Apple’s first foray into the wearable-technology market is set for next month with the release of the Apple Watch. As is typical of many Apple products, it’s predicted to make a big splash. The company isn’t the first to have taken a stab at the world of smart wearables: Samsung, LG, Motorola, Pebble, and a few others have already made their contributions to the marketplace. However, there appears to be some… doubt, let’s say, amongst the public regarding the practicality of these so-called smartwatches, in particular due to their (usual) requirement to be paired with a phone.
So, just how “smart” are these smartwatches and what place can they have in one’s day-to-day life?
The reemergence of timepieces in this day and age may carry an air of redundancy, especially given the sheer popularity of smartphones. With the rise of the cellular phone in the early 2000s, many opted to stow away their watches in favor of pulling out and checking the time through their mobile devices — myself included. While watches still have a special place in the hearts of the fashion-conscious, what possible use could a Bluetooth-powered timepiece have to the average smartphone user?
Well, that’s the thing — they aren’t just timepieces. First and foremost, a smartwatch is a notification center for your wrist. Any calls, texts, e-mails, or other alerts from your mobile apps will be sent directly to your watch. From there, you can answer or dismiss your notifications however you see fit. For Android Wear-powered devices (those which work exclusively with Android phones), the notification aspect is at the core of their design, while Apple has taken a few liberties with the wearable philosophy, essentially creating a tiny phone for your arm.
I picked up a smartwatch this past Black Friday (it was an insane deal) after a long period of hesitancy over the concept. My little buddy, the LG G Watch, isn’t exactly a looker by any means. With its black, blocky, bulky body, it’s really just a screen strapped to my wrist. I gave it a pass, though, considering it was one of the very first Android Wear devices released and I purchased it for pennies on the dollar. Four months later, I find it nearly impossible to leave my apartment without it.
While sitting in class, I no longer need to be constantly pulling out my phone every minute to check who just texted me or what app just buzzed me. Now, with a simple glance at my watch, I know exactly what’s going on with my phone and I can take care of it with a swipe of my finger. Actions on my watch reflect directly on my phone: if I dismiss a text or e-mail from my watch, they’ll disappear from my phone, as well.
Using Google Maps on my phone while on the road used to be insufferable. Not only was it distracting to check my phone’s display while driving when I was unsure of a direction, but I would run the risk of a passing cop ticketing me for using my mobile device. With my watch, all GPS directions are sent to my wrist (conveniently located near my car’s steering wheel), with each new instruction prompting a vibration from it.
Smartwatches also make for great party tricks. With my phone plugged into my sound system across the room, I can quickly switch between songs from my wearable’s screen. My guests think it’s magic, and I have dozens of people gathering around my arm for a good five minutes. With Google Now, the Android platform’s personal assistant, I can speak directly into my watch’s speaker to have it set up reminders for me or call anyone in my contacts. That’s some 007-level coolness right there.
The Apple Watch aims to add a slew of new functionality to wearable tech, and some of the things we can expects are: NFC connectivity (paying for things with a wave of your watch!), health and fitness aides (expanding on features present in a number of non-Apple watches), and a few innovative messaging features. Like with the iPhone before it (which wasn’t the first touchscreen phone on the market), Apple’s vision of what a smartwatch should be will likely set the tone for wearables with all manufacturers going forward.
Right now, seeing a person sporting a smart wearable is about as rare as a Bigfoot sighting. Will the Apple Watch make smartwatches more commonplace, elevating their status from mere geek toy to must-have accessory? That remains to be seen. Do smartwatches deserve a spot in one’s everyday life? Oh, definitely.