Wearables are the next big thing. Here are my thoughts on that

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With smartphones and tablets reaching saturation points in many countries, it is time to hop on to the next big thing. Most companies are betting big on so-called wearables which can be divided into two main groups currently: smartwatches and bands.

Bands or fitness bands are not necessarily a new thing. Companies like Nike, Polar or Fitbit have created products that you can purchase right now. I'd like to call them first generation products.

Most have in common that they track your steps, pulse or heart rate, and maybe offer some advanced features such as estimates on how many calories you have burned or support for additional activities such as swimming or cycling.

Smartwatches on the other hand are comparable to digital assistants. While they do keep track of time, they add other features to it that come in the form of apps or native features. This often includes a tie-in with a phone that is powering the information on the device to display new notifications or media controls.

Companies like Google, Microsoft or Samsung will all launch products this year that fall into the wearable category. Google updated Google Play Services for instance recently to give developers tools at hand that make it easier to create apps for Android wearables.

Microsoft will release a fitness-band this year and while we do not know much about it let alone have official confirmation of it, it is likely that it will work similar to Samsung Gear.

samsung gear wearable

My thoughts

I cannot really see myself wearing a smartwatch, and the main reason for that is that I do not really see use for it. Since you do need a phone on you as well to power much of it, would not it be easier to just use the phone in first place for whatever you are doing?

Now, there may be situations where you cannot do that. If you are cycling at a fast pace, you may have enough time to look on the watch but not enough time to get the phone out.

The same may be true while you are in class, running, or doing other things that don't let you pause what you are doing easily.

I have other issues with smartwatches. It seems that either the screen is small, which makes them look normal on your wrist, or really big, which looks out of place. A small screen cannot display the same amount of information as a large screen though.

Then there is battery life to be considered. Would you want to charge your watch every day because it lasts just that long?

I have a slightly different opinion to fitness bands. If you are active, they can improve that activity provided it is supported. They can keep track of your progress, and you can use them to make sure that your heart rate is well within the limits of what you are trying to achieve.

Second generation fitness bands may require a phone, especially if they come with some functionality usually found only in smartwatches.

This can be a problem as well, since most companies limit that to their own products. Samsung wants you to use a Samsung phone for instance, and Google as well as Apple will have the same requirements.

It is interesting to note that Microsoft won't, at least not for its upcoming fitness band that it plans to release in the last quarter of 2014.

Checklist

  1. Make sure the device is compatible with your smartphone brand. Ideally, it is compatible with different mobile operating systems so that switching to a different one does not render it useless.
  2. Battery life is important. If the battery lasts only for eight hours of use, it is not really something that you want unless you have access to a charger at all times and don't mind using it often.
  3. Functionality. Make sure you write down your requirements and must haves before you buy a smartwatch or fitness band.
  4. Screen size. Screens come in different shapes and sizes which not only impact the size of the watch or band, but also its readability and information it can display.
  5. Convenience. How convenient is the device. Is the strap comfortable to wear over prolonged period of times? Can you replace it with something more convenient?
  6. Synchronization. It is best if the device syncs data automatically as you do not have to remember to do so manually all the time. Imagine having to plug it in to a computer using a USB cord just for that every day.
  7. Looks. Some devices look better than others. While I'm all for functionality over looks, it is ideal if you like the design and functionality, and do not have to compromise on one or the other.

Resources

  1. The Wirecutter - The Best Fitness Trackers - extensive review of seven fitness trackers including the Misfit Shine, Basis B1, Fitbit Flex, Nike+ Fuelband and Withings Pulse.
  2. The Wirecutter - The Best Smartwatch - comparison of swartwatches that are currently available.

Now you: what's your take on wearables? Have you bought a device already or plan to do so?

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Responses to Wearables are the next big thing. Here are my thoughts on that

  1. ilev July 3, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    I use Pebble (Kickstarter edition) 24/7 for more than a year. Great Smartwatch with hundreds of watchfaces & applications.

    • Martin Brinkmann July 3, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      While I like the general idea of it, it is too big for my taste.

  2. pd July 3, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for providing an open-comment article with which I can finally add/vent my feelings on the flood of hype about 'wearables'. Ever since Google I/O and the release of Android Wear, my feeds have been flooded with hype about this stuff. I was skeptical of the smart phone hype and yet I caved in to those eventually, though not until it because a two-horse race with some resemblance of openness. Now this stuff is driving me mad! Should I be interested? Should I be racing to develop the next killer app on one of these things? Personally it's hard to see me ever wanting one. That doesn't mean they wont be popular since my tastes do not reflect the norm. However I find it hard to understand how anything small enough to be similar to a normal watch would be useful for anything more than remote notifications relayed from your phone and perhaps as fitness sensor peripherals, which is already an established market.

    It seems very strange that a lot of people will have done away with a watch because they can tell the time from their phone. Now the hype is that everyone will go back to them? What about battery issues? 'Smart' phones are actually quite dumb in comparison to 'feature' phones when it comes to battery life. It's their Achilles heel that has seen no revolutionary developments despite the incredible hype and plethora of smart phones and other portables. 'Smart' watches may have smaller screens so require less battery in theory, but they also have less space for those batteries.

    Is it really that hard to pull your phone out of your pocket/handbag to read notifications? How long are phone batteries going to last when we all start leaving Bluetooth enabled all day simply to send notifications to a 'smart' watch so that we can pull back our sleeves and see them that little bit faster but in a much more cramped manner?

    • ilev July 3, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

      My Pebble's battery holds for 8+ days, and it water resistant :-)
      Just like with the Smartphone, It became hard to go without.
      I get caller-id, all notifications, Mail, to-do-list, calendar, appointments, reminders, find-my-phone, GPS/Turn-by-turn, fitness, Aviation maps, music control, camera control, weather+forecast, sea tide, surfing conditions, multi time-zones..... all that on the watch at a glance.

  3. pd July 3, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    It's not a question of whether you have one and for how long, it's what the hell do you use it for that is so critical that it justifies the hype around these things?

  4. fokka July 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    although i'm interested in all things tech, personally i really don't need a smartwatch and am happy without one more thing to buy/charge/worry about. i already use my phone very little except for music, so a "little helper" on its side would be overkill for my usage scenario.

    even generally speaking i find little value in the functionality offered by smartwatches, for similar reasons as were already mentioned. people did sports for ages without mapping every single detail about it and look, it worked! and for most things you really just have to pull out your phone anyway, with the added benefit of a much better screen and usability.

    but even though i'm still relatively young, my view of new things tends to be a bit negative at first. but with evolving products and functionality, increasing adoptionand battery life, and decreasing prices, who knows, maybe i will even get my own smartwatch a couple years from now.

  5. BBB July 3, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    I'm still waiting for Seiko to get on the Smart watch train.
    Seiko have great stuff to power watches, even generate the needed current.
    Ok that is only for watches atm, and will not near enough power to fuel a quadcore.
    The thing is, do we really need that A7-9... in a watch ?
    Take a color e-ink display, only use it for time and the occasional STATIC message.
    then I think we would get a real long way in usability.

    An other option is a Tesla generator on the office and near you bed to really remote charge the watch.
    But I think not much people would really want that.

  6. WandersFar July 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Samsung’s rumored to release a smartwatch this summer that has its own SIM card so it can make calls, text, etc. all on its own, no phone required.

    If they do manage to pull it off, then I might be interested.

    I *hate* carrying a phone with me at all times. It’s necessary and it’s evil. No matter how thin they make them, the width and length of most modern smartphones makes them bulky and barely pocketable. As a woman, I have the advantage of it being socially acceptable to carry mine in a purse, but how much more freeing to have a little slip of nothing you can wear on your wrist, and not worry about dropping or leaving somewhere, or getting scratched by something in your bag?

    The big question is battery life. If Samsung (or whoever) can make an efficient smartwatch that lasts at least a week (ideally, a month) on one charge and can text and make calls—I’m sold. I don’t want or need a gazillion apps or other superfluous functions, it just needs to have a GSM quad-band, tell time, and last forever. Is that too much to ask?

  7. Andrew July 3, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    I have the fitbit force, and while I don't look at the number of steps often because it's depressing (yay desktop job and not exercising!) I do love it mostly because it's an awesome watch :)

    While there's a part of me that is worrisome about the internet of things and wearables, I still think the future is going to be damn interesting. tbh, I could see a lot of people getting used to charging their watches every day. Hell, look at how much battery life we have given up on our cell phones alone. If there's improvement on the qi charging, and you don't have to plug it in every time (just set it on a pad), then that could work greatly...

    Personally, I think Pebble got it right by using e-ink. I wouldn't mind getting one.

  8. Ankur July 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    Thank you for mentioning my opinion too. As I said on twitter multiple times, I just dont see smartwatch as a great concept. I dont think I would ever buy one. Moreover I dont think most people will. Mainly its just PR and advertisers and marketing gimmick.

    I hope we see some really innovative stuff. This is not it.

  9. Ray July 4, 2014 at 2:16 am #

    I'm getting ahead of the game and plan on getting some Smart Underwear. It will contain metrics that will let me know when I need to change my underwear. This will be a big seller in Florida.

  10. JAckalo July 4, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    They're hoping it's 'the next big thing'. In reality, it'll probably be very niche.

    Maybe there just isn't a next big thing and it's more about refinement.

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