Why the Moto 360 can't get here fast enough

It looks like Motorola's Android Wear smartwatch is on its way this September, but the stretched-out debut is flirting with a very crowded fall.

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James Martin/CNET

There was a time, months ago, when the Moto 360 flashed its face before an internet of agog fans. That was March. It's six months later, and that round watch is still not here.

It should be here soon enough, based on a September invitation that just arrived today. But it feels like a moment slightly missed. It could be one of the hottest smartwatches, but now it might just end up launching alongside one of the other hottest, too.

Android Wear needs a killer product

Android Wear was a big, surprising and intriguing development from Google...back in March. That interest feels like it's cooled. After a lukewarm debut and a mixed bag of initial Android Wear watches back at Google I/O in June, Android Wear feels...well, it feels forgotten. The average person I've met doesn't crave one. Heck, the average person may not even know Android Wear exists.

But that Moto 360? People recognize it, like the look of it, even crave it. The Moto 360 is clearly the hero product for Android Wear. It was designed to be the beautiful face, the savior of the platform. It may have bonus features like longer battery life, improved battery charging, along with a heart rate monitor. It's hard to judge Android Wear based on the mixed first wave set of Samsung and LG smartwatches. Until the Moto 360 arrives, Android Wear feels like it's stuck in beta. The Moto 360 could be the moment that makes the whole Android Wear platform feel like it's finally arrived. Or, maybe not. Again, we won't know until one's actually arrived that we can try.

The excitement of the Moto 360's look is starting to fade

The Moto 360 no longer feels like a surprise. We saw it once in March. We saw it again, in person, in June. We've seen it again and again. We've seen leaks of its final features. Can a single product sustain this type of extended hype?

The first time the Moto 360 debuted, most people I knew were smitten with how amazing it looked. When I saw it again at Google I/O and shared pictures of it on Twitter, there were mixed reactions: some still thought it looked amazing, while others thought it was far too big and chunky. Lately, as more pictures leak on a seemingly daily basis, a lot of attention's been paid to the Moto 360's not-quite-fully-round display, with its black bar on the bottom.

When we see the Moto 360 again at an official launch event, what can Motorola reveal that will get people's attention again? It's going to be a challenge. Maybe some of its unique features, or its price, or even extra watchbands or design variations, can be shown off. After using Android Wear and seeing what the Moto 360 looks like, it doesn't feel like there's a lot of surprise left. Maybe I'm wrong. Of course, if it's great, it won't matter how surprising it is.

The fall: A crowded landscape with Apple and more

Yes, it makes sense to polish a product. Yes, there's still time to succeed. But 2014 has been a pretty weak year, so far, for tech products. The Moto 360 had a wide-open window for success over the summer. The fall might be another story: Apple's new iPhone and more, are expected. Other big products wait in the wings: phones, wearables, and tablets. Samsung's next wave of gadgets; Android TV micro-consoles; who knows what else. September is just a few weeks away.

The Moto 360 could be one of the best smartwatches available, but it won't be the only one. Expect more Android Wear watches, along with whatever Apple's got up its sleeve. And don't forget the other random wild cards: third-party smartwatches, tons of revised fitness wearables, and possibly even surprises. Consider the Withings Activité, which combines fitness with an analog watch design, and is on target for October. The Moto 360 could have a lot of wrist competition.

Can it be the must-have gadget in a pile of products?

There are only so many gadgets people can afford to buy in a single holiday season: watch, phone, or otherwise. It'll need to be great to get people to buy one in a crowded holiday season. Sure, there's no reason it might not be the best of the bunch. But there was a golden opportunity for the Moto 360 to debut mid-summer, with nothing else to challenge it. Maybe there was a good reason to wait. But with every passing month, it's starting to feel like a major missed opportunity to stand alone. Now, Motorola will have to fight it out with everyone else.

 

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