A Brief History of Wearable Tech
Wearable tech. Smart watches. We first saw them back in 1975 but it wasn’t really until the Casio C-60 from 1983 that they began to be mass produced and become commonplace items.
Since then, they’ve existed in numerous guises but it took until 2014 for them to really return and for the smartwatch to be born. 2014 happened to be the year that the Apple Watch was announced but I am certainly not going to make the claim that the Apple Watch was the first smartwatch. It’s effectively YouTube suicide to inaccurately give Apple credit for something they didn’t do. Other companies, including kickstarter Omate who release the TrueSmart one year earlier, were pushing out these solution well before Apple.
But let’s get back to reality. Apple, love them or hate them, know how to make appealing products. They leak the lust for technology from the geeky few to the masses. They make technology that everybody wants to own, whatever the reason. The release of the Apple Watch made smartwatches a real consideration for people again. With better display technology, marginally better battery life (though primarily through tweaked power management rather than better batteries) and great connectivity to phones that are now with people 24/7, how could you not want this as the perfect wrist companion?
Well, it’s taken me personally over 3 years to come around to the idea. Finally, I shelled out 400 quid and purchased myself an Apple Watch series 2. Nothing flash. Standard case. Standard strap…but still £400.
I’ve had it for 2 weeks and wanted to share my thoughts on what I like and what I’m not so keen on. The pros and cons. The surprises and the obvious. My opinion is that of a non-fitness fanatic who’s into technology but certainly not obsessed with Apple. This view won’t be useful for all, but if you’re thinking about buying, take it on board and comment below with your viewpoint and thoughts. If you disagree, great. Let me know. This is Apple. There are already a million videos out there looking at this. Who cares…let’s get started.
Do You Need An Apple Watch?
I went into this with eyes wide open. I was pretty much sure of the answer to this when I bought the watch and nothing has made me change my mind. The answer is no. These are expensive toys. With the exception of telling the time, everything they do can be done much better on a phone…and how difficult is it to use your phone? It’s not. If you’re buying a smartwatch I would like to bet you have a considerable amount of practice whipping out your phone at short notice, unlocking it and quickly doing whatever needs to be done. It’s a skill that many of us have acquired over the past 5 years or so.
If you are expecting it to revolutionise your life, you’ll be extremely disappointed. To me, it felt about as exciting as getting a new work laptop or a new washing machine. Sure, it’s a bit interesting at first but it’s just not that exciting.
Why Did I Buy An Apple Watch?
I stated above that I am not a fitness fanatic. Even though that’s true, my main impetus for buying a smartwatch was so that it could act as a fitness tracker…if only a basic one. My partner has recently invested in a nice TomTom dedicated fitness tracker which I tested out on a few walks and runs and that’s all it took to like idea. As such, I had two pre-requisites. I wanted it to firstly have built in GPS and secondly I wanted it to include a reasonable heart rate monitor. I come back to fitness a bit later and give you my unexperienced amateur thoughts on how well it performs.
I have to be honest though and say that if fitness and workout tracking is not something on your agenda, I really can’t find a great reason to get an Apple Watch that comes close to justifying the price tag of this device. Maybe you just want one. If you can pay for it, that’s great…but as I mentioned, that does basically make this a very expensive toy.
Apple Watch Battery Life
The idea of having to charge a watch seems crazy to me. It’s just not something that we’ve ever had to do in the past. So I was a little anxious about whether the Apple Watch battery life would make it either unuseable or at least a real pain in the arse to use.
So far, that’s not the case at all. Battery life is a good 48 hours based on my usage. Charging is simple with the provided device magnetically clipping in place on the base of your watch and charging is much much faster than I expected.
Standard power banks seem to work fine as well so it easy to charge on the move if you need to. I was initially concerned that the lower current draw would make the power bank turn off but this is not the case with the models I use from Anker.
However, I must stress here that I am yet to use the GPS on the watch. I’m pretty new to running so I am still taking my phone out with me for safety reasons as much as anything else and this means that the GPS work gets offloaded onto the phone…at least that’s what the indicators would have me believe.
Phone Battery Life
My experience is that your phone battery will take a noticeable hit. It’s not huge but it’s there. This makes perfect sense as the bluetooth connection to the watch is active most of the time and that extra GPS work I just mentioned…well, it equally uses battery on your phone instead of the watch.
You can make some changes that help things out a little bit and that brings me onto the first surprise that I have had from owning an Apple Watch.
Reduced Phone Usage
You might expect to use your phone a little bit less with a watch but I have found my phone usage has dropped off enormously. Messages come through on my watch and I now effectively use this almost like a triage. Replying with more than one or two words on a watch is just annoying so in many cases I make a decision based on what I read whether it needs an urgent reply…in which case I will use my phone….or if it’s just information. In that case I leave it. That’s the big difference. Previously, I might have unlocked my phoned, replied to the message and then got drawn into that usual pattern of checks that you go through out of habit on your phone. For me it’s usually, email, Instagram and YouTube messages etc. etc.
Without these distractions, my phone time + watch time is now much less that my phone time before the watch.
Jumping back to what I said about phone battery. Notifications on the watch mean that I have disabled notifications on the phone. Whatsapp or any message no longer turns my screen on every time and the phone remains on silent pretty much all the time. The haptic feedback on the watch is excellent. I thought the wrist would be a bad place to have this type of feedback but you notice it easily and reliably so you don’t tend to miss anything.
Apple Pay is wonderful. It’s such a great use of technology. It has real tangible benefits to consumers (security issues aside) and being able to use this on my watch is a big plus. Of course I could do without it but for me this is a huge pro to having a watch.
I am notoriously bad at work for missing a calendar notification. These are presented very clearly on the watch. This was another aspect that I never thought would be a big plus but it is. Something as basic as a calendar notification.
The Apple Watch is practical and is a nice looking piece of technology. However, it’s not a stylish watch. Watches are pieces of jewellery and a meticulously designed watch looks a hundred times more beautiful than an Apple Watch ever will. There are times I look at it and actually think it’s quite ugly. I know we’re presented with beautiful design videos from Apple that brainwash us into believing it’s greater than it is but when I really try to objectively ask myself is it stylish…the answer is always no.
How Easy Is It To Use?
I find it quite difficult. I wear it on my left hand but I’m also left handed so would naturally write and control a smartphone with my left hand as well. That aside, this is a nice device for displaying simple pieces of information. I think this is ultimately where smartwatches still fail. I know Siri, despite its flaws, helps using the watch and particularly for getting information into it but really it’s a massive step backwards compared to what people are used to. If you need to get detail, you’ll reach for your phone. If you want to reply, you’ll reach for your phone. If you want to browse online, you’ll reach for your phone……
Basically if you want to do anything in more than the most simple of detail…..use your phone.
Don’t get me wrong. Watch OS does a superb job given the available space and the additional use of force touch is so intuitive. But you’re always left needing your phone and I think this is why people really start to question whether they should bother with a smartwatch in the first place.
And that brings me nicely back around to fitness. Not having to carry a phone around when running is a big pro for some people….though if you want music you may still have an issue. unless you’re using wireless headphones and you’re willing to mess about with Apple music….something I am not…you probably will still need your phone.
Anyway…the point here is that having a fitness tracker on your wrist at all times is really nice.
I guess some people just workout to get fit and don’t need a reem of statistics to tell them how well they’ve done or classically sharing workout information with others (seriously, who cares)…but it’s nice to have. The stats are useful, interesting and most importantly, motivating.
I have so far tried out MapMyRun and Strava and although they both provide more detailed analysis post run, I have found them more awkward and unreliable to use on the watch so I am just using the Apple Workout app at the moment. It’s simple, basic and reliable with extremely accurate GPS. The route is mapped on a coloured line indicating pace with time, distance,, splits, average heart rate and weather information. Nice and easy. If you want more heart information, this is stored every ten minutes’ish during daily use and continuously during workout. So if you look in your heart rate section…you’ll suddenly see a flood of data during a workout time. This health area also graphs your heart rate in a rather crude way but it’s OK.
Steps information also becomes more enriched with the watch. You may be used to looking at iPhone steps already but with a Watch it has a new data source and goes through the roof. Remember, if you just walk across the house, it’s going to count those steps with a watch.
Some people online have questioned the accuracy of the heart monitor. I find it it works fine as long you keep your watch tight enough. When I run I tighten it a notch. If I walk, it may be a little bit off until I get a bit sweaty at which point it naturally sticks in position and begins to measure it perfectly.
Overall, for fitness…the Apple Watch is easily enough for what I need. It’s performing that job perfectly.
I haven’t worn a watch for over 15 years and I’m really enjoying just being able to tell the time from my wrist again. Considering it’s size, the technology in the Apple Watch is astounding. It’s scary how much we take this for granted these days. In fact, it’s only when I describe to my parents how it works and see their faces that I remember how incredible these devices are.
My personal opinion is that smartwatches will only becomes extremely common when…
The level of information that can go to and from the watch equals that of a phone today. No idea how that would be done but I have doubt that someone will find a way.
Battery life improves.
Thank you for reading and please do let me know your thoughts and experiences with any smartwatch…not just the Apple variant in the comments section below or visit the YouTube video created from this script and comment there.