Categories
productivity

Smart watch: The revolution that didn’t happen

Apple makes money selling Watches. In 2015 Apple said it made more money from watches than any company except Rolex.

By that standard Apple’s Watch business is a success. Imagine the reaction if anyone else had gone from nowhere to the number two watch market position in a couple of years. It remains an outstanding achievement.

Yet, put Apple aside, and the smart watch sector doesn’t look good. There may not even be a worthwhile smart watch market beyond Apple. Almost no-one else makes money from selling smart watches1.

Pointless smart watch

It’s hard to see the point of a smart watch. Even the best ones do little useful beyond collecting health information and sending notifications.

Sure, health is important. But there are other ways to collect the data. As for notifications… well whoopee.

There’s a fatal flaw in the thinking behind smart watches. They promise to be the most intimate computing device. Yet you need a phone to get any value from a smart watch.

And phones are without question the most intimate devices. We live in an era when most people’s phones are rarely more than an arm’s length away. It’s not often you can’t reach your phone.

This means the device on your wrist might spend most of its time just 100mm or so closer to your eyes, ears or brain than your phone. It’ll be even further from your heart.

Phones are better

Phone have better screens, better speakers and better processors. Your phone can vibrate a notification if that’s important to you. It is in every respect a superior way of getting information from wherever to you brain.

Yet, by definition, you must already have a phone if you own a smart watch.

If you’re a solider on active service, or someone who climbs a rope for a living then a watch might be more practical communications tool than a phone. Otherwise, you’re kidding yourself.

Few people are more productive or enjoy better lives because they have a smart watch.

Ugly

Away from the sensible stuff. Smart watches are universally ugly. All of them are too big to be comfortable on a wrist. The screens are hard to read. If they speak to you the sound is often pathetic. Pushing screen buttons is challenging.

Don’t take my word for it. In April Huawei deputy chairman and rotating CEO Eric Xu Zhijun told analysts he never wears a smart watch. That’s not remarkable, few sensible people do wear smart watches.

However, Xu is boss of the second or third biggest smart watch maker. His company launched a new model about the time he made his statement. Huawei has been making smart watches since they first appeared. It may even have sold some.

Companies that rely on smart watch sales are struggling. Fitbit has laid off staff this year. You might argue that Fitbit devices are not smart watches but activity trackers. Yet in January the company has tried moving into smart watches. It acquired another struggling smart watch maker, Pebble.

Android smart watches are still bug-ridden, unreliable devices. I’ve yet to see one that isn’t embarrassing.

It’s not just smart watches. The entire watch sector is in decline. Few people under the age of 40 wear any kind of watch. If younger folk don’t see the need for a Swatch, why would they turn to a more expensive, buggy alternative that needs to be charged every 12 hours?


  1. If you’re thinking this is a lot like the history of the phone market since the iPhone took off, you’d be right. ↩︎
Categories
productivity

Apple Watch a winner but not for me

Apple is now the world’s second largest watch revenue earner. That’s a solid performance for a product line introduced less than two years ago. By any commercial standard the Apple Watch is a success.

Rolex remains the leading watchmaker and is likely to stay on top for now.

In Apple’s recent Q1 financial report, Tim Cook said the Watch had its best ever quarter. He says Apple struggled to meet demand.

Sinking smart watch market

The rest of the so-called ‘smartwatch’ market doesn’t come close. Android Wear watchmakers have been slow to update their models. Lenovo abandoned the market. Pebble sold its watch business.

There have been stories saying the smartwatch market is dead. Away from the Apple Watch that’s a fair description.

I stopped wearing the first Apple Watch after a traumatic introduction. More recently I’ve tried newer models; one with a nylon strap1 another with leather.

Whenever I write about the Apple Watch I hear from people who love them or love other smartwatches. I’m not keen.

For the most part I find them annoying and difficult to live with. They don’t add anything to my productivity or make life more fun.

Notification

Watch fans tell me they like the notifications. If anything they are what I like least of all. They are a distraction. They interrupt my concentration with constant incoming wrist taps or bleeps2. But that’s me and how I work. You may feel otherwise.

My other gripe is the frequent charging. A Watch lasts about a day. That means it needs recharging overnight.

On a few occasions I found I placed on the charger in a way that meant there was no charge the next day. If I left the Watch at home, it didn’t make a difference to me.

Apple Watch

The one area where the Apple Watch shines is fitness tracking. I found it useful when the Watch told to get off my chair every hour. Getting those activity bars all the way around the clock face became a daily goal. It made me walk more and be more aware of exercise.

Despite that, I’m not going to buy a Watch. Much of the time I wear a scruffy old Swatch on my left wrist. It needs a new strap and does nothing other than let me know the time.

Sure, I can get that from my phone which is never more than a metre or two away. But I’ve 50 years of muscle memory looking at the wrist.

By a curious coincidence Mac NZ’s Mark Webster has written a similar blog post.


  1. Apple calls them bands. ↩︎
  2. You can, of course, disable notifications. It’s possible to turn some or all off. Yet that undermines the point of a smartwatch. If you don’t use notifications, what is the reason for having one? ↩︎
Categories
mobile

Smartwatches not ticking with customers

Apple Watch Series 2
Apple Watch Series 2

IDC reports the smartwatch market dropped by more than 50 percent in the third quarter of 2016.

It says 2.7 million units shipped during the quarter compared with 5.6 million units in the third quarter of 2015. IDC goes on to say:

Although the decline is significant, it is worth noting that 3Q15 was the first time Apple’s Watch had widespread retail availablity after a limited online launch.

Meanwhile, the second generation Apple Watch was only available in the last two weeks of 3Q16.

In other words there was pent up demand when Apple first launched the Watch and things have settled down. Mauricio Freitas from Geekzone hit the nail on the head with his tweet:

IDC offers a different interpretation:

“The sharp decline in smartwatch shipment volumes reflects the way platforms and vendors are realigning,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables team.

He says: “Apple revealed a new look and feel to watchOS that did not arrive until the launch of the second generation watch at the end of September. Google’s decision to hold back Android Wear 2.0 has repercussions for its OEM partners as to whether to launch devices before or after the holidays. Samsung’s Gear S3, announced at IFA in September, has yet to be released. Collectively, this left vendors relying on older, aging devices to satisfy customers.”

While all of this makes sense, it misses something more fundemental. Smartwatch makers have failed to capture the imagination of anyone outside of a geeky inner circle.

Smartwatches have tiny, hard-to-read displays not capable of handling much information beyond basic notifications. They act as hand-off devices to phones which are rarely more than a metre away and often more suited to the tasks in hand.

It’s acutely embarassing taking an incoming call on a Watch, there’s nothing cool about it. No-one looks on in admiration or envy. If anyone reacts at all it will be with contempt or pity. If anything it’s a reminder of the Google Glass glassholes mess.

There are useful functions. Almost every smartwatch includes fitness and health apps which have improved in the past two years. Being able to pay for coffee by waving a watch at a terminal is neat. Likewise logging on to a Mac with the Apple Watch is useful. Although perhaps not NZ$500 worth of useful.

As Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers says; “It has also become evident that at present smartwatches are not for everyone”.

That’s putting it mildly. They are a niche product for a small audience that craves technical novelty. Until watchmakers add functions that make work more productive or life more fun, they will stay that way.

Categories
review

One month with the Apple Watch Series 2 and WatchOS3

GPS sensor and better water resistance target fitness tracking with Apple Watch Series 2.

Forget talk about Apple being second only to Rolex in worldwide watch sales.

Apple’s Watch is not a direct competitor to Rolex. It is a fitness tracker first and wearable computer second. Being a wristwatch is only one of many applications.

Yes, it is a smartwatch. When they first appeared people didn’t know what that meant. Apple’s original smartwatch reflected that uncertainty.

What people want

Apple now has a better idea of what people expect when they spend hundreds of dollars on a wrist device.

Health and fitness tracking[1] are top of the list.

Although the first Watch was great at tracking heath and fitness, it had flaws in other departments. Its Byzantine user interface confused users. Displays were often too busy or otherwise hard to read.

The fact that you can set up “complications” warns you something is amiss.

Battery life was more than tolerable, but not outstanding.

Nudge, nudge

When the first generation Watch isn’t tracking health and fitness, it sends notifications. There could be a constant stream of, often unnecessary, disruptions.

Getting haptic wrist taps for incoming mail or other messages suits some people. Fans often talk about finding it helpful to glance at a message in a meeting when looking at a phone would be rude. It’s as rude to read a wrist message, but less obvious.

For others frequent distraction makes it hard to focus.

You can tweak the Watch to send only important notifications. That’s tricky. It is simpler to silence them.

Upgraded hardware, software

Apple upgraded the hardware and the software. The Apple Watch Series 2 is an improvement. The move to WatchOS 3 is also important.

Together they fix many of the earlier Watch’s shortcomings.

Meanwhile, Apple bumped up the health and fitness tracking. This now plays an even bigger role.

Series 2 hardware includes GPS and better water resistance. Both underpin health and fitness use.

GPS helps users navigate walks, runs and bike rides. It means you don’t always need your phone when moving about. That’s a win.

Thanks to better water resistance you can go out in the rain without destroying the Watch. It can go in the shower with you after you’ve worked up a sweat. You can also use it for wet activities such as kayaking or swimming.

Water resistance

There’s something clever about how the Series 2 handles water. If you enter swimming mode, the Watch screen locks. This is necessary as flowing water can trigger the touch screen. The Watch software adjusts to your swimming style to help you measure progress.

Then when you finish swimming, spin the Watch crown to clear out the water. The phone makes a beeping sound. This is the speakers ejecting water from the speaker chamber. It expels all the water from inside the Watch.

Looks, looks, looks

At first sight it is hard to tell an Apple Watch Series 2 from an original model. The case is 1mm thicker. You can’t see that or feel it when the Watch is on your wrist. The two models have to be side-by-side for you to notice any difference.

If you do place them side by side, you will also notice the Series 2 has brighter display than the earlier model. It is now bright enough to read out-of-doors on a sunny day. Text and colours that were hard to see in the first Watch are now visible.

Battery still a weakness

Battery life is better. The Series 2 battery is larger than the one in the first Watch. This gives you an hour or two extra.

In practice that doesn’t make much difference. The Watch still can’t stretch to two days between charges. A couple of extra hours help if you’re on, say, an overnight flight or away from home overnight, but otherwise nothing changes.

There’s a notable speed boost between the first Watch and the Series 2 running WatchOS3. While there is a new chip, this is as much to do with software as hardware. If you own an original Watch, you’ll get a performance bump upgrading the software.

Prices start at NZ$600 for a 38mm Apple Watch Series 2 with a sports band. At the top end you can pay over NZ$2000.

Impressions

My favourite Apple Watch application may also be the most trivial. When my Mac logs out, the Watch bypasses the normal password procedure. It gets me back into the computer faster and with no fuss.

In a similar way, the Watch is useful when logging onto sites or services that use two-factor authentication. I can either read codes sent by SMS from the Watch or use the Authy app to find a security code.

Apart from being able to tell the time, the only other Watch application I use all the time is the health and fitness tracking.

The frequent reminders to stand are useful when I sit at a desk for too long. I’m uncertain what to make of the reminders to breath — but I play along. It’s not clear whether it does any good.

It’s not always easy to read the Apple Watch Series 2 display. In part that’s because an old sports injury makes it hard to twist my wrist to a comfortable reading position. But also because, despite being bright, screen text and information can still be hard to see.

In practice a 42mm screen is too small for most applications. Text-based applications and that includes any form of written message, are hard to read because the characters are tiny.

Conclusion

Two years after the first Watch was announced, Apple made incremental hardware improvements. The updated software is simpler and slimmed down. A WatchOS3 upgrade makes an old Watch feel new.

If you couldn’t see a reason to buy the first Watch, there’s little to change your mind.

The Apple Watch Series 2 still won’t make you more productive or ease your working day. It can make you fitter and healthier. You might live longer.

The first Watch was a great fitness tracker. Apple has double-downed on this. The Watch Series 2 allows for more fitness tracking over a wider variety of activities.

Heath and fitness tracking were the main reasons to buy the first Apple Watch. If you already have one, the If you don’t, the Apple Watch Series 2 is worth considering, but it is not for everyone.


  1. For me that was always the most important application. It actually encourages me to take more exercise. I find I walk the long way round and take extra trips to get the performance bars to hit their daily targets.  ↩
Categories
mobile review

No allergy worries with Apple Watch Series 2

The last time I wore an Apple Watch it made me ill. The Series 2 watches do not. 

Apple’s Watch Series 2 has been on my wrist for almost a month without causing any problems.

You may be thinking: “So what. Isn’t that normal”?

It depends on your definition of normal. I had a severe allergic reaction to something in Apple’s first Watch.

My skin itched, I developed a rash and at one point my hand swelled to almost double normal size. It wasn’t toothache painful, but it wasn’t comfortable.  A surgeon saw this and told me to take it off immediately or face serious illness.

Danger Will Robinson

The metallic back of the first Watch could have been the cause. Or it may have been the watch band. Given the dire warning, I wasn’t prepared to experiment to find out.

There has been no reaction of any description this time around. Whatever caused the reaction is not present in the new Watch.

The most likely problem with the earlier watch was the strap. Apple calls it a band.

Rubber allergy

My review Watch was a 42mm Sports model that came with a black Sport Band. According to Apple it is made from a custom high-performance fluoroelastomer. This is a fluorocarbon-based synthetic rubber.

In theory, a fluoroelastomer is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than latex. Note the word: less. There are reports of people getting contact dermatitis from fluoroelastomer, but my reaction went way beyond that.

The other possibility was the nickel in the metal on the back of the original Apple Watch. Nickel is known to trouble some people. Of course, I could have been reacting to both.

Either way, the reaction was serious. It took weeks for my skin to return to normal.

Once bitten twice shy

Apple swapped my original review watch for a different model with a leather band. I proceeded with caution. Make that extreme caution. The surgeon warned me not to risk it.

By now my skin and hand were back to normal.

At first, I only wore the second Watch for a few minutes. No visible reaction. The next day I tried it for an hour. There may have been a reaction, I’m not sure. After all, it could have been a psychological response given the earlier rash.

I tried the Watch a few more times and even wore it for a few hours one morning. The experiments were inconclusive. There could have been a rash where the metal touched my wrist, but I wasn’t getting the extreme swelling.

Apple Watch Series 2 material

The new Apple Watch Series 2 on my wrist has a dark grey aluminium case with a ceramic back. That’s about as chemically inert as possible. The band is made of woven nylon so it breaths. None of this bothers my skin.

So, for the first time, I’m getting to give an Apple Watch a proper long term test. Look out for my month-long road test of the Apple Watch Series 2 later this week.