Smartwatches have been around for years - Seiko was making watches with external keyboards back in 1983 - but the difference between a modern smartwatch and those data watches is much the same as the difference between a smartphone and two cans tied with string.
In 2016, smartwatches will be the gadgets everybody’s getting excited about. Here’s why.
1 The killer app is every app
When smartwatches first debuted, people wondered what the killer app - the app that makes the device a must-have - would be. It turns out that just like smartphones, the killer app depends on the person. For us it’s being able to keep our phone in pocket or purse; for others it’s fitness tracking, health monitoring, Google Now, wireless payments or weather information.
2 They’ve nailed the tech
It’s fair to say that the arrival of the modern smartwatch had a few false starts, but now that smartwatches are in widespread use manufacturers have been able to refine their designs and tweak their tech. You don’t need to put up with poor battery life or weird control schemes: for example, smartwatches such as the Galaxy Gear S2 have clever rotating bezels that are vast improvement on the fiddly controls of some early smartwatches.
3 They look good
Let’s be honest. Some of the first smartwatches were chunkier than a Yorkie bar and made you look like you’d strapped a tin of beans to your wrist. Not any more: the 2016 models are sleek and svelte, and are items you’d want to wear even if the smart bits were removed. There’s also a huge choice of designs, straps and customisations available, so no two smartwatches need to look alike.
4 They make your life better
A bold claim, we know, but by freeing us from the enormous time suck of our smartphones - the whole “I’ve got a text! Ooh, I’ll check mail! I’ll look on Facebook! I’ll Google that! Oh, someone wants to connect on LinkedIn!” that turns a single notification into four hours of surfing - has given us time to do more useful things. And of course if you use a smartwatch for health or fitness tracking it can help you stick to your goals and identify areas for improvement. That’s genuinely life changing.
5 Even big-name watchmakers think they’re great
You know something’s exciting when the likes of Tag Heuer wants to get involved. At £1,100 its Carrera Connect is hardly a mainstream product, but it shows just how fashionable smartwatches have become: the traditional watchmakers want a piece of the action because they know that for many of us, smartwatches are the future.
6 They’re great when you’re going places
It turns out - no pun intended - that turn-by-turn directions are brilliant things to have on your wrist. They’re handy when you’re driving, they can make sure you don’t miss stops on public transport, and if you’re in an unfamiliar bit of town being able to navigate without peering at your phone removes the “look at me! I have an expensive phone and I am lost!” stance that’s so popular with the local ne’er-do-wells and ruffians.
7 Talking to your wrist feels fantastically futuristic
Being able to make calls via your watch is fun, and while it’s of limited practical use outside the car you do feel a bit like an 1950s sci-fi hero. More usefully, being able to control your phone’s apps with your voice - setting reminders, replying to messages, scheduling meetings and so on - is a massive time saver.
8 They don’t always need a phone
Some smartwatches are useless if you don’t also carry a phone, but we’re starting to see a new generation of independent devices with their own GPS for exercise or even their own 3G modems so they can connect to the mobile phone network without requiring you to carry your phone. That’s really useful for running, going to the gym and any other activity where you can do without stuffing a smartphone into a pocket or strapping it to your bicep.
9 They remove all the rubbish
The ability to customise notifications so you only see what really matters is fantastic. No more jumping up to get your phone only to discover it’s a text about reclaiming PPI, an eBay shipping notification or a Facebook message letting you know Karen and Dave have uploaded yet more baby photos. You can set your smartwatch so it only tells you about things you actually need to know about.
10 Smartphone apps are going to explode
App development is a virtuous circle: the more apps there are, the more people buy the device, which means there are more customers for the apps, which means more developers make apps. In 2015 we saw smartwatch app development move from baby steps to something more confident, and in 2016 we’ll see the range of available apps explode. There’s a very good chance that the killer app for Christmas 2016 is in development right now.
Liked this? Check out our guide to 2016's best phones.