Posted By Simon Montford on March 3, 2015
LG's new "Watch Urbane" and "Watch Urbane LTE" smartwatches are certainly a step forward compared to the previous model, the LG G Watch R. Although bulkier, the Urbane LTE comes with 4G and a new operating system, which means it can allow the wearer to make and answer calls, and send texts without a smartphone. There is no question that this is the future.
Doing away with the master-slave relationship that currently exists between smartwatches and smartphones makes so much sense (see "Stand Down Smartphones, Smartwatches are in charge now"), however there are still some issues that make this an expensive and therefore potentially undesirable option, which I'll come to in a moment.
The LG is not the only leading OEM to launch a new smartwatch. Huawei has also recenlty joined the party with the "Huawei Watch", which comes with forty pre-installed graphical fascias, and looks pretty similar to the Urbane. What is interesting is that both opted to make their smartwatches look like conventional watches. In fact the fascias look so life-like that most people would struggle to even notice they weren't "real".
Apple are of course taking a different approach to design, as their Apple Watch doesn't look at all like a conventional timepiece. It will be interesting, therefore, to see if consumers prefer a watch that apes the appearance of a conventional watch, or one that looks more like a wrist worn miniaturised smartphone.
Personally, I don't think the "Android versus Apple" decision will matter too much as the market is set to grow very rapidly. The losers will not be the smartwatch OEMs, but market growth will come at the expense of conventional watch makers. Furthermore, I believe that as prices fall, more of us will purchase a second or even several units. The fashion-conscious will certainly want to own more than just one, because they will want to continue to match their timepieces with their outfits. Also, from a practical point of view, the elegant high-end smartwatches made with Rose Gold and other precious materials, purchased to impress, will not be worn when going para-sailing, running or mountain biking. For this, and other outdoor pursuits a less expensive, and more rugged smartwatch will be required.
With regards to LG's new offering, I have mixed feelings. Firstly, I think consumers like the familiarity of using a standard interface - we've seen this with PCs, laptops and smartphones. Adding an unfamiliar layer or an entirely new OS only serves to confuse and frustrate, so LG's decision to run a non-standard OS, in the case of the LTE, is a mistake in my opinion. Although I understand the rational (Android Wear doesn't support 4G or NFC payments). Expecting consumers to cough up for another 4G contract is a big ask, and is something few will be willing to stomach.
Yes untethering the smartwatch from the phone makes a lot of sense as previously mentioned, but forcing consumers to buy another data plan is not the answer. At some point we will all enjoy ubiquitous super-fast WiFi from service providers such as Freedompop, but until then I predict most consumers will chose to utilize their phone's connection.
Price and availability is unknown, but let us know in the comments area below, if and why you plan to buy one.
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