Every time someone announces a smart watch (today it’s the Apple Watch), people trot out the idea that the wristwatch is obsolete because look, I already have a smartphone with a clock on it. But phones don’t completely replace wristwatches. They completely replace pocket watches.

pocket watch photo
Why do I need a wristwatch? I have a clock in my pocket!
Photo by France1978 (CC)

The wristwatch thoroughly replaced the pocket watch for most of the twentieth century because it’s so much more convenient. You don’t have to pull it out of your pocket to look at it. You don’t have to worry about dropping it. You don’t even need free hands to check the time.

The only reason we went back to pocket watches is that the new ones can do so much more than the old ones did. That and so many of us are spending so much time sitting in front of a glowing rectangle with a clock in the corner. (Note to fellow geeks: not everyone does this, so don’t generalize your experience.) As with cameras, music players, and portable game systems, we abandoned a specialized device in favor of a multitasker that wasn’t quite as good at the job. The difference is that with the wrist watch, its advantage wasn’t something that newer technology could catch up on. It was the form factor.

Smartwatches, in concept, are not a step backward, even if this generation’s specs leave something to be desired (and I’m not just talking about enabling the wearer to “start and stop the flow of time”). They’re a step sideways to a different use case. It’ll take time (no pun intended) and experimentation by real-world users to shake out what it’s best suited for.

2 thoughts on “Did Smartphones Make Watches Obsolete?

  1. If smart watch simply replaced an ordinary watch I would say OK. But people are no longer wearing watches (I mean the mass public) so they’ll have to re-learn. And here comes the question – do smart watches offer enough advantages to offset the awkwardness of carrying and charging an additional device? In my opinion, no. It’s a step in the wrong direction. People will still look at their smartphones because they offer superior user experience. Especially the golden/luxury smart watches will make for a very interesting electronic waste once they become obsolete 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.