Do we need watches to tell us more than the time?

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Big companies have been trying hard to make the long-awaited smartwatch "revolution" happen, so tick tock, what's taking so long?

Smartwatches are just not very smart when left to their own devices - they need to be connected to a smartphone for full functionality.

While the industry is growing quickly, nearly all still need a smartphone's Bluetooth connection to tell you much more than just telling the time.

A mock-up of a rumoured Apple iWatch Apple's smartwatch is rumoured to exist already... or not exist at all. Or exist sometime soon

What a smartwatch could potentially do, at least to thousands of children in the 80s, was typified by the wristwatch David Hasselhoff's character used in Knight Rider to control his car.

But the industry is still so new there are many different approaches.

"Smartwatches can already be split into three or four categories," says senior analyst Josh Flood, of ABI Research.

"There are notification watches - the really basic ones which just link to the phone, voice-capable smart watches which is a really cool idea and health and fitness smartwatches for heart rate and running."

Others see even greater potential.

Start Quote

I think the tipping point will happen at the back end of this year”

End Quote Josh Flood ABI Research

"Through NFC [near field communication], could you transfer travel cards to the watch?" says Skooks Pong, vice president of Synapse, a company working with Nike to develop its FuelBand activity tracker/watch hybrid.

"Who knows where it will go but I would love to be at a point where I could walk into the store, tap my wrist and pay for whatever it is I'm buying."

The tipping point that brought new devices like the tablet into the mainstream has not happened yet. But behind the scenes, the battle to create an "iPod moment" has already begun.

Names already linked to the device are Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and Google. Sony has actually already started selling a smartwatch, linking to an Android phone for functionality.

I'm Watch I'm Watch calls itself "the very first real smartwatch"

The potential market is considered to be huge. The wearable technology industry will be worth around $50bn by 2018, bank Credit Suisse predicts.

And smaller companies are already ahead, as the number of smartwatches already on the market are mainly from start-up companies.

ConnecteDevice, I'm Watch, Martian, MetaWatch and Pebble Technology have already released products yet currently lack mainstream adoption.

But there is demand. The Pebble smartwatch from Pebble Technology, which asked for $100,000 (£66,000) on Kickstarter, raised $10m (£6.6m) and had sales of 68,000 before they were even made.

"For me, it has to do something more than put up some notifications or move small amounts of content onto your wrist," Mr Pong says.

Pebble still stone's throw from finish

Pebble watches

The Pebble smartwatch was a massive hit on crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

The Allerta team, with the inPulse smartwatch already under its belt, was looking for $100,000 in funding. It ended up being the highest-grossing Kickstarter project so far, receiving over $10m from backers.

Four buttons allow navigation through the interface on an e-paper screen.

The Pebble is designed as a second screen for a mobile phone. As well as telling the time, it will alert you to notifications while connected by Bluetooth to an iOS or Android-powered phone.

A small number of apps are currently available for the phone, including various watch faces and even a version of the classic snake game. But it does feel very much like an early product of its type.

Although it is functional and does most of what it was intended to do, it doesn't seem like the polished product that you'd expect from the likes of Apple or Samsung.

And with orders many times higher than they were expecting, Allerta is having production and logistical issue in fulfilling all orders quickly.

The initial plan was to start shipping the watches in September 2012. Delays with the production process have frustrated many of the 68,000 backers many of whom still don't have their watches.

Allerta has also come under heavy criticism by users for not managing to keep up with their promise of updates each fortnight and for blocking anyone making negative comments about the watches on social media.

The company hopes, once the backers all have their Pebbles in hand - or on wrist - the Allerta team and developers will make this a really handy gadget.

"What is it about wearing a smartwatch that could change my daily life? I would say that the smart wearable device is not going to replace the smartphone yet. We're a way from that yet."

The real innovations are expected to come from a device finding its own unique uses.

Concepts discussed have included live uploading of fitness stats so performance can be monitored in real time, music that matches its BPM to heart rate and the one thing that is rarely discussed - video conferencing in a way that even Google Glasses will struggle to replicate.

"The ability for it to interact with different devices - speakers, phones, TVs, other devices - will create a turning point," says Mr Flood.

Despite many rumours, few big companies have come out and said exactly what they are planning. Sony's product is already on the market and Casio has released its new range.

But like previous releases, Casio's G-Shock GB6900AA series seems to lack a big marketing push, despite its CEO's assertion that it remains a "leader in cutting-edge technology for timepieces".

"Casio G-Shock has released smart watches but, like other watch companies, are just covering all bases," says Mr Flood.

"For a company like Casio, you think it would be a more attractive proposition but they just haven't pushed it."

One company that has addressed the rumour mill is Samsung.

"We've been preparing the watch product for so long," Lee Young Hee, senior vice president of Samsung's mobile business, said earlier this year.

"We are working very hard to get ready for it. We are preparing products for the future and the watch is definitely one of them."

If the watch really is the future of the "wearable technology" buzz-industry, the question remains about when exactly it will reach mainstream popularity.

"Lots of people are playing with this but no-one has quite landed on the right features yet. It's going to be a year or two before someone creates something that really takes off and creates a new solid category," Mr Pong says.

But Mr Flood says he thinks the tipping point will happen "at the back end of this year".

"At the moment, what we're seeing is all the start-up companies but once all the big companies come in, it changes again. I think Apple will release a smart watch, Samsung will, it's a way of differentiating their products and their smart phones," he says.

Under Armour concept video and computer-manipulated video Under Armour has shown a concept video doing away with the smartwatch all together

"The start-ups are at the forefront and it is sad to say but it's really not going to kick off until we see the big boys get involved and start promoting their products."

Despite the smartwatch definition still being difficult, some companies are already looking beyond the watch.

Nike's Fuelband has already established the athletic potential but another sports company, Under Armour, is promoting a concept where interactive technology is built right into clothing fabric.

This means clothing, not just a watch, become interactive.

"We're on the steep curve of this wearable hardware renaissance, lots of people are trying lots of different things," says Mr Pong.

Yet no-one seems able to answer the question of exactly what will cause this "iPod moment" or exactly when this will take place.

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