Honestly, I don't like the looks of the LG G Watch R. But I'm really excited about it.
That's because what LG actually did last night was verify that round displays on smartwatches are real. They're "a thing." The Moto 360 isn't a one-trick pony, a one-off; the industry has officially figured out how to deliver round wearables, and it's going to do so on a measurable scale.
Smartwatches still just don't look that great
I can't overstate how important that is. Smartwatch adoption is held back primarily by two things: one, it's hard to convince people that they need notifications on their wrist, especially when a significant percentage of consumers have simply never worn a wristwatch and don't care to start now. That's an ongoing challenge, and the ball now lies in Apple's court to see if the industry is ready and able to turn that corner. But secondly, smartwatches still just don't look that great. It's a complaint I've been lodging since before the launch of Samsung's original Galaxy Gear last year. Even the best-looking ones are compromises: the Pebble Steel, which is the consensus best-looking smartwatch currently on sale, has a square, black-and-white display as its centerpiece.
That's not to say a wrist-worn device must have a round face to look good, of course, but it can't look like a physical manifestation of high technology — it has to put fashion first, because it's always visible. You can hide a smartphone in your pocket or purse when it's not in use, but wearables have to ascribe to the same rules of design as a shirt, shoe, or hat. (Imagine how many more Google Glass would be sold if they were indistinguishable from regular sunglasses or eyeglasses.) The round face, an iconic element of the classic wristwatch, is a huge leap in that direction.
Analog watch hands aren't dead
But it's only a leap, not the finish line. Multiple industry sources have indicated to me that manufacturers are aggressively pursuing display technologies that would make smartwatches virtually indistinguishable from a 30-year-old Timex or Tag Heuer without sacrificing functionality. Analog watch hands aren't dead: consider a round, full-color display with hands above, or a transparent OLED with hands underneath, for instance. The technology is close, and designers are fully aware that they need to get there.
And for smartwatches, that's the dream: once engineers figure out how to seamlessly walk us back to analog, they'll be able to replicate the full spectrum of designs found in traditional wristwatches. Obviously analog hands aren't for everyone, but then you'll be able to choose something more akin to a Moto 360 or G Watch R, or even a rectangular display if that's more your style. That variety is a wonderful thing. It's a celebration of form factor diversity that we've lost with smartphones in the age of the glass rectangle — but thankfully we won't have to lose it with the wearable.
So, no, I'm not buying a G Watch R; the faux timing bezel just doesn't do anything for me. Nor will I buy a Samsung Gear S, for that matter. I'm just awfully glad they exist.