Wearables, Fashion and iWatch

Khoi Vinh:

Things that you wear are a wholly different proposition. There is almost literally no reason why we need collars on a shirt, frills on a blouse, pleats on a pair of pants (actually, there is no good reason for pleats on pants for men, at least until the winds of fashion decide the opposite), or any of the countless design details that make what we wear compelling to us as things that we want put on and walk out the door with. These things are designed from the outside in; they’re fashion first and goods second.

Almost all the stuff technology companies make are designed by how they work. And how they look follows from that. A good example is the modern post-1997 iPhone-like smartphone. How did almost all smartphones work before the iPhone? We used a D-pad or some other mechanism to navigate a desktop UI on a tiny display with a physical keyboard. Hence some ugly smartphones. After the iPhone? A large piece of multitouch glass was all that was needed to navigate a finger-based UI. And some beautiful smartphone designs followed. In some ways a smartphone is easy to design because how we interact with it is standard: finger(s) on multitouch glass. Designing a smartwatch might be harder.

I seldom wear a watch, but when I do I wear my nice watch, to impress. Folks who wear a watch for its function — time keeping — are those who don’t have smartphones or those who have specialized needs: rugged, solar-powered, atomic, etc. or the situation makes it difficult to pull out a smartphone. Of course some others simply like watches for their simplicity: glance at it and you get the time, and in some cases the date too. The design of a nice watch and the design of a functional watch can differ quite a bit.

I might get a smartwatch, but only if it can also serve to impress. Here are some of my preferences for a smartwatch that impresses: The watch face has to be simple with a classic dial, hand, subdials, and hourmarkers on a high-ppi display. The case can be square but the crystal needs to be circular, and made of sapphire. The case should be made of stainless steel or some other nice metallic material. Straps should be made of real leather. Pushers and the crown should be metallic objects with a solid feel when pushed or turned. And that means the LG G Watch nor the Samsung Gear Live will do. The Withings Activité looks nice, though I’d like to receive simple — very simple — notifications such as text and email.

There were other companies that designed (single, not multi) touch-based smartphones, but it was Apple who brought it to everyone with the iPhone. The Moto 360, LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, Pebble Steel, and even the Withings Activité all seem precursors to what a smartwatch should be. I wonder what those smart folks in Cupertino are up to now.