Anyone who expected the Apple Watch — or any of the current crop of smartwatches — to yield a tiny new canvas for mobile TV, streaming video or Dick Tracy two-way “wrist TV” is bound to be disappointed.
The Apple Watch, launched with the Cupertino, Calif., magic factory’s usual fanfare, reps its first new product category in four years. The devices feature the company’s Retina high-resolution displays — but don’t include video-playback capabilities. Moreover, the smartwatches’ screens are just 1.5 inches or 1.7 inches (38 millimeters or 42 millimeters) high: hardly suitable for viewing even short-form video.
Meanwhile, for Internet access or to make or receive calls, the Apple Watches require an iPhone anyway. Clearly, the biggest-screen hypothesis that people will always consume video on the largest display available will win the day. If you’re carrying an iPhone, particularly one of the bigger-screen iPhone 6 models, even if the Apple Watch could stream a YouTube video or Netflix show you would obviously choose to view it on the better display.
The Apple Watch is essentially a smartphone companion that’s also a fashion accessory (there will be an 18-karat gold version). The devices, slated to ship in early 2015, will start at $349. Perhaps more than anything, it marks Apple’s foray into the luxury-watch space.
SEE ALSO: Apple Launches First Apple Watch
Other smartwatches have the same set of challenges. Samsung’s main Galaxy Gear watch is marketed as a “personal assistant right on your wrist”; the line includes a model that functions as a standalone music player but not one for video. Galaxy Gear smartwatches include a camera for recording video but can’t access streaming video.
Google’s Android Wear platform, adopted by Samsung, Motorola and LG, is designed to provide “useful information when you need it most” with apps including those for Facebook Messenger, Uber and Runtastic for tracking workouts — but not Google’s own YouTube. And the Pebble, among the first smartwatches on the market, has a nice brilliant display but also lacks video.
The key issue: CE makers want to make the watches as thin and light as possible, as well as to have excellent battery life. Stuffing in video features would make them bulkier, even more expensive and drain power resources. (Even so, the Apple Watch has an estimated battery life of just 24 hours.) And again, users hold in their hands a great video device — the smartphone — or a tablet, which is even better for TV or movie consumption.
It’s worth noting that watchmakers have tried to bring TV to people’s wrists before. In fact, Seiko launched a TV watch in the U.S. in 1983, with a 1.2-inch LCD screen. But the category never took off, given they were expensive and bulky.
The Apple Watch does include the ability to play music (disconnected from an iPhone) and has some peripheral media features. It can act as a remote control for Apple TV set-tops and control music on iPhones. But it’s mainly a sidekick to the flagship smartphone line, designed for alerts, quick access to info and apps and — don’t forget — informing you of the time. But the closest it comes to in terms of a “video” feature is that the Apple Watch can act as a remote for the iPhone’s iSight camera to display a preview of what your iPhone sees.
In its big reveal Tuesday, Apple remained silent on an area of keen interest to Hollywood: CEO Tim Cook, who said the watch was one of the “amazing” new products he’s been alluding to, didn’t mention Apple TV. Nor did the company unleash a much-speculated-about integrated HDTV — which, at this point, is officially the moldiest rumor in the world.
Granted, smartwatches could evolve to support full video and communications features. But today the Next Big Thing in wearable tech holds only marginal interest for the entertainment biz. With smartwatches, Silicon Valley may have hit the limit on how far it can shrink screens and still make them viable as entertainment platforms.