We take a look at the rise and rise of smartwatches, and why it’s time to get involved.
Not to belie my age, but I can remember the first time someone brought a Casio watch into the playground at school. We promptly formed a circle around him where he proudly displayed on his wrist a black watch that played my favourite game at the time, Scramble. Yes, it was a basic interpretation of the arcade classic, but to be able to play it on the move (and in class) was a total revelation.
A game on a watch! What would be next? Could that old Saturday morning TV show that featured a detective called Dick Tracy, who communicated through his watch, soon become a reality? Well, not for a long time.
“…noticing a smartwatch on the wrist of a fellow public transport commuter was a novelty not even four years ago. Today is a completely different story – spotting someone without one is a challenge.”
While the concept of a smartwatch does indeed extend back to the digital timepieces that began appearing in the early ‘70s, what we would call a smartwatch today is a much more comprehensive proposition. They’re ubiquitous – noticing a smartwatch on the wrist of a fellow public transport commuter was a novelty not even four years ago. Today is a completely different story – spotting someone without one is a challenge.
In 2019, the marketplace is awash with product and most of the major brands we associate with IT are competing in this space. Most smartwatches utilise a proprietary operating system and will work on both Android and IOS smartphone platforms. The exception to this rule is the Apple Watch, which is only compatible with iOS.
Why the sudden interest? Well, while it might feel sudden to the uninitiated, sales of smartwatches have been on an upward trajectory for several years now and with each new generation comes a new suite of features. Manufacturers have had a long slog to encourage the adoption and break down traditional barriers. Watches have generally been associated with style and fashion, and while that isn’t a factor when putting yourself through the paces of a gym workout, if you’re heading out for the evening and still want to remain connected and track your heart rate or send and receive texts, it’s doubtful that you’ll want something reminiscent of a diver’s watch strapped to your wrist. Thankfully, smartwatch designers are now compensating for both, implementing elegance and style with functionality.
Demystifying the smarts
So, what exactly is a smartwatch? In short, it’s a term that encompasses a broad series of features that cover fitness, healthcare, communication and err, of course, the time. Many smartwatches (especially the budget level) don’t feature a direct internet connection and thus have to be paired with your smartphone via an app. Depending what you’re after (more on that later), the top end models are capable of a full gamut of functions. We’ve moved well past the gimmick stage in smartwatch technology, with many users now relying heavily on the handy device around their wrist.
And why is that? Once paired with your smartphone, your smartwatch can utilise GPS navigation, sync and remind the user of calendar obligations, search the internet with a voice command, pay for your lunch, receive messages, monitor your sleeping patterns, heart rate and overall health, provide a myriad of useful tools for the fitness conscious amongst us, and even transmit an SOS in the event that you take a heavy fall whilst wearing one. Phew! Some of the premium brands offer models that allow calls to be made alongside all the other feature sets, too (now that is proper Dick Tracy territory). When you analyse just exactly what a contemporary smartwatch is capable of in terms of staying in touch, monitoring your health and tracking your fitness all with impressive levels of accuracy, it’s not hard to ascertain why they’ve become an essential tool in modern life.
So, if you haven’t joined the revolution, you might well be asking yourself, “Why should I? I already have a smartphone; why do I need a smartwatch?” It’s all about convenience, convenience, convenience. We’re all familiar with the story: trying to cram 48 hours of work, leisure, exercise and family time into 24 hours these days. As a nation, we’re all hyper-connected – do you know anyone who doesn’t own a smartphone?
Beyond the obvious communication essentials, much of our daily lives are organised through our smartphones. Whether we’re working out at the gym, running through the city, cycling, or picking up the kids, spinning your wrist to check a message (like a post you’ve been tagged in) or answer an incoming call without pausing is an enticing proposition. It’s all about mobility and practicality. Once you put one on your wrist and sync it to your life, we guarantee you’ll wonder how on earth you got by without one.
So, you want to buy a smartwatch?
Here’s our simple guide to picking the right model for your wrist.
It’s the obvious place to start. What’s your budget? The price of smartwatches is a sliding scale and this is generally commensurate with the feature set. Having a ballpark figure in your head before you go shopping will answer a lot of your questions before you even walk through the doors at JB.
Consider what you want from a smartwatch – are you going to use it primarily for communication or as a bona fide fitness and activity tracker? Does it need to be waterproof or have enough storage for offline music?
Depending on the size of the screen, what it’s being used for and the feature set, battery life on a single recharge, although becoming better with each new generation, can also vary quite considerably.
While the compatibility issue across smartwatches is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, as brands become fluent in multiple operating systems, it’s always best to do your homework before you hand over your hard earned to ensure that the brand you’re choosing works with your smartphone.
Yep, if you want to connect to your network while away from your smartphone to utilise your watch’s online functionality, then Wi-Fi is definitely a feature you need to factor in to the buying decision.
Are you planning to use your smartwatch to pick up lunch, or a beer after work? Then look out for a model that encompasses the ability to make contactless payments.
If you’re going anywhere near water, either in your profession or on a social or recreational basis, buying a waterproof smartwatch is essential; you don’t want your brand new purchase to be null and void the first time you jump in a mate’s pool.
You’ll need to be aligned with the same carrier as your smartphone, but if you want to receive calls, notifications and texts whilst away from your smartphone, check that the model you’re looking at has this feature.
It’s a smartwatch so there are a plethora of apps that you’ll want to download and a curation of music downloaded for those long runs, so storage capacity is certainly a consideration.