Why would I need a smartwatch ?

Are smartwatches really necessary ? What are the benefits of them ? Thoughts on the smartwatch market and the new Pebble Time.

I had some opinions on smartwatches before; but now that I tried many of them and actively use one, I finalised my thoughts and came to some conclusions and I want to share some of my thoughts on them. This won’t be a smartwatch guide, if the question in your head is “which smartwatch should I buy”, than you should skip to the final part where I recommend a product but you should make further investigations. However if the question you are asking yourself is “should I buy a smartwatch”, than you can read on :)

Are they really necessary ?

Not so long ago, I remember the same kind of discussions going on about the smartphones.

- You have your computer, why would you need to check your emails on the go ?
- Why would I need Whatsapp since I can text you ?
- Don’t you have a camera ? Why’d you need your phone to do the same thing ?

Not many people today still thinks this way, most of them uses smartphones now. I suppose you see where this is going, “they said smartphones were useless but it turns out they’re not, same will go for the smartwatches”. Nope, I wasn’t gonna say that…

Smartphones were a BIIG step forward. Their value add was enormous. Technology was in a state where every computer is connected to each other, but thanks to smartphones, that evolved into something like “every person is connected to each other”. Smartwatches however is not a game-changer. Their impact is nowhere near smartphones. It’s not hard to realise that we’ll be seeing wearables is the future, and in my opinion, it is a good way the technology has headed into. But smartwatches are the early products of this new era. The concept of wearable technology has a very wide range of possibilities and the product diversity will be huge. In the future, we’ll be seeing products that has big impacts on our lives like smartphones. We’ll be mesmerised by seeing how the ‘internet of things’ can interact with us. But for now, the next big thing isn’t the smartwatches along for sure.

So I shouldn’t buy a smartwatch ?

I told that smartwatches are not a game-changer. But I never told that they are useless. In fact, they can get pretty handy.

Smartwatches are not necessary, but they are useful

They are definitely nice to have. Think of it like a tablet, You don’t really need a tablet when you have a laptop and a smartphone, but you’ll be better-off if you had one. They have some advantages, and makes some certain daily actions faster.

Smartwatches can track your exercises and sleeps, it can display notification, make you interact with your phone without getting it out of your pocket, it can be an alarm that wakes you up with its vibration without waking the person sleeping next to you, it can even do this when you’re at your lightest sleep, at the optimal time.

Smartwatches will improve your phone battery life !

How is this even possible ? With a smartwatch, your Bluetooth stays on and paired to a external device. Even worst, it pushes data back and forth all day! How can it possibly improve the battery life of your phone ? First of all, most of the smartphones and all the smartwatches in the market has Bluetooth 4.0 by default. Unlike the old Bluetooth which has a bad reputation, this new Bluetooth technology is much more energy efficient and stable. Just like the NFC always being on, keeping the bluetooth on and paired will not make that a big impact on your battery life. The biggest battery drain on mobile phones are the screens. Screens consume about 40% - 70% of the battery on each cycle. Throughout the day, you turn the screen on so many times; even when a stupid app pushes a notification, because you don’t know where its coming from until you turn the screen on. Doing this a bunch of times wouldn’t make a big difference, but all summed up throughout the day, its a serious battery drain. If you ever start using a smartwatch, all the notifications will be pushed directly to your wrist. In some cases, you’ll even be able to interact with the notifications, you’ll be able to do things like dismissing a call or replying an email. This leaves you with less reasons to interact with your phone. I actually expected this to happen, but I haven’t thought the impact would be this big ! My phone barely made it to the night, usually the battery died in the afternoon unless I find a spot to charge it. But now that I have a smartwatch, it lasts almost a day and a half ! Today I unplugged my phone around 7 am, its almost 3 am now (as I’m writing this) and I still have 34% of the juice left ! As I checked the battery usage at the end of the day, the 40% - 70% I was talking about suddenly became 5% - 8%.

What smartwatches shouldn’t be

I gave you my opinion on smartwatches, that is, being unnecessary yet useful. I shared a few cases where they can get very handy. But now, I’ll say what I think they shouldn’t be.

Throughout the years, smartphones got bigger and smarter. Performance-wise some smartphones even catched up with some computers, and there is a reason for that. People enjoy spending time on their phones. They love following up their social feeds, checking out pictures, watching videos, browsing the internet, playing games, discovering friends, navigating to places and so on and so forth. These actions are performed mostly for joy, people take their time to do such things. That’s why smartphones get better and bigger, for serving a better experience while performing these actions. This opposes the very idea and the philosophy behind the smartwatches and the wearable technology.

Smartwatches are complementary devices.

Smartwatches should make use of being a computer attached to ones body, capturing data with censors that smartphones can’t have. They should make use of being a screen that is on ones wrist, always being available within a simple motion of raising an arm. But smartwatches shouldn’t be a smartphone replacement. I don’t think pulling their phones out of their pocket would be a hassle to anyone who is willing to play a game or check their Instagram feed. Moreover, no one would want to do these things on a tiny screen while they have a stunning display on their phone. But as for now, smartwatches do many sort of things that they shouldn’t be doing. They can do almost everything that smartphones are capable of, which brings some disadvantages such as price, battery life, privacy, health issues and more.

One shouldn’t forget that smartwatches are watch replacements.

This gives smartwatches some responsibilities. First of all, obviously, they have to show the time. “It ran out of battery” shouldn’t be an excuse, watches run out of battery once every two or three years, or even more. Since you will be carrying this piece of electronics on your wrist all day everyday, they shouldn’t harm you in anyway. It shouldn’t spy on you since it’ll be there to share every moment with you. Since you’re not buying a smartphone, you shouldn’t pay as if you’re buying a smartphone. They should look nice, at least they shouldn’t look as if you duck-taped a tiny monitor on your wrist.

Pebble Revolution

Among all the big players in the smartwatch market, Pebble is a company that I think produces smartwatches that makes the most sense. The company doesn’t take itself very seriously, which is an attribute that more companies should hold on to. Yes, their products have a few downsides, but who doesn’t ?

Pebble Time

I pre-ordered a black Pebble Time, and I think I made a good decision. This article is not about Pebble Time, so I’m not going to make an in-depth review. But I’d like to share why I think it is a great product. First of all, this device has a style. It has its own operating system, flavoured with an 8-bit look and feel. It has the cutest animations, and despite the low performance screen and processor, they are flawless. It has an always-on e-paper colour display. Unlike other smartwatches, you don’t have to raise your hand or press a button to turn on the screen (just like a regular watch). And even though the screen is always on, its has a battery life that can go up to 7 days. Even if you run out of battery, the device shuts itself down and shows the current time until its completely off, completing its mission as a watch until its last breath. Remember when I said the biggest battery drain for smartphones are the screens ? Same goes for smartwatches. But this one has an e-paper display, a technology which devices uses very little energy to keep an image on the screen. Considerable amount of energy is spent for the pixels that gets updated. Since most of the time the screen will be inactive, the watch could live up to 7 days while remaining on. It is perfectly visible in the day light, but has a backlight for the dark.

Another thing that makes sense to me is that it doesn’t have a touch screen. I tried using an Apple watch and I was frustrated. I wasn’t able to see where I was tapping since my fingers covered up most of the screen, I ended up using the device mostly with the crown. Since the actions which should be taken from the watch should be limited, 4 buttons are more than enough. Moreover, the user experience of its OS is well made, making 4 buttons to input totally fine.

Last but not least, it has a huge developer community. It has a perfect SDK for C and Javascript, good documentation and even a cloud development environment which makes developing apps for Pebble very easy. It has many apps and watchfaces available in its market, even some big players released a Pebble version of their apps, such as Misfit, Jawbone, ESPN, Pandora, Swarm (by Foursquare) and Swim.com.

Finally, I’ll talk about a few disadvantages. Pebble Time does have a cheap look. It doesn’t feel like a premium watch, like Apple Watch or LG G Watch does. However, you can wait for Pebble Time Steel to come out, which will basically be Pebble Time with better look and up to 10 days of battery life. The backlight management of Pebble Time could be better, but since it is a software issue, it could be fixed with a firmware update in the near future. Finally, a big disappointment for me was that it doesn’t have a heartbeat sensor. That definitely should have been on a smartwatch. However in the future, smart-straps for Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel will be available. That would make some hardware improvements to the watch possible, and a smart-strap with an heartbeat sensor option will definitely be available.

Smartwatches are not a revolution like smartphones were. They are unnecessary, but useful pieces of gadgets. However, they are not smartphone replacements and most smartwatches on the market doesn’t understand this very idea. Pebble is a brand that produce smartwatches that makes the most sense.