When Apple lifted the curtains on the iPad back in 2010, the mistake that many critics made was that they weren't thinking big enough. Almost immediately, the tablet was relegated to the status of a bulkier, less useful iPhone. It's hard to imagine now, but for a moment, the iPad was the laughingstock of the internet.
With four years of hindsight, it's apparent that the iPad's potential was underestimated. The device is now a household name, and it's become the king of tablets in the U.S.
If there's one looming technology that stands to make as much of an impact as the iPad did, it's the smartwatch. While Android Wear, Pebble, and the Apple Watch haven't yet received the level of scrutiny that the iPad faced at launch, I contend that the technology is still widely underestimated. Here are six of the biggest ways we're missing the true potential of smartwatches.
A revolutionary new interface
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Mark Rolston of Frog Design outlined a set of subtle smartwatch interactions he referred to as "phatic cues." These are quick and simple exchanges between user and watch. If it's about to start raining, for instance, your watch might vibrate and display a rain cloud. You look down at it, acknowledge the information, and move on. This is a brand new way of absorbing information, and one that we'll have to get used to as smartwatches grow in popularity.
Playing the (near) field
Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and other mobile wallet apps are beginning to show off the appeal of near-field communication (NFC) technology, but as the smartwatch begins to become part of the mainstream, its practical uses will skyrocket. Imagine, for instance, swiping your watch by a reader at the grocery store, and then simply walking out with your produce. With the accessibility of the smartwatch, these kinds of conveniences are more within reach than ever.
Technology that's fit for the runway
One of the biggest challenges for wearable technology is that it has to look good. Unfortunately, when it comes to watches, a leather or even gold wristband isn't enough to ensure a fashionable product. The face has to look good, too. When it comes to designing apps for smartwatches, developers should hold themselves to rigorous standards. No longer is "clean design" enough--it should be actively fashionable, in addition to being user-friendly.
Changing the workplace
With Android Wear and the Apple Watch already turning heads as upcoming consumer tech, wearables seem poised for a crossover into the business space. Whether it's instant, wrist-vibrating notifications for a quick meeting, or augmented reality apps like the ones Toshiba engineers are already using for repairing machines, wearable technology shows a ton of potential when it comes to creating a smarter and safer workplace.
The slow death of the fitness band
Like their fitness band predecessors, smartwatches are fantastic for monitoring user health. Sleep cycles, steps taken, flights climbed, all can be tracked using a smartwatch. While smartwatches will need some time in the public eye to reach the spotlight, they could grow to become our primary fitness devices. As the iPhone and streaming music slowly pushed the iPod out of the mainstream, smartwatches may very well displace fitness wearables.
Our ticket to the Internet of Things
In a recent demo, Google showed us the possibilities off its Android Wear platform by offering an enticing example: In the showcase video, a woman uses her smartwatch to open a garage door. With a simple tap on the screen, you can lock the door to your home or control your thermostat remotely. As the internet of things continues to grow, more use cases of this sort will begin sprouting up, and we'll see some heavy blurring of the line between our physical and digital worlds.