Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thoughts on Wearables, particularly SmartWatches

Yesterday was Apple's grand unveiling of their new watch offerings, that has people both praising and mocking the concept. The new Apple watch is impressively designed with the sort of polish to the interface we have come to expect from Apple and iOS.

But do you need a watch that interfaces with your phone? That seems to be the question. Being an Android guy, the iWatch (Apple Watch? aWatch?) will not be for me, but for the last three months I have been the proud owner of a Moto360 that is paired with my (still) trusty Nexus 5. I have never been much for watches and since cell phones became de rigueur I have always had the equivalent of a pocket watch, but I wanted the Moto360 when I saw it. So my wife bought it for me for Christmas from CostCo so I could have a nice long return window and it has changed the way I use my phone and made my relationship with my technology more personal (who knew that was possible?) and visceral.

The Moto360 and Apple Watch seem to have most of the same sorts of functionality, with the traditional sorts of differences between Android and iOS products, that is to say, mostly interface issues. At its most basic, notifications come to the watch. I get an email, text, Facebook comment or message, Google Voice text, etc, I see it on the watch. The more tightly integrated apps such as Facebook Messenger, Hangout, Gmail or texts allow to reply easily and quickly via voice, hit a Like button, delete or disregard the notification easily. Other apps let me read the notification and then open the message on my phone. Many apps are not not ready for primetime on the watch yet but they are coming.

I can also  see my Google Now notifications on the watchas well as perform searches, initiate text conversations, mostly by using voice prompts. Media player controls show up on the watch letting me pause, play, skip and control the volume right from the phone face. Some of these details are still being worked out. For example, if I am watching Netflix or Hulu through my Chromecast, the pause and play buttons don't work, a problem I am sure is on the list.

Navigation directions come directly to the watch also. Before an upcoming turn, the watch vibrates and the face turns to a directional arrow with the street name. This is a really easy and low distraction way to navigate and I think a little touted feature of the smart watches. Having timers as well as location and time based reminders available with a quick voice command is also something you don't realize how much you would use until they are living on your wrist.

The 360 allows a variety of faces and with a $1.00 app called Facer I can access a wide array of user created faces or make my own. The DressWatch app lets me match the watch face to clothing on the fly. In the image to the right, I created a custom watch face featuring the market district from Sarajevo.

It is hard to express how the paradigm shifts when you have the watch on. Instead of checking a notification by pulling out a device, a quick and subtle glance takes lets you read and a couple of easy motions allows basic responses. Wearing the watch, I feel connected personally to the internet, rather than just carrying a device that is. I joked that on one of my first shopping trips with the watch, with the phone in my pocket, my Plantronics BackBeat bluetooth headphones as well as the Moto360, that I had taken my first step to becoming a cyborg. I was only halfway joking.

A smartwatch isn't for everyone, but it definitely changes the way you interact with this always on connectivity we have in our pocket, primarily by letting you leave it in your pocket and live your life while maintaining the connectivity.

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