TECH CORE As smartwatches are the hot gadgets of 2013, Smart Chimps thought it would be a cunning plan to get the story behind the first genuine smartwatch, and the only one to work across three different mobile operating systems. That watch is i'm Watch from i'm S.p.A, an Italian company. Here, we talk to Sebastiano Poggi, software engineer at i'm S.p.A, on how this clever firm is standing up against its new competitors.
Smart Chimps: Tell us about i'm Watch, and about it being the first smartwatch in the market.
Sebastiano Poggi: The i'm Watch has been the first real smartwatch to come to the market. It was launched at CES 2012, where it won an Innovation Award. We then began shipping preorders of I'm Watch a few months later.
The things that really set it aside from the competition are the excellent 'made in Italy' design and the outstanding manufacturing quality and materials, the flexibility of the i'm Droid Android software, and the richness of the i'm Watch ecosystem.
In addition to that, we offer the widest overall feature set available on a smartwatch, and the really unique thing is that our watch works not only in conjunction with Android phones, but also with iPhones and BlackBerry 10 devices, without even the need to install a companion app on the phone.SC: i'm Watch runs on Droid 2, an Android derivative. Tell us about it, why you chose to make your own operating system, and also about your store – how many developers do you have working on your operating system and how many apps are in the I'm Watch store?
SP: The i'm Watch runs i'm Droid, which is a customised version of Android. i'm Droid is custom-tailored for the watch form factor, and optimised for it. We have seen that, on a watch, use cases can be profoundly different than those on a phone, and the Android experience is thought out for phones and tablets. Putting Android as-is on the watch, as some other watch manufacturers do, would have resulted in an uncomfortable user experience. We have instead focused on providing a simple, beautiful and fulfilling user experience on the i'm Watch.
We chose to use Android because it's the leading mobile operating system, and it has an awesome development community. A great side effect is that developers who want to develop apps for the i'm Watch can get started in no time, because they can use the tools and workflows they're used to, without having to learn new languages or SDKs. We also love Android because it is opensource, and because it provides a great foundation to build our product upon.
In order to provide the customisability we want the i'm Watch to have, we have created i'market, a dedicated apps marketplace for the i'm Watch. The i'market was launched at CES 2013, and already has over a hundred applications, both free and paid, that our users are be able to choose from to enrich their i'm Watch. We have hundreds of awesome developers working on i'm Watch, and we're constantly investing on our developer relations programme, called i'm Developer, to help them create outstanding apps.SC: The smartwatch segment is new and growing fast, in both manufacturers bringing products to market, and the excitement growing around these devices. Why is the smartwatch area so interesting? What is it that is appealing about this companion device for consumers?
SP: The smartwatch area is really interesting, in my opinion, because it's the natural sweet spot between technology and fashion. Watches have always been a fashion accessory, and in the last few years their original function has become less and less important, because there are now many ways to tell the time. Many people that were using a watch just to tell the time now don't think they need a watch that only tells the time anymore. Only enthusiasts of designer watches never actually abandoned them, because they love the idea of a wristwatch and their premium design, so that it is mostly the fashion factor driving them.
What we are seeing now, though, is a return in interest from the market on watches, as the idea of wearable computing makes its way to the mainstream consumers. We've been leading the pack and pioneering in the smartwatch market since our first concept announcement, back in 2011. We feel that this sector will experience an exponential growth over the next few years, as most major players in the mobile industry are entering the market with their proposals. This will help drive wearable computing even further into the hands of the mass market and into society.SC: What benefits will smartwatches really bring to users of smartphones, or are they simply a gimmick?
SP: There are actually many kinds of smartwatches, in my opinion. Devices can be simple, bare bones and cheap like the Pebble, or flexible, powerful and premium such as i'm Watch and, to some extent, the Galaxy Gear. There are even different degrees in between those two extremes, such as the Sony SmartWatch 2, and even other kinds of devices, the watchphones, which are similar in form factor but satisfy completely different needs. Then there are the not-so-smart watches, such as wearable fitness devices.
With such a richness of devices available to users, I think that almost everyone could find a smartwatch that actually makes their life better. But I feel like there's still no one size fits all smartwatch solution to the market, so it really depends on the single person.
These are still pioneering times for wearable devices, and not everyone has yet found that such devices can be actually helpful to them. Of course there's a significant part of the general population that thinks that wearable is and will always be a gimmick, but I'm convinced that in time most of them will reconsider their position. Smartphones were considered gimmicks as well, just a few years ago, right?SC: Where is the smartwatch market going, in your opinion?
SP: The smartwatch market is, in my opinion, going to leave its current niche status and become mainstream. Currently the real limitations we're facing are due to the available hardware technology, rather than anything else. Some things just still can't be done, but technology innovation rate is really fast so I'd expect that most of those limitations will actually be lifted in the next few years, and also because silicon vendors have just begun creating chips that are aimed at wearable devices.
Another trend I see forming is the one that we're already defining with i'm Watch, which is that of not only providing an electronic device, or a design watch. It is the joining of the two categories in a watch that doesn't just aim at having the best spec sheet or the most features, but has a premium design, both on the aesthetics and on the user experience. A watch that is less geeky looking and intimidating than most of the current generation of smartwatches are. Premium design, premium materials, premium features and software, to create a watch that your average Joe would actually want to wear.SC: What developments are you working on for I'm Watch? What's next for this interesting device?
SP: Currently i'm Watch is really stable, so we've decreased the updates frequency quite a lot; we actually only release an update when it's needed, rather than having an update each month. We're constantly working on testing compatibility with new phones and operating systems, of course, and should any incompatibility arise, we'd issue an update for it. At the moment I'm mostly working on the developer relations side, and on some other projects, which have yet to be announced.
Unfortunately I can't disclose anything about our roadmap, since it's strictly confidential. Rest assured that we're working on some things that are really going to make a big splash and please all users!
SC: Thanks for your time Sebastiano. Exciting to be here at the beginning of the smartphone revolution!