Much of geekdom is still waiting with bated breath for the Apple Watch to be released, which should happen early this year. If the product is as big a smash as the iPhone or the iPod, it could turn smartwatches from novelty items into mainstream accessories.
But judging by the bounty of large but sleek and alluring smartwatches on display at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, great design won't be enough to capture the fancy of the masses. There have to be compelling applications that are uniquely suited to a wrist-top computer.
This is where Glide comes in.
The Jerusalem-based company specializes in streaming video messages, live or recorded, between mobile devices. Think of it as a one-way version of Apple's FaceTime, except that the messages don't have to be watched live -- they can be viewed later, if the sender permits.
Unlike the iPhone, the Apple Watch isn't designed to play video. But Chaim Haas, a spokesman for Glide, said his company's engineers have successfully ported their app to Apple's smartwatch software. The watch has a microphone but no camera, so it can send only audio streams. But it can receive and play Glide videos, Haas said.
The company has done the same with Google's Android software for smartwatches, Haas said. At the Consumer Electronics Show, it demonstrated a chunky prototype of a 3G- and Wi-Fi-enabled smartwatch with a camera on its face that could send Glide videos to other smartwatches and mobile devices.
The idea isn't to replicate GoPro's action cameras, Haas said (although that certainly seems possible with a watch that had a camera on its side, pointed past the wearer's hand). Instead, he said, the more likely use would be for people to stream short videos of themselves as they speak into their watches.
Before you get stoked for your Dick Tracy experience, though, it's worth noting that Glide's specs don't quite match those of the famous detective's two-way wrist radio. As noted above, Glide allows only one party in a conversation to stream video. Everybody else has to wait their turn in front of the camera. The recipients can, however, send back text messages as the video plays. That's more interactivity than other messaging apps allow in their video streams, Haas said.
Three other noteworthy Glide features are the automatic copying of a video to the cloud as it's streamed, allowing it to be viewed again later; the sender's ability to delete that and all other copies of a video after it's been sent, even from the recipients' devices; and the ability to send live streams simultaneously to up to 50 people.
The company hasn't yet tried to generate revenue with its free app, which Haas said has 15 million registered users (the company doesn't disclose how many of those users are active). Possible approaches include sponsored streams, subscriptions and premium services, he said. One thing the company will not do, he added, is insert ads into the messages its users send one another. Why not? "It's not right," Haas said.
Whether Glide will be available for Apple Watch users remains to be seen because Apple decides which apps to include in its App Store. Haas said his company has shown Apple what it can do, but "at the end of the day, we'll see what they allow."
Even with video streaming capabilities, smartwatches may still lack the mass appeal that smartphones and tablets have. The large size and comparatively short battery life are real problems; so is the shortage of apps that don't simply replicate what smartphones do.
Nevertheless, Haas is optimistic. "We believe video messaging changes the game for smartwatches," he said.
Healey writes editorials for The Times. Follow his intermittent Twitter feed: @jcahealey