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Do I Really Need A Smart Watch?


Michael Hay
Published on September 09, 2014
By Michael Hay

This is the question many people will be asking themselves after Apple revealed their long awaited Apple Watch a few hours ago in Cupertino.

Sony SmartWatch 2It’s also the question I asked a few months ago when I was given a Sony SmartWatch 2 for my birthday. I was very excited to receive it and was curious as to just how useful the device would be. I decided to wear it every day for two months to find out for sure. So here are my thoughts about my experience. I'm not focussing on the Sony model here but rather looking at the whole genre of wearable smart watches. And not only do I love my gadgets but I love my watches too. It will require something very special to stop me wearing my classic retro 80s Casio Databank I can tell you.

Let’s start with some of the negatives.

CONS Charging – This was a biggie for me. It’s another device to have to charge. We are programmed by now to charge our phones daily but we’re going to have to develop new habits of charging our smart watches however regularly they need it (about every 3 days for the Sony model). This was a major issue for me as I often forget to charge my smart watch and then that left me without a watch to tell the time. Battery life was also something that wasn’t really covered by Apple in today’s Apple Watch presentation although they did show a rather cool wireless charging unit.

Privacy – The next biggest issue for me was that other people can read your text messages if you choose to have them appear on the watch. If you have a nosey person next to you, you need to be quick to turn your wrist or discard the message before they might be able to see it. And what if you fall asleep on public transport? The person next to you might be able to see all those personal messages from your partner as they appear. There are ways round some of these issues but it’s still something you have to be aware of.

Politeness – You need to keep looking at your watch whenever you get a notification. When you’re with other people this can appear rude and as if you’d rather be somewhere else. Again this probably can be bypassed with user habits and 'smartwatchiquette'. Perhaps you should think about switching the notifications off when you’re with company.

Bluetooth – Currently most smart watches are tied to a paired phone. Obviously this means you always have to have the Bluetooth on your phone switched on, which will drain your battery life a bit more, but to be honest I didn’t notice this being too bad. The other problem with Bluetooth, however, is that you always need your phone on or near you for it to stay connected. If you leave your phone in the other room then you will just end up wearing a boring old 'dumb watch’.

Aeroplanes – This might not be the case with all models but some smart watches are yet another device you have to remember to switch off on aeroplanes, so you can’t even have a watch to tell the time with during a flight.

Fashion – Some smart watches just don’t look very nice. This is changing, however. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is slightly bulky but I’m still very comfortable with wearing it out. The Apple Watch looks very nice too albeit still fairly rectangular and we are getting some very nice round models now as well such as the LG G Watch R.

Now onto the positives…

PROS Control – In the past, every time we heard the beep or felt the vibration we had to check our phone which was often in our pocket, or across the room in our bag, and then the screen would have to be unlocked, only to find that it was a spam message or just some non-urgent text that could be looked at later. Smart watches put you back in the driving seat. I found myself in many, many situations where it was incredibly useful having the watch on to know whether or not the message I received was an important one that had to be replied to immediately or whether it could wait. I wasn’t left wondering what it was, itching to get my phone out of my pocket. I wasn’t wasting time getting the phone out before I could look. In a mindfulness zen like state I could just glance at my watch quickly and then carry on what I was doing. Situations like being in a meeting at work, sitting in a conference or lecture, driving a car, ironing, in a cinema, holding a baby, wearing a big long heavy coat when your phone is in your jeans pocket, on a cold night when you don’t want to have to take your gloves off to get your phone out. I’ve had my smart watch in all those situations and I’ve been really glad that I did.

Quantified Self – Health and fitness is huge with wearables. They are on your body and therefore they can measure your body. Heart rate, blood pressure, motion, sleep patterns etc. Many watches have some or all of these built into the watch and this is really where smart watches become not just a 'nice to have’ or a ’too lazy to put my hand in my pocket’ but they actually add something to your life. This is a huge, new area that wearable tech is opening up and it is a game changer.

Adjustable faces – It sounds small but it’s really cool to adjust the watch face whenever you want. You can have a digital face for when you’re being active and then change it to an old fashioned analogue face for evening wear.

Apps – The convenience factor of having some of your favourite apps always attached to your body is a perfect combination of laziness and productivity. It removes the frustration of wondering where you left your phone and it gives you immediate access to the news or communication channel of your choice. It’s early days in terms of developers making apps work well with Android Wear or with the new WatchKit tools for the Apple Watch but I’m sure we will see some very slickly designed apps soon with great 'wrist UX'.

Apple Watch - Image from apple.com

In summary, the main Pro point for me is the Control one. It alone has made me a wearable tech convert. It gives you more convenience, more choice, more freedom instead of being a slave to the vibrations in your pocket. Wearable tech is the future, there’s no question. Convenience + Added lifestyle and health benefits = Win.

So, to answer my own titular question. Yes, personally I think I do really need a smart watch.

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