Function follows form? The Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch and the flawed rush to release smart watches.

Posted by on Sep 5, 2013

Galaxy_smartwatchSamsung just revealed their Galaxy Gear smart watch. A touch-screen watch that talks to your phone. Tracks your steps. And lo, the crowd beheld this device and shouted onto the heavens…

“Meh.”

Phone connectivity? A pedometer? Those are features. Not ideas.  Not a paradigm shift. It’s just slapping one thing onto another. It’s like putting truck nutz on a truck and selling the truck as cutting-edge transportation. Still a truck.

This is just another example of tech designers, where instead of following the mantra of “form follows function,” rush to unveil smart watches like Samsung’s driven by the mantra, “function follows form.”  The attitude that says innovation is simply taking a form (like a watch), stuffing a new piece functionality into it and…shazam! It’s now innovative.  If that’s the new bar in product design breakthrough, heck, why not a smart belt? Or a pen that lets me talk to my phone?

There’s a difference between technology that changes a device and transformational technology which changes the way people think.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, its attention-grabbing paradigm shift wasn’t about really about putting features in a phone. What device manufacturers like Samsung seem to have missed that it was about creating a new information and life platform that clearly would empower its owner and fill a true need.

When the Apple keynote audience saw this new device, called the iPhone, and saw this device and its configuration brought their phone, their music and the Internet together and accessible anywhere, they reacted in as if they were told – from now on, you can fly. In an instant, they knew life was going to run different from here on in.

That was the paradigm shift Jobs and Apple sold: lifestyle convergence. The “form” that followed and enabled that idea was the phone.

The device with a few cute features is not the idea. Imagine Steve Job’s presentation if he’d announced Apple was putting all these features in a shoe?

The next big thing is not a thing, like a watch. The next big thing is a big idea (which could be a watch). Yet companies like Samsung have jumped the gun with half-thought-out products like the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch.

Market wise, I understand the rush. Repeatedly, device makers stood idle as Apple introduced a product (iPod, iPhone, iPad) that would upend the industry and have device makers frantically playing catch up.

But this smart watch rush is overreaction in the other direction. Like Apple TV or it’s rumored smart watch, mere thought that Apple might release a product has seen companies frantic to push a device onto the market before offering a product that really changes people lives and the way they think about doing things.

The Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch or the smart watch in general isn’t a dumb idea. But to live in the commercial or consumer ecosystem. It can’t be just “cool.” It has to solve a problem. That will sell a watch.

For instance, develop a smart watch that’s a wearable, easy way to credential me to other devices, like my car to unlock it, or my home. Just give s something more from a watch than being a barely better Bluetooth headset.

Form follows function is the design rule. Give me a function that makes me want to purchase the form.

So Samsung, use the clock feature on that Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch you have, and take the time to get it right.

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