Smart Watch

Perhaps we should start off by explaining what a smart watch is.

Like a regular watch — or chronograph if you’d prefer — a smart watch tells time, but it does so much more. A regular watch (which we’ll just call a “watch”) might also include the date, the day of the week, and if you had a super-fancy one, even the barometric pressure and altitude. The nice thing about a watch is its simplicity. You glance at it and get all the information you need.

As we started waltzing toward the chasm of information overload, brought on by the now ubiquitous smartphone, the traditional watch just isn’t cutting it. We need something more. We need a “smart” watch.

Why do we need a smart watch?

I’m not talking “need” as in air, water, food, shelter, and a picture autographed by the entire cast of Firefly; a smart watch is more of a “want-it-really-badly” than a need. Why?

Throughout the day I get alerts on my Android about incoming calls, text messages, emails, upcoming appointments, chat requests… Some are important, some are not. All require that I pull out my smartphone, hit the button to turn it on, and possibly even unlock the device to read the alert. It happens all the time, and each time it does it sucks a few precious moments from my life.

I just sucked one year of your life away
Suunto SPOT WatchBy pushing those updates to my wrist I’m able to be advised of important alerts while being able to quickly dismiss those that aren’t important — all without pulling out my smartphone.

Long, long ago Microsoft came out with something awesome. It was called SPOT. SPOT was a technology that was realized in a few ridiculously large watches and a couple other pieces of consumer electronics (weather stations, mostly). SPOT used low-power FM signals to receive information wirelessly – stocks, weather, news, new watch faces, instant messages, calendar alerts, that sort of stuff. Getting those updates meant you had to be within a compatible FM radio station (yes, that’s really how it worked!). It was slow. It was bulky. It was ugly. It was wonderful.

The service, MSN Direct, was paid via an annual subscription, but it was well worth it. Then Microsoft killed it. Why? They told us we didn’t need it anymore because we all have wireless Internet on our cell phones. They didn’t release a SPOT app for Windows Mobile or any other mobile OS, though no one knows why. They didn’t make a “gen 3” device that connected to your smartphone by Bluetooth either, which still baffles me. The exit of SPOT left a hole that others tried to fill. Sorta.

inPulse Watch

inPulse for blackberry was a step in the right direction. It didn’t catch on, but it looked pretty decent, back in its time.

Sony Ericsson LiveView

About the same time as iPulse, Sony Ericsson released the LiveView, which would later morph into the “Sony Smartwatch”. I owned one of these puppies (the LiveView). Its problem? It wasn’t a watch. After a certain amount of time, the face would turn off so you were literally wearing a bulky, black square on your wrist. To tell the time you had to wake it up. Not only that, the band that it came with was a cheap fabric, and the plastic that the device clipped into broke on the first day.


Maybe having a watch connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth was asking too much. Why not make the watch be it’s own, separate smart-device. That’s what the WiMM Watch  and the i’mWatch tried (and failed) to do.

LunaTik Watchband
Apple released a new version of the iPod Nano. Surprise, surprise! It looked a lot like a square watch face! Various companies came out with 3rd party accessory watchbands (some better than others. Ironically, the Nano has arguably been the best smart watch to-date! So much so that some guy decided to forego the band entirely and connect it magnetically to implants beneath his skin!

Before you grab your scalpel, all is not lost. The future holds the release of the Pebble, currently in development, which promises to be the answer to our smart watch drama! Not only is it stylish (okay, maybe it’s only more stylish than its predecessors), it’s also got an SDK so developers can write not only apps but accessories for it! My favorite accessory? The sensor block that you can use to detect when someone is knocking at your front door, and send an alert to your watch. Yeah, how cool is that?

So, why haven’t you bought a smart watch yet? To be honest, it’s probably because they have all, how can I put this… “failed to live up to expectations”. Let’s hope Pebble gets it right!

Image Credits: The Princess Bride, Sony Ericsson, Suunto, inPulse, WiMM, YouTube, Pebble

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