      “Teleport to the command center immediately!”


    2. No way…I’m Penny Gadget! Haha though…on a serious note, the voice controls on phones and in cars are ridiculous bad and the last thing I need is another device that can’t understand the difference between the words on and off or something else. I never use it on my phone and I have the “sync” voice stuff in my car, which on some days is fine and other days I think it’s confused because it’s indexing the mp3’s on something I plugged in, because it can’t figure out ANYthing.

  8. Vibration for sure. I’d like a watch that can track sleep cycles via movement and wake me up at the ideal time with vibration.

  9. Put a “vibrator” in this thing and the girls will line up.

    1. I’m surprised it took so long for someone to comment along this line of thought

      1. Me too.

  10. I completely disagree with the point about the color screen. My ideal smartwatch would have no screen at all. I have and love my Pebble, but it looks pretty stupid with business attire. I want something that looks like my analog watches but has bluetooth notifications from my phone, synchs with the time on my phone, and allows me to control basic functions of my phone (media playback, answering calls). I’d miss being able to read texts and emails on my wrist, but I’d make the trade for something that looked a little more professional.

    1. How’s that Blackberry working out for you?

      JK. I love analog watches, collected a few since my early years (and paid for each with my own little pocket money) so the bond is pretty close, but I realized it’s time to let go. They’re way outdated now, and I personally think that the Motoactv and others don’t look awful with a business atire. People nowadays know what you’re wearing is not just a normal watch, and just leave it at that.

      See Sunder Pichai talking at the I/O keynote. He wasn’t exactly in a business atire, and yeah the conference is with developers, but his Pebble never looked out of place.

      1. Pichai was in nothing remotely resembling business attire. Of course his Pebble didn’t look out of place. My Pebble doesn’t look out of place when I wear it to the gym. It looks out of place when I’m wearing a nice shirt and slacks.

        1. He was wearing a shirt and a sweater, with the watch pretty prominently visible outside of his sleeve, and it looked fine. I’m not saying the smartwatches of today go with suits, but they can with quite a lot of other stuff. Personally, I’ve worn it with my suit because I’d rather not not wear it.

  11. I know my needs aren’t the same as others, but all I would really want out of a smartwatch is the basic communications with my phone, the ability to keep track of my vitals, and enough voice commands that I can tell it to start a timer without me having to touch it while I’m operating. And being chemical and waterproof enough to withstand sterilization would be a huge plus as well.

  12. I’m fantasizing about customizing a full-screen UCCW clock widget for that watch.

  13. A combination of an analog watch with a circular OLED display that is translucent would be the perfect combination of pleasing aesthetics and functionality. When you receive a notification the watch vibrates to alert you, the screen is activated and within a few seconds it fades to its standard state which is translucent. A button on the device would activate the screen as well so you could check any past notifications. The technology is available now so I don’t see why it can’t be done despite price.

  14. Who needs one?

  15. FlickKey Keyboard can solve the input problem. See http://www.flickkey.com. The video on the site shows typing on a MotoACTV (rooted version, of course).

    1. I used the regular keyboard on Honeycomb when I had my MotoActv. I was surprisingly not too frustrated with the limited typing I needed to do (to be honest, I mostly just played Angry Birds and listened to Pandora on it). That being said, that video demo on FlickKey is FANTASTIC! I can only assume that the guy is a public radio DJ (what with the long pauses and monotone). The green screening with backgrounds imposed of a living room or kids playing at the park is nothing short of genius!

  16. I’d love a smartwatch that’s a regular analog watch, then you can turn the smartwatch ability on and the glass capacitive lcd turns on. An LCD panel is clear. This can happen. The functionality I’d like is seeing notifications from my phone, checking weather and other OS X widget like things.

  17. WiFi text messaging, music, storage, calorie counter, time, date, alarm, calendar, calculator, reminder alarms and phone book.

    1. Calorie counter like burning calories with skin temp/galanic response sensors or is it going to watch you eat and give you a jolt any time a burger gets too close to your mouth? Nooooo don’t do it!!!!! :)

  18. It needs to have lasers.

    1. and knockout gas…or at least a wire garrote

  19. To me some of the must haves for a smartwatch are: several day+ battery life, always visible screen, ways to respond to sms and to actually clear notifications from the phone; vibrating motor for sure. Other things I’d like are some form of google now integration, voice control, NFC

  20. There is no “ideal” smart watch. Their ugly, cumbersome, bulky and just plain ridiculous looking! A watch, for a man at least, should look classy and accent your style. If you’re a 12 y/o then yeah, go for it. For a grown man, not so much.

  21. Don’t forget the grenade launcher and nuclear bomb diffuser…

    1. And the axe

  22. I haven’t worn a watch since the Smartphone came along. I don’t see many people wearing watches. But, if Apple made one. The fad would defiantly come back.

  23. The must have feature for me is a phone! I want my smartwatch to be a wristphone. With a phone and decent input I can leave my soon to be dated pocket phone home when I’m out for a ride.

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