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The smartwatch is dead, long live the smart watch

Gaming, fitness, stylish smart watches

Gameband Terraria Edition

The smartwatch, an everything-plus-the-bathroom-sink approach to packing technology into something you wear on your wrist, is dying.

Fortunately, something much better is coming in its place: the smart watch.

Typically, one would refer to this as a natural evolution, but tech writing diehards seem so set on killing off the smartwatch, I figured it’s best to let them have their way.

So yes, technophiles, the smartwatch is dead, poke its over-sized, short-battery-life corpse with your toe and then move along to write about the death of virtual reality or how 3D TVs are the next big thing I just have to buy.

For the rest of us, something interesting is happening in the world of wearables: The ability to make things you want to wear smarter is getting easier and the people creating this intelligent jewelry are becoming more adept.

What that means is that the general purpose, relatively unfocused smartwatch is evolving to become a watch that is smart.

If you’re into the outdoors, you might pick up the latest watch from Casio or Garmin, both packed with features designed specifically with the avid hiker or camper in mind. If you’re a runner, maybe the watch from New Balance is for you. Just need a few notifications sent to your wrist? Check out the stylish watches from Timex and Fossil.

Asteroids on the Gameband

And as of this week, if you’re really into retro gaming, you should check out the Gameband, a watch that essentially serves as a micro console on your wrist. When it launches it will include 10 games — like Asteroids, Tempest 2000, Battlezone and Missile Command — all playable on the device, and the ability to upload more.

Soon, I suspect, there won’t be a major watch creator in the world that doesn’t have some smart features built into some of its watches. And that’s a very good thing.

Don’t get me wrong. If you, like me, also adore the feature rich, over-sized look and abilities of a general smartwatch, I’m sure those will stick around too. But I suspect we’ll see less and less of them as companies like Samsung, LG and Apple start to define the uses most important to their users.

Just this month, Google introduced the latest version of Android Wear, an update to the software that runs Android-powered watches. That update brings with it a massive shift in the direction of the watch which essentially frees it from the phone.

We also learned this month that the Apple Watch, according to one research company, accounts for about half of all smartwatch sales. That same company, Canalys, estimates that Apple shipped 11.9 million smartwatches last year.

While the smartwatch isn’t ubiquitous yet, a 23.8 million person market isn’t exactly small either.


A key to Apple’s success with its watch last year, according to Canalys, was a sharper focus on the fitness market. That same report shows that companies like FitBit and China’s Xiaomi are seeing a surge in popularity for their fitness-focused smartbands.

It’s not that fitness is the silver bullet for smartwatches, it’s that these device makers are trimming away the things they see their users not needing and sharpening the ones they most use.

Focus, not GPS, massive battery life or cell service, is the most important feature in the next wave of smart watches.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding editor and executive editor of Polygon.