Editorial Notebook

The future on your wrist

Many of you have probably started to notice the presence of new gadgets in the past few years. Thanks to crowdfunding, many new startups have been able to take the leap of faith and test the waters of new technology markets. We have seen many new attachments for microcontrollers aimed at electronics hobbyists and new consumer devices ranging from smart home applications, to little tags to help you find your wallet and keys, to new wearable devices. Out of all the things I see popping up, I find wearable devices to be the biggest emerging market that has started with the help of crowdfunding, with the most-desired wearable device manufactured being the smartwatch.

The real product that opened the door to smartwatches was the Pebble Smartwatch. After starting up their Kickstarter project in April of 2012, Pebble immediately gathered the interests of tens of thousands of people. Raising over $10 million, Pebble was already the first successful smartwatch, not including watches such as the Timex Data Link. Having owned both of these, the Data Link as a teenager and the Pebble now, it’s really amazing how far we have come with technology in just a short few years. While Pebble is still missing some features that the Timex smartwatch had, the other features that Pebble has outweigh some of those losses. With Pebble having an open software development kit, third-party developers are easily able to make applications for the Pebble that fill in for the missing features which were desired upon its release.

In the past year, more and more smartwatches have appeared on the market, with the smartwatches featuring Google’s operating system, Android Wear, making the biggest splashes in the market. As it seems, all large companies are now feeling the urge to jump into this emerging market, like Apple. Apple recently announced the creation of their new smartwatch, Apple Watch. The appearance of this watch is hideous, with its marketing plagued with words like “Digital Crown,” which they claim is “as integral to Apple Watch as the Click Wheel is to iPod.” In my opinion, this is an example of a step back. The crown of a watch, while standard on analog watches for ages, is just unnecessary for a digital watch, especially one with a touch screen. How come we haven’t started putting digital crowns on our smartphones? Perhaps it’s because they have this thing called touch screens!

Google’s approach to the smartwatch is better. With integration of Google Now and multiple design choices for watches, this line of smartwatches sets the groundwork for the next generation of Android Wear based devices. Wear includes most of the features that the Pebble Smartwatch has. The improvements include voice control and a color liquid crystal display, along with a prettier interface. My main qualms with Android Wear devices are the short battery life, the lack of apps, and the smaller development community in comparison to Pebble. I’ve never actually seen any Android Wear devices in the wild, whereas I have seen at least five Pebbles at RPI, just among the small group of people whom I know.

For me, I’ll stick with the Pebble Smartwatch until Android Wear grows in popularity and comes out with a model which can be charged significantly less frequently, as I’m quite content only having to charge my watch once a week. For future smartwatch owners, while the market is still growing, I cannot recommend highly enough that you can still get a Pebble, especially since they are now only $99. If you feel like you don’t need one now and that you could wait for new ones to come out, perhaps smartwatches may not really be for you. I know I won’t leave the house without mine attached to my wrist!

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