Wearable Technology 101

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Wearable Technology 101

Wearable technology will be a hot commodity for 2015. The rapid rise of Android Wear devices, Google Glass, and the upcoming iWatch, along with Fitbit fitness bands and their copycats, demonstrates that there’s surprising power in small packages.

For the past several months, this reporter has been wearing some of that technology: a Pebble smartwatch. The incredible success of the Pebble’s Kickstarter campaign in 2012 is often regarded as the moment when other manufacturers realized there was a real market out there for high tech gadgets that fit on a wrist. My Pebble is one of the black plastic Kickstarter originals. After nearly two years of the “smartwatch experience,” I feel qualified to provide some advice for the consumer who is wondering whether all this stuff is worth their cash or just another technological flash in the pan.

Things to Look For in a Smartwatch

Device compatibility

Nearly all smartwatches require the wearer to sync them with their cellphones via Bluetooth and keep their phones nearby for the greatest benefit. A select few watches, such as the Galaxy Gear S and upcoming iWatch, are full-fledged phones in themselves which don’t require tethering. Be aware that some tethered devices may not be compatible with certain phones. The Pebble app, for instance, has only been officially released for Android and Apple phones, leaving Windows phone supporters out of luck unless they’re willing to try unsupported third-party apps. LG smartwatches (and several others running the Android Wear operating system) are Android-compatible only. Make sure you do your research before picking one up.

Battery life

The Pebble has a rechargeable battery which lasts around eight days with light-to-moderate use. It manages this by using passive e-paper technology with an Indiglo-style backlight for use in low-light situations. More sophisticated watches with what are essentially tiny LCD screens may only last a day or two on a charge. Often these watches will go completely dark when not in use, which can be troublesome since the watch has to be activated every time you look at it. Anyone who’s ever used a 1980s style LED watch will know how annoying that can be.

Programmability

Vast variety of applications. Its relative simplicity and accessibility has given the Pebble’s app store a fair lead on other smartwatches, at least in the short term. The Pebble allows a user to install up to eight apps or watch faces at once through the smartphone app, and switch between them on the watch at a whim. If you’re fashion conscious or simply capricious, this is a powerful draw.

Features

The Pebble has a built-in accelerometer and vibration notification, which is pretty much the rock-bottom standard for a smartwatch. Up-and-coming features include sound and voice connections to your phone, allowing Dick Tracy-style wrist conversations. The more sophisticated smartwatches include things like Near-Field Communications (NFC), heartbeat and temperature sensors, ambient light sensors, even cameras. Watch out for excessive power drain from all those extra features.

Controls

As you might expect, it’s difficult to include useful controls on something barely larger than your thumb. The Pebble has just four buttons, which are enough for very simple applications but can’t really handle anything sophisticated. Many newer smartwatches add touch screens or swipe bars. Before choosing a smartwatch, be sure to check customer reviews on their usability.

Looks

The Pebble is plain compared to newer watches; the black-and-white e-paper display, along with its severe blocky look, is not a fashion statement. (You can add a vinyl wrap or replace its strap if you really need to personalize things.) As screen tech evolves, we’ll likely see brighter and more vivid color displays to help draw attention from the watch itself. A special note for people with small wrists: the smallest and sleekest smartwatch is still relatively bulky. We probably won’t see a “women’s fashion” smartwatch until the technology evolves further.

What It’s Like to Wear a Smartwatch

I’ve been a watch wearer for many years, so I hardly notice my Pebble. Its all-plastic construction makes it much lighter than many watches I’ve worn. It’s also somewhat “tall” on my wrist, and I’ve given it more than its share of knocks against door frames. Despite the abuse, it’s managed to come through with only a few light scratches, mostly on the edges.

When I receive a text message or email, the watch lights up and vibrates. This was strange and startling at first, but I soon got used to it. The screen also changes to show the truncated text of the message in question. When I receive a phone call, the watch vibrates repeatedly and shows the name and number of the caller; I can also send the call directly to voicemail with a simple button press. These features have completely changed how “in control” I feel about my phone. I’m no longer constantly fumbling for my pocket every time I hear a chime.

Taking the Good with the Bad

Smartwatches are just the beginning of wearable technology, and this is where many of the kinks are still being worked out. During this transition time, users need to balance features, battery life, processing power, and aesthetics to find the smartwatch that works best for their own lifestyle.

As the tech continues forward, we’ll start seeing applications that move beyond the wrist, from the big projects that will evolve out of Google Glass to even smaller items like “smart rings.” Patents have already been issued for displays which project onto the palm of your hand or within contact lenses. The future of wearable tech is bright, and the only question is at which point you choose to jump in.

About Matcha Design

Matcha Design is a full-service creative B2B agency with decades of experience executing its client’s visions. The award-winning company specializes in web design, logo design, branding, marketing campaign, print, UX/UI, video production, commercial photography, advertising, and more. Matcha Design upholds the highest personal standards for excellence and can see things from a unique perspective due to its multicultural background.  The company consistently delivers custom, high-quality, innovative solutions to its clients using technical savvy and endless creativity. For more information, visit MatchaDesign.com.

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