I’ve talked about this time and time again, but it seems today Google is giving me another opportunity: smartwatches just aren’t compelling. I haven’t always been this skeptical (many will know that I was on the “wearables are the next big thing” bandwagon for quite some time), but they’ve become little more than a way for smartphone makers to upsell you on an add-on. I don’t entirely hate them as products, but they’re not going to become — at least in their current form — anything close to a fundamentally useful new computing platform the way smartphones did.
And Google just so happened to announce its new “Magic Minute” marketing campaign for Android Wear today, and it only further proves to me that these watches just don’t have anything close to a killer app. In this new campaign, Google has enlisted a bunch of popular online figures and YouTubers to make one minute videos showcasing their use cases for Android Wear. But really, they’re videos showing some really cool things that they already do in real life without a smartwatch, and they are using their Android Wear watch to… time themselves.
I’m not kidding. The premise of this entire marketing campaign — the “Magic Minute Project” — is that there’s a lot that can happen in your life in one minute. “You can fall in love. Launch a rocketship. Set a rap world record. Welcome to The Magic Minute Project, a collection of films celebrating what time means to all of us, told one minute at a time.”
Well, guess what Google? I think that’s a really cool premise for a viral marketing campaign. But a lot of these people live really cool lives and make really cool videos and do really cool things like parkour, rap, pottery, kiteboarding, and skyscraper-climbing. And never (or almost never) in those videos have they shown themselves actually using an Android Wear watch while doing those things.
The guy who does pottery almost surely doesn’t wear a Huawei Watch every day. Yep, I was right. he doesn’t. A watch didn’t show up on his Instagram until last month, and the Moto 360 that Google sent him didn’t show up until yesterday. The overwhelming majority of his videos and photos show bare wrists — which is what makes sense when you’re doing pottery. How much do you want to bet, Google, that the Moto 360 promptly disappears going forward?
Let’s check out another one. A chef by the name of Molly Yeh posted a video of her making a cake while using the ASUS ZenWatch 2 to play music, but looking at her Instagram page, not single photo going back to the beginning of the account (that shows her wrists) actually has an Android Wear watch — or a watch at all. Same goes for Laura Kampf as far as I can tell, and well-known musician Andrew Huang doesn’t wear a watch in any of his photos – much less smartwatches — either. I’m not saying matter-of-factly that none of these people wear smartwatches — because I don’t know their life — but this all points to a bigger point I’m going to get to in a second.
But what does all this mean? It means that Google reached out to these people, offered to send over a free watch, maybe paid them a bit, and asked them to participate in this “Magic Minute” campaign. Not surprising, right? It’s not surprising that Google — or any company — would want to market and advertise their products. I get that. But it’s just so disingenuous to have a campaign built around this idea that these people all use these watches as part of their more-exciting-than-normal lives. Smartwatches just aren’t that useful, Google. I’m sorry, but they’re not. And especially not Android Wear, which in particular has been floundering lately and hasn’t been significantly updated since last fall.
But this is the same old story, really. All of these videos show people doing things with smartwatches that they’ve been able to do since Android Wear was announced and before. The entire “Magic Minute” premise surrounds this idea of using the smartwatch to set a one minute timer for something exciting like rapping or parkour (which traditional watches that cost $10 at Walgreens and smartphones that people already have do just fine). That’s just the most hilarious thing to me, because these watches cost $200 or more. Setting a one minute timer is the feature that you’re touting? Really?
And, granted, some of these people throw in other use cases in their videos like playing music or checking their heart rate on that Polar M600. Cool, but let’s just use that second example. Is this parkour guy Kie Willis (in the above video) actually going to check his heart rate while he’s out freerunning? It’s just so painfully awkward watching him say “OK Google, check my heart rate”. He checks his heart rate (which, might I add, happens about ten times faster than these devices can actually perform this action), and then he just… goes on with what he’s doing. Maybe having data of his heart rate throughout the run would be useful when it’s over, but what good does it do for him to stop what he’s doing to hold up his wrist and use a voice command to check his heart rate? Maybe there’s something I don’t know because I don’t do parkour, but this seems entirely unrealistic to me.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone, though. Because really, this marketing campaign is practically identical to the ads that Google released allllll the way back in 2014 when Android Wear was first hitting the market. Remember the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live? (You’re about to laugh at how hideous and huge they were.) Yeah, Google thought that smartwatches had the same use cases back then. I kid you not, in one ad, Google shows two surfers who decide to stay on the beach and surf one more wave because their Android Wear watch gave them a heads up that traffic was light. (Has anyone had their watch randomly tell them about traffic conditions in a situation like this?)
So nothing has changed. Android Wear hasn’t gotten any better in two years. Google still hasn’t figured out what these watches are useful for. Tech companies in general haven’t figured out what smartwatches are useful for other than being expensive fashion objects. Google wants to convince you to buy a smartwatch based on the unrealistic things that abnormal people are — not really — using them for in their lives. And then people buy smartwatches, realize that they’re almost useless, and let them sit in their drawer — unless they’re going out for the night and their smartwatch of choice is the Apple Watch, which is at least somewhat a status symbol because it’s made by Apple.
To conclude, here’s a hilarious Android Wear ad from 2014 that has someone out on a safari (I kid you not) petting an elephant (I kid you not), and saying “OK Google, how much does an elephant weigh?” Yeah, Google, that’s why people should buy a smartwatch. Got it. Really, it’s no wonder that Android Wear sales numbers tanked not long after launch, several OEMs just skipped on launching watches this year, and Moto isn’t planning to launch an Android Wear 2.0 device. If you wanted to convince me that maybe Android Wear had a future, “Magic Minute” didn’t help.
Hopefully Google’s rebirth of the project next year — if that actually ever happens — will be a different story.