The Smart Watch Conundrum

by Brian Katz on September 6, 2013 · 2 comments

I must confess, I own a Pebble Watch. I’ve also completely bought into the quantitative self movement and own a gadget that measures my sleep, three different ones that measure my activity, a heart rate monitor chest strap and multiple apps on my phone that allow me to see what I am doing and how well I am doing it. I buy into the wearable revolution and have fully come to terms with the Internet of Everything (IoE) slowly taking over my house and life. I fully expect to have an automated house in the future and a car that I can monitor from my devices. Yet, with all this, I still think most of the device companies have it wrong these days.

287202-timex-data-link-150-1994It’s not that I don’t like the idea of a smart watch, but I gave up wearing a watch over 10 years ago, and only rarely do I put one on. I like my pebble, and it’s a great first effort but does it really solve anything for me. I had a Timex Datalink in the mid nineties. You held it up to your computer monitor that flashed a pattern of lights to transfer data assuming you didn’t go into an epileptic seizure while it transferred. It was a useful watch because back then PDAs weren’t really mainstream, you had the palm pilot and the apple newton, but with this you could carry your address book around without any device to hook into.

The issue now is why wear a watch that requires me to take my device out of my pocket to read the message. Sure, it’s fine when you want to ignore a call and leave the smart phone in your pocket, but if it’s a long email, or you need to reply, out comes the phone. Samsung made a point in their presentation that when you took your Note 3 out after a notification came in on the Galaxy Gear watch, the phablet would display whatever message the notification was for, you didn’t have to go through the extra step of opening it on the device.

The problem that all these device manufacturers have run into is that they started with the watch. This limits the form factor and therefore the functionality. It can only be so big before it gets bulky and there is only so much room for a battery and other components. In all these cases it can’t stand-alone, the brain is in another device. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when it brings you back to your phone every time, you begin to question why you have the watch in the first place.

Let’s start looking at how these devices should really be created. You have to start with a use case. The reason that all these fitness wearables are doing so well is that people care about their health. They buy a Fitbit, Jawbone Up, or Nike Fuelband because they want to track their fitness and hopefully use them to improve themselves. For me, it means I avoid elevators whenever possible, I take stairs. I tend to park in the back of the parking lot so I walk further. I am using the data to change my habits and become hopefully healthier.

What habit are we changing with a smart watch? We only pull our phones out a little less? Is that what we’re looking for? Maybe we want the fitness utility on our wrist and only one device. Okay, so that makes sense to add to a watch. What if, though, I could leave my phone at home when I exercise and still get all my data and my messages? Now it starts to become useful. What if I didn’t need a separate chest strap to get my heart rate while I exercise. That’s one less device and hassle. I am building a device for me based on my use case. It’s why I really don’t want my Pebble or Samsung Galaxy Gear, a watch is too inhibiting. I want a wrist-based computer that can last at least a week on a charge. It can function on it’s own but adds data to my device ecosystem when I have my phone or tablet with me.

I want it to integrate with a smart assistant on my phone and to learn who I am. That way it knows when I am exercising, when I have to finish so I can clean up and get to my next appointment. It routes me to the gym because my contextual computing smart assistant on my phone checked the weather and knew it wasn’t worth walking in the rain. It integrates with the electronic tattoo that reads my glucose levels and knows when I should grab a snack to keep my metabolism balanced and keep me alert and ready to go. It integrates with my sleep device so that it suggests different foods when I haven’t had a lot of sleep to keep me balanced throughout the day.

It’s not that I think any of these device companies haven’t made some great first tries, but that most of them weren’t trying to solve a human problem, they were trying to sell more devices. The devices I want and will add to my personal ecosystem are those that allow me to spend my time being smarter and more productive, both at work and at home, not those that just put a piece of hardware on my wrist.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth Chancy September 8, 2013 at 8:33 am

Hi Brian, As I mentioned onTwitter, I really enjoyed your post here. I have just now installed smartwatch-pro-for-pebble from iTunes and this is the kind of functionality I expected from Pebble from the start. This and some of the android apps will certainly help so that I can access information form my phone without having to pull it out. Suggest you check it out.


Unlockabledream September 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm

So basically you either want or need a smart device to make the choices in life that you do not know how to make yourself? Interesting.


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