Smartwatches have a history of failure, but there's hope

Story highlights

  • Apple, Samsung, Google and others are reportedly working on a smartwatch
  • Other companies have tried to make a Dick Tracy-style watch happen before we were ready
  • Public finally seems ready to accept smartwatches the way they accepted the iPad
In that never-ending search for "the next big thing in tech," talk has turned to wearable gadgets, especially in the form of a smartwatch that syncs with your smartphone.
Just about every major tech company from Apple to Samsung to Google is reportedly working on its own take on the concept.
Assuming the reports are true -- and they're far too numerous and consistent not to be -- a big wave of new smartwatches is coming soon.
But these wrist gadgets are nothing new. In fact, smartwatches have a long history of failure, especially in recent years as the modern smartphone market began its explosive growth. Too many companies tried too hard to make the dream of a Dick Tracy-style watch happen before we were ready for it.
There's an extensive list of smartwatch blunders in recent years.
Microsoft created a software platform called SPOT that delivered news updates to watches via FM radio waves for $59 a year. Companies such as Swatch and Fossil signed on to make compatible devices, but SPOT bombed. Microsoft killed it in 2008.
Check e-mails on your watch
Check e-mails on your watch


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Check e-mails on your watch 02:29
Then there were watches that doubled as smartphones. LG and Samsung gave that category a whirl late last decade, but the devices were way too expensive and not nearly as functional as a traditional smartphone.
And Sony, a company desperately trying to remain relevant in today's mobile-centric world, still sells an Android-based smartwatch that it introduced last year, but reviews of the device are pretty bad.
So are Apple, Samsung and Google setting themselves up for failure?
No way.
Look at it this way. Tablets were nothing new when Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. Microsoft was even noodling around with making a bigger push in the space at the time until Apple came along and completely redefined the category.
In three short years, tablets have started eating into traditional PC sales as people prefer to buy a device that can do most of the things their laptop can at a fraction of the price.
It seems like the public is finally ready to accept smartwatches the way they accepted Apple's iPad.
Last year, a company called Pebble caused a lot of hype when it raised a whopping $10.3 million on Kickstarter from 68,000 people. Pebble makes a smartwatch with a black-and-white screen similar to the E-Ink display on your Kindle. It can connect to your Android phone or iPhone via Bluetooth and display incoming text messages and other notifications. Plus it lets you control basic phone functions such as the music player.
With all the hype surrounding this tiny startup, it feels like the hokeyness of a wrist computer has all but evaporated in the public's eye. The answer seems to be to make a device that isn't a replacement for your smartphone, but a clever companion, something that takes away the need to pull out your phone from your pocket or purse.
Instead, you'll just glance at your wrist, as if you were simply checking the time, to see what's going on in the world. Or, with Google's much-anticipated Glass connected headset, you'll glance up at a tiny screen above your eye.
According to an unscientific survey of users by mobile deals site BuyVia, the top five features respondents said they'd like to see in a smartwatch were e-mail and texting, phone calls, GPS, Wi-Fi and weather updates -- the same features people now rely on in their smartphones.
We weren't ready for smartwatches before, but now that smartphones are so ingrained in our lives, Apple and others appear smart to give wearable tech another chance.