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A second shot for smartwatches with cameras

1 month ago 27

pixel 8 pro and pixel watch 2

The first two generations of Samsung Galaxy Gear watches in the early 2010s had cameras. Coming in at around 2 megapixels, the quality was unsurprisingly mediocre. With Wear OS having a renaissance, it would be interesting if Google and its partners experimented with cameras.

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Given how battery and connectivity has progressed, you can reasonably go out in the world with just your smartwatch (and headphones).

Exercising and walks come to mind, with the ability to stay connected through messages, calls, and other important notifications. Meanwhile, you can listen to music/podcasts downloaded to your watch or even stream them. There are enough smartphone capabilities on modern watches to get by. (Honestly, smartwatches with LTE probably accomplish the dream of the “lite” phone without giving up modern conveniences.) 

For me, the only capability that would give me pause about not carrying a phone when I step out of the house is the camera. You never know when snapping a picture or recording a video will be useful. That would be the most obvious use case for the camera on a smartwatch. 

Now that there’s a camera, you could use it for Google Lens and other visual search. Object recognition can come in handy for identifying plants or even translation. Something a bit more advanced could be using the camera to improve your positioning, just like Live View in Google Maps can be used to improve orientation.

In that sense, smartwatches with cameras could be used as a testbed for AR experiences until we get glasses. After all, there are very interesting rumors about Apple exploring cameras in AirPods. Wrist-worn wearables can be inherently larger than glasses, with more space for battery and other components. 

Another use case could be video calling. Fitbit looks to have experimented with this while Verizon sells something for kids called the Gizmo.

One important consideration is where you’d put the lens on a smartwatch. If you want to replicate the phone experience, place it just above the screen for a front-facing camera. This would make the most sense if video calling is the primary use case, but I think a better location would be the left/right (like in the stem of the rotating crown) or top edge for world-facing pictures, with point-of-view shots being extremely underrated. A front-facing position would mean you have to tilt the screen away when snapping a photo. That top edge would let you use the screen as a viewfinder.

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