It is 2014 and guess what, the people making smartwatches are about ready for them to become mainstream. MetaWatch is going down that road with a new line of “real people friendly” smartwatches known simply as the “Meta.” The real question is whether mainstream consumers are ready for it too. 2013 was the year the smartwatch made headlines. We saw the ultra indie success of watches like the Pebble, and the big boys make a serious entrance into the smartwatch market with the Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Sony Smartwatch 2. If 2013 was the year the public became aware of the smartwatch, will 2014 be the year the public actually wants to wear them?
There are two major challenges for smartwatches right now. First, is functionality and second is fashionability. While the latter might sound less intellectual, it is just as important because these are things people are actually going to wear. It is generally agreed that most smartwatches are still developing with regards to their utility and functional reliability, and further that most of them aren’t attractive enough to be worn by normal consumers. From our perspective as serious watch lovers, would we currently give up our high-end mechanical watches for a smartwatch? Not a chance, even though we may actually benefit from the added functionality of a watch that is linked to our smartphone. So, does Meta have what it takes to enter the coveted lifestyle market?
The original MetaWatch was released last year and was considered to be a “solid shot” at producing a smartwatch. That is about as good a review as any smartwatch received, even though many agree that the original Pebble watch (with its later software updates) was probably a best-of-breed product. It’s just a year later, and MetaWatch has more-or-less reinvented itself. No longer does it wish to be another smartwatch for nerds, but a smartwatch for a fashion-conscious lifestyle that is mostly interested in using a timepiece as a way of getting notifications from their phone.
In fact, the promotional video produced by Meta sums it all up nicely. Meta CEO Bill Geiser hired the design studio of former Vertu luxury phone designer Frank Nuovo to help re-imagine the brand and product. This makes sense as it was part of Nuovo’s job to produce luxury lifestyle mobile phones – which anyone in the luxury watch industry should be more than familiar with. Can Nuovo bring a bit of high-end lifestyle magic to something which is second only to Google Glass in terms of nerd credibility? The video communicates exactly who Meta is seeking to attract. It further communicates almost nothing about the watch itself aside from its ability to be worn more comfortably and on a leather strap. Cheekily-dressed, good-looking kids in vintage cars and motorcycles are about as far as you can get from the traditional smartwatch wearer – which indicates Meta very much wants to separate itself from the industry’s current perceived demographic.
Nuovo’s most clever design element is the connection point of the lugs which articulate, allowing for additional comfort. Unlike many of those curved screens we have been promised over the last year, the Meta includes a traditional flat e-ink screen (just like the Pebble). The size of the screen would otherwise hamper the wearing comfort of the case. This bending lugs system allows for the Meta to be worn much more comfortably and to appear less awkward on the wrist. The case is further produced from metal (either steel or aluminum it seems) and includes a range of strap and color options.
Note that the Meta must be secured to a USB-connected dock for charging. This also probably helped keep the size smaller, but the Meta still isn’t “small” in size. Does it look sexy? I don’t think I’d go that far, but it is certainly among the better looking smartwatches and is most definitely a step in the right direction. Meta is calling their watch a “premium smartwatch” and that it exists as part of the natural ecosystem of user and smartphone. Like most other smartwatches, the Meta merely tells time on its own without a smartphone companion. Its primary “smart” purpose is to connect with a Bluetooth enabled smartphone to deliver updates and notifications.
When it comes down to it, that is what the Meta is all about – notifications. The new company slogan is actually “Art of the Glance.” The idea being that the Meta serves to take your eyes away from your phone to let you know if you have new messages, missed calls, etc… Meta promises an improved lifestyle by being less glued to your phone and able to merely glance at your watch rather than pull something out of your pocket or purse to check for a new e-mail or text. I think it is a clever position for the product, but it also means that there really isn’t any functional innovation with regards to the features of a smartwatch.
Meta is likely more focused on improving the core user experience. As many know, a lot of smartwatches have difficulty merely connecting or staying connected to the smartphones they are paired with. Why add more features when that element doesn’t work perfectly? With a high-contrast e-ink display and a relatively simple-looking user interface, the Meta wants to be the smartwatch for the masses. Meaning, those people more interested in simplicity and reliability, not to mention how well their watch is going to go with their outfit, versus gadget early adopters looking for the latest feature or technology. It is my opinion that more smartwatch makers will follow Meta’s lead rather than the alternative. Look for more information and pricing on the Meta watch later this week on aBlogtoWatch. metawatch.com