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An Apologist's Case for Smartwatches

April 28, 2017

We recently posted some of our smartwatch work on social media and amidst the responses, we found an interesting question from our friend Eddy.

We thought that was a pretty good question, so we asked our NYC Tech Director Eric Heaton, who has been wearing and working with smartwatch technology since its inception, to weigh in.

A Little Background

I’ve been a part of the smartwatch community since the original Pebble was released from Kickstarter in 2013. I was hooked on the idea of the mobile wear platform right from the beginning, and have been exploring it ever since.

I’ve tried everything from Android Wear Smartwatches (Huawei, LG Urbane, Moto 360, Nixon, etc), to the original Pebble, Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel, as well as the both Apple Watches (Gen 1 & 2).

When I say I’ve “tried” - I mean that I’ve actively worn and used different models for weeks, sometimes months, on end.  It’s hasn’t just been about a feature review - it’s more so how each device fits into your life.

What’s it good for

One of the primary advantages of a smartwatch is the ease of notifications. Every time your phone buzzes, it’s this process of reaching in your pocket or purse, digging around for it, pulling it out and glancing at the notification - then returning it back to it’s place if the notification doesn’t warrant a response.

It seems tedious to mention, but if you’re doing that a couple hundred times a day (as someone who works off their phone might) - that time adds up. Being made aware of your notifications in a different way (via. a smartwatch on your wrist) is a much more natural and time-friendly gesture to get used to.  Also being able to do those immediate, one-time, actions in response to that notification can be incredibly useful as well.

(As a side note,  when I got my first smart watch, It helped me discover how many notifications I didn’t need to be made immediately aware of, or respond to.  )

My favorite uses for a smart watch are those times when your phone isn’t next to you or it’s not feasible to get your hands on it.  

When I’m cooking in the kitchen, and I see that one of my guests is at my door - I can buzz them in via. my Smart Lock. When my phone is connected to the stereo across the room while playing music - I can skip a song or see a track without walking over to it.  

Essentially, smart watches give you the ability to separate out the things on your phone that you still want to interface with, without becoming a distraction from what you’re actively doing.

Drawbacks

The areas that  a smart watch starts to fail can be narrowed down to a few simple, but important, factors.

One is the input interface. Regardless of what input technology is available (micro keyboard, voice input), it’s cumbersome to do anything past a minimal action. Things like hitting “archive” on an e-mail, or doing a quick simple text message via. voice dictation. I think no matter how good the interface gets - I’m not sure it’s a platform that’s geared towards a bi-direction communication (device to user and back).

The other (and in my opinion, greater) drawback is the device’s dependency on being tethered to another device. This extends from application support when no network is connected, all the way through true device-independence (aka, the watch has cellular connectivity), but it’s aware of your device ecosystem.  This would be a huge step up in the right direction (LG and Samsung are heading this way)

The third, and final, factor is surrounding the battery life. I do believe battery technology will improve to a level that this won’t ever be a problem, which I’m okay waiting for. I think a big part of it is where charging fits into your daily routine, as thinking about a watch is traditionally not a part of that. If take it off at night, I can’t use it for it’s alarm or sleep tracking features. During the day - that’s when I use it the most, so should I leave it aside for 2 hours?  It’s a consideration to take into account, and one that’s hard to feel natural with how you want the watch to fit into your lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

A smartwatch isn’t a phone replacement (even with the new watches that have cellular capabilities). But, It was never meant to be. It’s an extension to be added to your daily life, just like your phone.

There are surely some limitations that come with the introduction of a smart watch to your lifestyle, but the benefits are there as well, which makes it a platform worth trying.  That will only go further, as the technology improves and gets better.

Conclusion

Thanks to Eddy, for making us think about this more, and we hope (and encourage!) you to keep asking us thought-provoking questions.

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