April 23, 2014

848 words 4 mins read

The “Smart” watch: The first few weeks

When I was a wee whippersnapper, I loved watches. Even at that age I was a technophile, so not only did I have a bunch of them, they were all the highest tech watches I could find. By today’s standards the watches are crude, but I had one that could tell the temperature (very handy in stuffy BART cars during class field trips), calculate (duh), and I even had one that functioned as a pager. Of course as technology progressed I started to spend my spare cash on computer related goodies instead of watches. Later the cellphone supplanted watches in terms of my interests. Now the “smart watch” revolution is in full swing and I’m taking a stab at it again.

A few weeks ago I saw the release of the Pebble Steel, which looks REALLY nice, along with the announcements of Android Wear. Since smart wearables are effectively the outcome of one of my childhood dreams (that and eBooks), I figured it was about time to get in on the action. Rather than plunking down $250 on a Pebble Steel, I bought a regular Pebble smart watch (in red, of course). Since, like most people, I haven’t worn a watch in years, I wanted to give it a trial run before I started to spend big money.

One of the first upgrades I made to watch was a purchase of a NATO style watchband. Somehow I’d never run into these before, but my usual google search trick of appending the word “tactical” really paid off. If you’re a modern person that owns a computer and spends a fair amount of time on it, I highly recommend you trying out one of these watch bands. The key to them is that the “clasp” is on the side rather than the bottom, so it doesn’t irritate the wrist while on the keyboard.

As for the Pebble watch itself, you’re going to get basically exactly what they advertise. It’s a plastic-ish watch on which you can load multiple watch apps and watch faces. The hardware is 4 buttons, a charging port, and an eInk display. The Pebble is a very simple device, certainly not the sex appeal of a Rolex, but it is a functional item.

That leads me to the real debate of wearable tech, is it functional? Is it useful? Does it serve a purpose? For me, I’ve found some very good uses in a business environment. Like many, I attend many meetings so I’ve built my phone as the hub of my communication. I can do a large portion of my job as long as I have my cellphone — via text, IMs, email, HipChat, and the calendar. The unfortunate part of this plan is that my phone gets a lot of notifications.

Now my Pebble steps in as my notification device. Rather than sitting in a meeting with the CFO and pulling out my phone, which to many implies boredom (not something you want to imply to a high level executive), I can just check my watch. Now I can see if the notification is an IM from one of my staff about the latest meme amusement, or if Webpass has tried to set our office on fire, again.

Many would argue that looking at one’s watch also implies boredom/impatience, but you can look at your watch in a much more subtle manner. A quick glance down rarely offends. However, there is no way you can pull a 5.5” Samsung Galaxy Note 3 out of your pocket in a subtle fashion. The reality is, of course, everyone has notifications pushed to their phones these days. I’ve sat in meetings with C-levels who’ve gotten/checked their text messages. They aren’t impatient, we’re just a very connected society (at least if you live/work in the San Francisco Bay Area). The key is to be subtle about it and not disrupt others.

So what else does my Pebble do beyond let me be stealthy in meetings? The only other use I’ve got for it currently is an app called “Music Boss” which allows me to control Spotify. This is very useful to me when listening to music while riding the motorcycle. It is also an assurance that I haven’t missed a notification. Its amazing, but now that I have the watch, I find myself habit checking my phone much less often.

How do I feel about all the smart wearables? As with most things, it only stays with me if it is useful to me (which is why I don’t carry tablets, I have a phablet for that). My Pebble has stayed with me most of the time since I bought it (other than briefly losing it for a little while) and I don’t feel as if it is a waste of money. I’d only recommend it to others if you can find utility in it. If you plan on getting it to use one of the picture viewing apps on the Pebble, well, you’re not going to use it for very long.

Oh yeah, and it tells time too!