Wind ahead another 32 years of development, and we find even Apple struggling to sell its smartwatch. Is there just something about the format of the device that’s problematic?
Let’s start with the generously generic definition from Wikipedia: “A smartwatch is a computerized wristwatch with functionality that goes beyond timekeeping.” Therein, we have the two inherent problems for the smartwatch.
A smartwatch is “a wristwatch,” not an armband. Good watches are comfortable and fine watches are elegant, but neither resembles a stainless steel hockey puck or scaled-down television set. Certainly there’s a market for those oversized models among first adopters who are perfectly content with cameras attached to their eyeglasses and clacking collections of USB drives hanging from lanyards, but that group is a niche. There’s a reason why people in the past didn’t just remove their pocket watches from their vests and strap them onto their wrists.
The other defining feature of the smartwatch is that it’s “computerized.” The way that’s configured for a majority of smartwatches is by setting up a connection between your watch and your smartphone or tablet. Essentially, then, you’re enabling your watch to do what your phone already does but on a much smaller, harder-to-read touchscreen.
ELEGANT ATOMIC TIMEPIECES
Two of the most popular new smartwatches are the Moto 360 second generation and the Huawei smartwatch. Both list for more than $300, and both look like wristwatches. They also have a number of computer features, including fitness tracking, and they sport the accuracy that no mechanical Swiss timepiece can maintain.
A smartwatch is a very accurate timepiece. It tells time by connecting to your phone, which syncs to the cellphone network, which itself syncs continuously to a network of atomic clocks. How accurate are those atomic clocks? The current network of atomic clocks are accurate to about 10 nanoseconds a day. (A nanosecond is a billionth of a second.) In other words, if your smartwatch is regularly connecting to its networks, it will be off by no more than 10 nanoseconds a day.
For a list of the other advantages, I will stick to the Moto 360 second generation for simplicity’s sake. The watch comes with a selection of almost 20 watch faces, and each allows you to open a menu to change the backgrounds, accent colors, and even app windows that show different functions on the dial, like day and date, steps, heart rate, remaining battery power, the weather, moon phases, miniature watch faces for other parts of the world, and so on. But that’s just the beginning. The website www.facerepo.com offers hundreds of other watch faces to download, and for a few dollars you can buy the WatchMaker Pro or Facer apps. These let you design your own watch face, using your own artwork, photos, hands, number styles, and included functions. Want a variety of Rolex faces or maybe the clock face of Big Ben? Those and hundreds of other styles are a couple button pushes away.
Notifications will vibrate your watch to let you know that you have received email or notifications from any service you set up to be received. Shortened versions of emails or texts can be read on the dial.
The Moto Body fitness app counts your steps each day and averages the week. The heart activity function will give you your current heart rate and let you know how well you’ve met your daily requirement for healthy heart activity. There’s a daily burn count for calories and a running function to track indoor or outdoor running. And if you don’t like the included tracker, there are other activity tracking apps you can download.
The Moto 360 is an Android phone, so the Google apps that are available include Google Maps and the OK Google assistant. The assistant is called up with a voice command, and it replies with text responses.
As to how well the Moto 360 and Huawei watches address the perennial problems of bulk and redundancy, the design problem seems to have been dealt with, but it’s probably up to individuals whether they would like an alternative to reaching for their phone when a notification arrives or a quick question about the weather is raised. It’s taken a while, but the new smartwatches are stylish, exquisitely accurate, and maybe even smart enough to finally lift the whole platform.