Smart watches & wearables – what’s all the fuss about?

As someone who has a vested interest in technology, it may be a surprise to hear I’ve been sat firmly on the sidelines of the whole smart watch / wearable “scene” for some time now.

I’ve been watching the emergence of the current crop of Android-powered smart watches with little more than conceptual interest – primarily because I’m too committed to the iOS platform to contemplate switching to Android, and secondly because the devices have just well, not appealed.

It’s definitely been an interesting exercise though. A few friends have acquired various Android Wear-powered devices which looked briefly intriguing.. until it became apparent that they weren’t a whole lot of use unless you were otherwise bought-in to Google’s ecosystem. Devices have also generally looked like, well, devices. Early smart watches have generally taken the form of oversized, angular & featureless black boxes, with equally featureless straps. Compared to normal watches, many of them have had much more in common (visually at any rate!) with classic Casio calculator watches dating from the 1980’s or those early Seiko UC-3000 “Data Bank” watches, which you can only really consider as retro these days.

Seiko UC-3000

Perhaps somewhat ironically, I owned a UC-3000 Data Bank & its associated keyboard for a few years somewhere around 1992 and have a vague recollection of it being completely useless at anything even remotely resembling “computing” as we would know it today. It told the time, and if you were really lucky, might have been able to recall some data tediously typed into it using the tiny rubber keys on the included docking station / keyboard.

Fortunately, the world has moved on somewhat.

Today’s wearables have been steadily heading towards the point of becoming useful additions to your life. From single-purpose fitness trackers to powerful smart watches, it’s not a million miles away from normal for someone to have some sort of device sat alongside their watch or clipped onto a belt.

Smart watches, as a class of device, is where it gets really quite interesting. With one device you can monitor your fitness & track activity (eliminating a whole other class of pedometers, heart-beat trackers, GPS ride loggers / cycle computers etc); help manage the continual stream of notifications that seems to come with a busy mailbox, packed diary & social media… and tell the time.

That’s all before you get to apps. Much the same as the plethora of phone & tablet apps available now, there’s a swiftly growing volume of watch apps to explore of all shapes and sizes. Practically every category of app is represented to some degree – some more successfully than others mind. A far cry from the UC-3000 days of simple text entry and time telling! Battery life isn’t quite so good however, but that’ll improve over time.

There’s a whole separate debate to be had around whether having an app accessible on your wrist is better than needing to fish your phone out of your pocket – but I for one reckon that eliminating the need to find your phone to see what’s next in your diary or check who’s just messaged you has to be a Good Thing.

Over the months ahead, I think we’re going to see a step-change in what’s considered “acceptable” in terms of people using wearables. By this, I mean that we’re not too far away from not giving someone checking their watch to pickup an email or answer a phone call a second glance. At the moment it’s all still a bit new unless you’re part of the wearable crowd – but that’ll change. Already it’s perfectly routine to see people you might otherwise consider technophobes wearing bracelet-style fitness tracking devices – Fitbits and the like – often with data from these devices being shared with friends on Facebook or used to participate in competitions to see who can log the most steps etc.

Is it really that much of a leap to regard a smart watch as a perfectly normal timepiece, which just happens to also be able to navigate you home, unlock your car or tell you what the weather might be about to do?


From my point of view, the tipping point was the launch of the Apple Watch. Being bought-in to the Apple ecosystem and pretty committed to iOS through investment in apps etc, the Apple Watch is a much more interesting device to me than anything running Android Wear. They also look and feel like watches with a genuine degree of craftsmanship involved in their production – rather than being plasticky chunks of technology masquerading as a watch.

Are they perfect? Of course not.

Is that going to stop me considering using one? We’ll see…

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