May 28, 2014, 6:00 AM —
The smartwatch is a tech-lover's dream. It's also something that has been a consistent let down to date. The trade offs are just too severe with the technology that's currently available. Modest success stories like the Pebble are more frequently overshadowed by disasters like the Galaxy Gear watch. With each new release however, we hope for the best.
This year the most notable contender so far is the Moto 360 by Motorola/Google. I say 'so far' because an iWatch announcement feels imminent, possibly as soon as WWDC next week. The Moto 360 is exciting because it looks so much like a traditional watch. It's round which is unheard of for a smartwatch and took Motorola a custom OLED screen to accomplish. It also comes packed with useful location aware features that Google Now provides since it's powered by your Android phone and the Android Wear platform.
Details on the inner workings and specifics of the device have been light. In interviews wearers of the device have been tight lipped on everything, merely offering a quick glimpse of it on their wrist. As you'd expect, the price has been the primary unanswered question on people's minds, but it shouldn't be the biggest question. (Motorola recently revealed through a contest that the approximate value of the watch is $249 USD). The most important question for a smartwatch is that of battery life.
I've spent some time around another recent smartwatch, the Qualcomm Toq, and it's biggest saving grace is the full week of battery life. It gets to that battery life using a proprietary Mirasol display technology that uses ambient light to show the screen. With the Moto 360 using a full color OLED display, it's going to need some fancy tricks to achieve a respectable lifespan. Poor battery life is something that can't be overlooked in a wearable.
The wearable segment of the tech market has been plagued with battery problems since the beginning. It's an area that science is struggling to improve on and one which wearables are significantly hurt by. Having a watch, no matter how smart, that can't make it through a weekend without being charged is a no-go in my book. You expect that if you go camping, you're phone is probably going to die. You'd also expect that your watch would be unaffected and you'd still be able to tell time.
So far Motorola has made no mention of battery life on the watch. It's been quiet about the internals and the technologies they are leveraging as well. By the looks of early prototypes, it's likely that this will not be an 'always on' display. It's also likely that they will use black watch faces and a darker color pallet whenever possible to take advantage of the OLED display which shows large power savings on black screens vs. white ones. If the watch face is not always visible, a negative for a watch, you'd hope that it would at least provide decent battery life, but that remains to be seen.
I'm hopeful about the Moto 360, it's a lust-worthy device. The lack of information about the battery has me nervous though. While this could be a simple business move seeing how competitive the space is becoming, it could also be a hint at a compromise. The price is sounding right. The style is the best yet. If they can get the battery life over 3 days I think I'm a buyer.