Why Aren’t Smartwatches Smaller?

You may know by now that I’ve decided that my Apple Watch is no longer a device I want to use. I won’t go into the details here, because I spell it out in the article I link to above.

But Apple’s is not the only smartwatch out there; there are lots of them. And most of them are very big. Apple’s watch comes in two sizes: 38mm and 42mm. Other smartwatches are even bigger; some Android watches are as big as 46mm.

This seems to be a trend in the watch industry. Since I have been looking at watches, I’ve noticed how many of them are honking big. 40mm seems to be the standard size for many watches, with some much larger. And the ones with all those buttons make you look like you’re wearing a carburetor on your wrist.

There are still plenty of watches that are smaller: you can get 35-36mm watches fairly easily, and some come even smaller than that. But, for the most part, watches are big, so someone can read the time from across the room. (And, presumably, mostly men buy this type of watch.)

Smartwatches need to show a lot of data, so they tend to be larger. But not everyone wants all that data. My Macworld colleague Caitlin McGarry just reviewed the Withings Activité Steel HR (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which merely has a time dial, a “goal” dial, and a small OLED display for showing limited amounts of data. It’s available in two sizes: 36mm (really 36.3mm) and 40mm (really 39.5mm).

You may think that’s fine; but look at the 36mm model on Caitlin’s wrist:

Withings steel hr 2 100704741 large

I’ve never met Caitlin, but she has told me that she has tiny wrists. That watch, on her wrist, looks like a 46mm watch would on mine. (I’ve chosen a 38mm Junghans Max Bill, which is about as big as I want a watch to be.)

It’s worth noting that the battery can make a watch bigger, but the smaller the display – that’s the part that uses the most power – the smaller the battery has to be. And smartwatches get their power more from the thickness of the battery; this Withings watch is 13mm thick, and the Apple Watch are 10.5 – 11.4mm.

So why aren’t the smartwatch makers catering to people with smaller wrists, especially for women and, perhaps, teenagers? Particularly this type of smartwatch that doesn’t try to display a lot of data? Is it because only men buy these devices? It seems like there is a potential segment of the market that’s not being addressed. If the smallest smartwatch you can get is honking big, you may simply not want to wear one.

8 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Smartwatches Smaller?

  1. “…like you’re wearing a carburetor on your wrist” is a superb simile. Thanks for your continuing readable, entertaining, and informative blogs.

    • I agree. I am a woman with small wrists and find my smartwatch uncomfortable as well as silly looking. I only got it for schedule reminders because my schedule is complicated. If I didn’t need the reminders I’d have stuck with my old Fibit Alta. Even that was slightly longer than my wrist is wide, but it was much better.

  2. A bit of an aside…

    There is a watch “design principle” that the band/bracelet thickness should be half the diameter of the case (generalising here).
    Perhaps some smart watch manufacturers aren’t aware of this ethos?
    There are ways of making a small watch appear large and a large watch appear small.

    As for smaller screens, the line differentiating a “smart watch” from a “fitness band” is also quite blurred :P

  3. I think it just boils down to no one yet knows what a smartwatch should do. If one considers what activity trackers do and their relative size, it is obvious that focus of features allows for smaller form factor. But if you want that smartwatch to be a mini-me version of the smartphone, well, we know the problems with shrinking smartphones. I may be too reductionist, but I don’t think so.

    Otherwise, there is this weird aesthetic choice of normal watches that started long before smartwatches. Which is why I thought most technology reviewers who kept complaining about “bulkiness” of smartwatches, as if this were only because of the smartwatch, just plain didn’t know what they were talking about.


  4. My big issue with the Apple Watch is that it’s so thick. Like, the 42mm case is fine from a width/height perspective but it’s really thick. I think they’ve tried to accommodate this as best as possible but I’ve just figured since this is from “thin and light” obsessed Apple, that there must just not be a way to make it thinner yet.

  5. This article is like asking why Televisions can’t look just like radios. These are wrist computers disguised as watches. That is your primary complaint: You want a watch. When you live with and use and Apple Watch you discover tens of use cases that make your life at least a little easier (using Siri on it to set timers, reminders, send messages, get notifications, see who’s calling and pick up a call even if my phone isn’t on me, etc etc) that I have come to the opposite conclusion: For such a new technology and such a powerful one, the Apple Watch is amazingly small. This thing has 100 the power of my first Macintosh. For those who want a watch, I suggest simply buying a watch.

  6. I’m in the same boat as Caitlin (although I’m a bloke). I have slim arms & wrists, and I want my ‘smartwatch’ to be smallish and thin. I really only need to see the time, the number of steps I’ve done and the number of (estimated) calories I’ve burned. I really don’t want it to sync with my phone or give me the weather or my flippin’ GPS co-ordinates.
    I don’t want heart monitoring either, as the last one I had made a big hole in my wrist with its sensor.
    I suppose what I want is a pedometer, but every one of them that I’ve been able to find is cheap rubbish and lacks any pretense of style or quality. Something like the Apple watch but thinner would do, with all the apps and fiddly bits removed. I’ve trawled Amazon etc, and the only ones that fit the bill are ‘Chinese specials’, which get iffy reviews and unreliable apps. And they have easily-scratched plastic faces and straps like catapults.
    Oh, and I’d like to sync on my PC too. So I keep hovering near the Fitbit Inspire, which is small, works with a PC and doesn’t overload the user with nonsense. Oh, but wait…the face is plastic. Damn!

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