I was recently asked to speak at a tech conference, ITEN Wired, in Pensacola. One of the “tracks” for the daily sessions was on “Wearables,” and I was asked to give a talk about the current state of wearables today. As an all-around tech-geek who loves this kind of stuff, I jumped at the chance to talk about it. I had a great time at the conference, and after my session I thought it might be a good idea to write up my notes into a blog post with my thoughts.
As humans, we're a very curious species… We like data! The most important piece of data we can measure is the passage of time. Early astronomers watched the sun come up, go across the sky, and go down on the other side. They got tired of doing that, so they called it a day. (Ba-dum PSH!) Soon we invented a way to keep track of time; the sundial. Unfortunately, sundials aren’t very portable, so next we invented clocks. Clocks were big, cumbersome things, but over time they got smaller and smaller until we were able to fit them in our pockets, long before there were hipsters doing it ironically. Then, in World War 1, soldiers figured out it was a pain to fish a pocket watch out of a jacket to coordinate attacks, so some bright spark in a muddy trench decided to lash the watch to his wrist. This became very popular, and spilled over to civilian life, and the wearables revolution was born. Not long after that, digital watches were invented, and then we even crammed a calculator into the watch, and Marty McFly flew back to 1955 with one. Now, these wearables are doing more and more, and feeding us much more data than just how long it’s going to be before the sun falls off the edge of the earth. Current wearables fall into three categories; Fitness/Activity Trackers, Smart Watches and everything else.
Fitness trackers have one great advantage: they’re cheap! Maybe not as cheap as a regular digital watch, but you may be surprised at what a great deal you can get. For instance, the Xiaomi Mi Band is only $13, and it has a battery that lasts for 30 days on a single charge, and it tracks your steps and sleep, and has smart alarms the wake you by gently vibrating on your wrist. In fact, those seem to be the basic features of Fitness Trackers; track the steps you take in a day and track your sleep habits. These data are important, because they help us lead healthier lives. It’s been said that you can’t improve what you don’t measure, and I think many of us would be surprised at how little we move around throughout the day, and at how little sleep we’re actually getting on average. Generally, the common consensus is that you should shoot to walk at least 10,000 steps per day, and get about 8 hours of sleep per night. If you work at a desk and have a Netflix subscription, there’s a good chance you’re not hitting either of these goals.
Fitness trackers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most of them either clip to your clothing or wrap around your wrist. They’re not very smart, they’re just an accelerometer with a Bluetooth connection to your phone. And most of them don’t even have a display on them, although some do, and show you the time as well as your step count. Of course, like most things, the more you're willing to pay, the more features you'll get, and some of them even track various sporting activities you might engage in. The biggest name in the Fitness Tracker market is Fitbit (of course), and their devices range from under $100 to around $150, depending on the features you get. Also, Garmin makes a number of Fitness Tracker devices. They have a long history of making the industry-standard GPS watches for runners, cyclists and swimmers, so this is a natural move for Garmin. And last, but not least, Jawbone progressed from making Bluetooth headphones and speakers to Fitness Trackers, namely the Up, which is now in its fourth generation and can even test your hydration levels by the salinity of your sweat!
There is a large selection of Smart Watches on the market, and it’s growing all the time! In fact, the current trend of Smart Watches is bringing wristwatch-wearing back into fashion. Smart Watches can be thought of as the next evolution of Fitness Trackers. Prices range from $100 to $17,000, and the difference is usually the features they offer, and the materials they’re made of. All Smart Watches measure step and sleep tracking, but they also add apps and notifications to their repertoire. Additionally, they usually have other sensors and radios built in, e.g. integrated heart rate monitors, GPS, Wi-Fi, UV sensors, NFC payments, etc. It’s important to remember that in the current state of wearables, even Smart Watches are really just an extension of your Smart Phone, and can’t do too much by themselves.
So how do you choose a Smart Watch? The best thing to do is to match it to your phone. If you use a Windows Phone, the Microsoft Band is a great choice. It has Cortana integration, built-in heart rate monitoring, GPS and it looks nice. If you are an Android user, it’s best to stick with an Android Wear watch. There are many to choose from; Samsung offer several models, LG and Asus both have popular offerings, but the Moto360 is probably the most popular Android Wear watch on the market. You might also consider a Pebble Steel. While not an Android smart watch, per se, it does integrate well with both Android and iOS, and because of its e-ink screen, a single charge can last up to a week, as opposed to the usual day-long battery of most Smart Watches. And if you have an iPhone, then the Apple Watch is probably the best choice for you, because it integrates with the entire Apple ecosystem so well.
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