When you hear the word “smartwatch”, the first image comes to mind is probably Apple Watch or Fitbit. They both belong to the smartwatch category but are devices of wildly different features and specs. In this article we drill deeper into what is a smartwatch, what does it do for you, and whether you will find smartwatches useful in your life.
Without further ado, here is what you need to know to get started on becoming a smartwatch pro.
What is a smartwatch – a brief history
Like traditional watches, smartwatches are designed to be worn on the wrist. However unlike traditional watches, smartwatches are mini-computers equipped with processors that allows the device to perform computer-like functions.
Today’s smartwatches mostly come with internet connectivity and is wired with your personal smartphone. That is a key difference between smartwatches and fitness trackers – with a smartwatch you can put phone functions on your wrist.
The current popularity of smartwatch was spearheaded by Pebble, whose wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for Pebble Time reached 20 million. Today, with all big consumer tech players such as Apple and Samsung entering the smartwatch market, an indie maker like Pebble had to be acquired by Fitbit to survive the competition, which is further proof that we are at a prime time for smartwatch development with new models and brands coming out almost everyday.
But Pebble wasn’t the first player to fuse high-tech into the classic timepiece. Back in 1972, Swiss watchmaker Hamilton Company and Electro/Data Inc. developed the first digital watch with a LED screen. It was priced at a hefty sum of $2,100 back in the day which translates to $11k today.
Pulsar P1 limited edition in solid 18k with LED display. Image source: The Watchismo Times
Very shortly after, Seiko rolled out the 1st LCD watch. As LCD watches with plastic case drastically dropped in price, brands like Casio became popular among the average consumer. If you grow up in the 80s you might remember the Casio game watch (now a much cherished vintage item).
The next breakthrough in smartwatch came in 1994 with the first real “smartwatch” connected to a computer – Timex Datalink. Co-developed with Microsoft as an alternative to PDAs, it was demonstrated by Bill Gates to show its programmable and water-resistance features.
Then in 1998 came Ruputer by Seiko with with a 3.6 MHz processor and a monochromatic display. It was arguable the first smartwatch – programmable wristwatch that can run 3rd party applications. Ruputer called is “wearable wrist-type computer peripheral”. Even though it looked like a watch, Seiko apparently branded it as a “wearable computer”.
Seiko’s Ruputer was alledged the first ever real smartwatch. Image source: Bloomberg
But were these smart wristwatches just a geeky toy? Or just a fancy showpiece at tradeshows? We didn’t see smartwatches become relevant to mainstream public until Pebble. A feature like receiving email notifications suddenly make smartwatches personal again.
The entire Pebble family – a revolution for smartwatches can do. Image source: Pebble Blog
After a few sensational crowdfunding campaigns, Pebble remained a startup struggling to make a profit. In 2016 Pebble announced that it’s selling software to Fitbit, and ceased hardware production. But Pebble’s farewell was just the beginning of the mass consumer smartwatch era. Apple Watch came to rescue in 2015. With the brand’s stapler minimalism hardware design and intuitive software user experience, sales number quickly caught up with Pebble watches.
Nowadays, smartwatch industry is competitive with multiple big consumer electronics brands such as Samsung, LG, Sony, Garmin, Google, etc. They feature different OS, hardware designs and different native or 3rd party apps. Traditional watchmakers are trying to innovate too, as well as sports brands and fashion brands jumping on the bandwagon.
Fashion brand Michael Kors now makes smartwatches too. Image source: BestBuy
What do smartwatches do
Since smartwatches are essentially “wearable computers”, they have powerful capacities once connected to the internet or bluetooth.
Some commonly seen smartwatch features include message notifications, GPS navigation, music players and calendar synchronization. Some smartwatches like Apple Watch allow you to place/receive phone calls, and Google wear OS lets you quickly reply to messages directly on your wrist.
More importantly, receiving and attending notifications on your wrist makes you less addicted to your phone. You can act on or ignore notifications on your smartwatch with a glance, rather than constantly checking your phone at meetings or events. Imagine a party where everyone is phone-free: you will finally get more uninterrupted social time!
Google wear OS has built in instant messaging feature to stay connected. Image source: Google
And that is not all. Smartwatch is powerful in that it is small in size and powerful in capacity. It stays with you all day while being connected to your phone or computer OS. With such a smart accessory on you wrist, you can leave your phone at home all day without missing the important updates.
Moreover, much like fitness trackers, smartwatches offer the possibility to track your health and fitness data. If you own one of these futuristic Samsung Gear S watches, you can even monitor your baby while away from the bedroom (what a gospel to young moms’ ears!). Simple put your Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone next to the baby, and you will receive be able to “watch” your baby from afar (pun intended).
Here is a list of powerful smartwatch features you may find enticing:
- Connectivity. The ability to receive notifications and text messages
- Activity tracking. Collecting your health and fitness data such as sleep, exercise and heart rate.
- News update. Never miss an important update again.
- Make phone calls. How cool is it to make a phone with a simple tap on your wrist?
- Sync up music playlist. Imagine going to the gym with your old ipod without the need to hold it.
- Smart home automation. Configure your sound system, room temperature and much more with your shiny new watch.
- GPS navigation. If you are into the great outdoors, this feature will come in handy when you go running or cycling.
- Customization. With tools like Facer, you can custom design your own watch face. Moreover, many watchmakers offer the ability to customize your straps and case material.
- Payment. Now you can ditch your wallet and pay with a flick of the wrist.
Pebble Time has a smart strap that enables NFC payment. Image source: The Verge
Benefits of using smartwatches
The benefits of using smartwatches is not just functional, but also emotional and social. Yes, many watches are still in early development and far from being perfect. And there hasn’t been a killer app to make smartwatches viral yet. But as an early adopter of smartwatches, you will already see benefits including:
- Connectivity without phone addiction. You will receive important notifications, but the limitations of smartwatches is actually a blessing – you won’t end up spending your whole evening typing messages back and forth instead of enjoying the amazing view in front of you. Freedom from phone allows us to stay present and learn to prioritize.
- Stay healthy. The deep knowledge of your personal health if the first step toward taking action. With build in heart rate monitors and movement trackers, smartwatches makes it easy to stay on top of health goals.
- Stay informed. You can receive news updates, stock prices, emails, text messages and more right in your watch. With integration of AI technology like Google assistant, some phones can answer any questions you might have and help you stay smart and current.
- Be a trendsetter. Smartwatches aren’t just for gadgets geeks; they can be extremely fashionable even luxurious. You can wear it as a trendy accessory with the added benefits of smart technology.
ASUS ZenWatch is not just a powerful watch but also a piece of luxury design. Image source: ASUS.com
- Be in control. Even the most luxurious of traditional watches won’t offer all the customization options from changing watch face to strap material. Everything we loved about iPods and smartphones is about the power to create a little world we can indulge ourselves in. Smartwatches give us just that – you can fine tune your entire work and home life just how you like it. Nothing else compares.
Are smartwatches worth your money
Yes, some media pundits announced that smartwatches have failed. But the truth is, consumers are buying smartwatches everyday and new models are coming out all the time.
Compared to traditional watches, smartwatches are a fraction of the price with more features to boast. On the low end, you can find smartwatches for under $100 such as Pebble 2. Most smartwatches are price at $200-$400, with a few exceptions of luxury watch brands like TAG Heuer.
Luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 is priced at $ 6,750. Image source: luxurytopics.com
If gold-plated, custom-made luxury watches aren’t your thing, you can find a reliable smartwatch at a reasonable price with some guidance. Once you set a budget, read up on reviews about smartwatches in your price range. To make your money’s worth, you might want to look at attributes like:
- OS compatibility
- Display quality
- Battery life
- Touch sensitivity
- Case Material
- UI design
- Strap Design
And much more. Check back on our site for in-depth product reviews to help you find just the right watch for you.