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Ticking clock: Why developers shouldn't give smartwatches the time of day just yet

Ticking clock: Why developers shouldn't give smartwatches the time of day just yet

Are smartwatches the future? Do they have a place in gaming? I believe both statements to be true...

But they are not the future quite yet.

For all means, be excited about the potential of smartwatches, but it's still just potential, and it could easily not be realised.

I think that the catalyst for the bright future of smartwatches is Apple jumping into the game with the Apple Watch.

Granted, Android's gotten ahead of Apple in many segments of the market. Apple may still be the profit and thought leader in the mobile race, but it's not as far ahead of the pack as it once was.

Android devices are becoming better to use and more stylish on a regular basis.

Battery battle

However, the problem is that the battery life technology just isn't there to make smartwatches reach user expectations. Right now, Android Wear devices are only lasting a day or two, and Samsung's up to 2.5 days.

Apple Watch battery life hasn't been directly addressed outside of Tim Cook's comments that he thinks you'll want to charge them every night, similar to what a lot of people do with their phone."

Android Wear devices like Moto 360 are now available unlike Apple Watch

Nevertheless, that goes against what most watches have historically been. It's something you can take off at night, put back on in the morning all week long, and it just works.

I think at least a week of battery life needs to be the goal.

What's the point of a watch if you're worried it'll die in the middle of the day, especially if you're just checking it occasionally?

That's the biggest hurdle to smartwatch adoption. People's expectations of watches are that they last for a while. I think that at least a week of battery life needs to be the goal.

And we just don't have the low-power processor tech to ensure that with what smartwatch manufacturers want to do. The Pebble's battery life lasts multiple days, but that uses an e-ink screen. There needs to be a major jump in order for Android Wear and Apple Watch to match that.

She's in fashion

I think until this happens, smartwatches won't take off – and, incidentally, that's why Apple might be doing the smart thing in targeting the Apple Watch towards a fashion market first.

Aiming at people buying watches because, firstly, they look good first and, secondly, because it might be a status symbol that ties in with their other Apple products is a genius move - especially since the high-end smartwatches could wind up costing thousands of dollars.

Until smartwatches are more than a niche product, then developers will only be aiming at a niche audience.

This is essentially Apple's Early Access plan: get people who can afford to buy in early to help improve the product for when it becomes a mass-market product. For the record, that'll be when either the battery life approaches something that people don't have to make as part of their daily charging ritual, or the cost gets so cheap that it doesn't really matter.

So, for developers, I say hold fire on smartwatches for at least the next couple of years. Until there's signs of a massive technological leap that makes smartwatches more than a niche product, then you'll only be aiming at a niche audience.

Granted, it'll be an audience of the wealthy and the early adopters, but it's hard to say that there'll be enough of them to justify targeting them any time soon.

I find myself intrigued by the potential for smartwatch gaming in the long-term, though.

For example, a turn-based game like Smarter Than You could send notifications to players, and then have them send back moves without even taking out their phones. Some games could manage to live on smartwatches as well as phones and tablets.

Epic Island uses iOS 8's Notification Center widget to show the wait timer for each character, and it's clever not just because it's convenient, but because it serves as a reminder that, 'Hey, this game exists'.

Will Apple Watch be more than Mickey Mouse for gaming?

It can help get users back to playing the game, and the more a player plays a game, the more likely they are to spend money in it. Now imagine being able to be reminded, and maybe even in the case of Epic Island, to undertake basic game tasks all from the watch.

It's all about maintaining engagement for games that can be played in some form on the watch.

Game on?

This isn't even counting the ways that smartwatches could be used for all-new types of games. Isn't it exciting to consider what talented developers with the spirit for experimentation could do with the smartwatch form factor?

It's all about maintaining engagement for games that can be played in some form on the watch.

As well, don't discount the rise of massive phones in the adoption of smartwatches.

The beauty of phablets is that, while they stink for one-handed usage, for people who mostly use their phones two-handed, or would rather have a bigger screen for gaming, multimedia, or work applications, might be the perfect target for wearables that would give them one-handed convenience along with their two-handed phone.

Nevertheless, I think there are two chief concerns in smartwatch adoption.

One is that the technology might never get to the point it needs to in order to be viable for the average person. They might forever be a niche device.

Look at how despite iPhones keep getting thinner, Apple still can't seem to solve the battery life concerns on them because it's so obsessed with aesthetics – and it might literally be hitting the breaking point with it on the iPhone 6 Plus and 'BENDGHAZI'.

Outside of Apple, can any Android Wear manufacturer really do it? Will technological advances make the hardware actually usable?

But the wider concern is that wearables are just a solution searching for a problem.

Smartphones killed the watch as a functional utility for checking time, and we are so obsessed with having our phones with us everywhere is it really such a concern to have another device we don't have to take out of our pocket?

Certainly I think smartwatches are going to have to prove themselves before developers should consider supporting them in earnest.

Carter Dotson is a freelancer mobile/games writer. You can follow him via Twitter.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!

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