There is nothing else that Silicon Valley loves more than the word ‘disrupt’. The term refers to the process of disrupting existing markets, changing those markets in unexpected, better ways through innovation. While on the West Coast of the United States, people are always trying to ‘disrupt’, on the East Coast in New York sit the Wolves on the Wall Street who are always breathing down the necks of innovators to disrupt more. Since Steve Jobs disrupted three markets—the MP3 player, the phone and the tablet—in less than a decade, the clamour on Wall Street has increased many decibels asking the tech companies to disrupt more.
Fast running out of markets to disrupt and egged on by the persistent rumours about Apple’s iWatch, the technology industry has turned its collective eye towards that oldest of technologies. The watch. Particularly the kind that we wear on our wrists.
However much Silicon Valley likes to delude itself that disrupting the market for watches is a new phenomenon, this particular disruption has been going on for a while now and more importantly was not very successful. Back in 2004, when it was still the undisputed leader of the PC world, Microsoft attempted some smartwatches under the name SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology). Those smartwatches shared the fate of every other Microsoft hardware product till date barring Xbox. Poor integration of hardware and software and eventual death.
In the past few years crowd-funded companies like Pebble have come up with some compelling smartwatches with e-ink displays that do very few things very well. As the rumours of an impending iWatch heated up, Samsung eager to be called an innovator jumped into the frame last year with the Galaxy Gear which was critically panned. With even tech giants like Samsung and Sony struggling to make compelling smartwatches, the other big fish in the Silicon Valley pond, Google has finally jumped into the game with Android Wear.
Android Wear puts the popular mobile operating system on smartwatches and makes those watches remote displays for your Android smartphones. Like all good smartwatches they show you all the notifications that you get on your phone. But since they have Google services baked in, they also accept touch and voice inputs to search the Internet, display Google Now feed and will show the essentials like the weather and the time.
Google has also announced that its hardware partners like Motorola, LG, HTC and Samsung will manufacture watches running Android Wear in the coming months.
Even as it shows off Android Wear, Google has failed in the one aspect that it needed to shine. That of showing us a compelling reason for why we may need a smartwatch. Writing for The Register, Andrew Orlowski calls it a ‘solution’ looking for a problem. It suggests Google may have again left the important work to be done by Apple. Build a story and come up with a narrative and a user case for why we may need a smartwatch. If even Apple fails at that the smartwatch will join the eminent list of disruptions that never were.