SmartWhat? Smartwatch. Just, why?

PHOTO: @media2006 geek tattoosFlickr/Francis Storr
@media2006 geek tattoos


Smartphones, smart socks, smart skin. It’s a world where we’re increasingly decked out in “smart” stuff, which can leave us feeling decidedly, um, NOT.

Watches have been pretty hi-tech for some time now (mechanical watches that are self-winding, watches that are solar powered, etc.) so what differentiates the smartwatches from these current watches?

Well, in terms of what the brands that make them are saying, it’s all about connectivity. Basically this means you’re wearing a portable connection on your wrist at all times, and this is what makes it smart.

It’s what took cellphones from calling bricks into webtastic devices, and now the wrist has its own version. Sure, you could y’know, use your PHONE, rather than laboriously navigate a mini wrist menu of apps and camera accessories, but smartwatches are considered to be an add-on to a cellphone, and not meant to stand on their own.

While smartwatches still lack an Oxford dictionary definition (unlike selfies for example) the premise itself is pretty simple. Using Bluetooth or WiFi, the watches pair with your cellphone/tablet to provide easy access to calls, messages, and offer a portable camera and a slew of apps (depending on the model).

They also tell the time.

So what’s the point? This in and of itself is debatable. We’re a generation that is used to permanent web access, and a wristwatch seems like a clunky way to provide this, considering the sleek beauty and ease of use of smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Watches are considered adornments nowadays, and the release of a slew of Smartwatches actually takes the fashion world back 20 years, to chunky oversized devices that aren’t streamlined or stylish. Sure, the just announced Samsung Galaxy Gear comes in six colors and Sony has previously partnered with the London College of Fashion on designs for its Smartwatch. But considering we have watches with carbon coatings and scratch-resistant sapphire crystals this really doesn’t cut it.

So last season.

But smartwatches are not something to discount so easily.

Angela McIntyre, an analyst with Gartner, tells USA Today that people should pay attention. “The smartwatch is the first step in a wearable computer trend and will serve as the "hub" for other smart devices we wear. Heart-rate monitors, smartglasses, all could be operated through the smartwatch.”

So, what’s the latest in the SmartWhat world?

The big thing is the idea of tracking, and health. Consider the wrist as the next-gen in big changes in how we use our bodies and brains. This is the year where mobile security scares are at the forefront of people’s minds (hello Snowden). We’ve all had to deal with how technology is monitoring us, and how companies use the data from this to sell us stuff. There have been changes to the FTC’s COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act ) to try and protect children from this, and in general we’re getting more secure.. or more paranoid.

But moving tech onto the wrist takes people into a world where they are actively- and consensually- providing full time tracking access, and with this, comes a whole lot of data. Sure, a large percentage of Americans might take their cellphone to the restroom, but smartwatches will literally go everywhere with everyone.

The kind of data these can capture is a little boggling.

The basics: GPS, which can provide location data instantly - think of all those boyfriend-tracking-app lovers who would enjoy this. There’s also health capture, as smart sensors can already read things like heart rate and pulse, etc from your wrist. Examples are Suunto and Omron, two companies that specialize in “sports watches” and adding smartwatch capabilities takes these up a notch.

Further steps could be fully turning smartwatches into integrated medical systems. For example, take the GlucoWatch Biographer which reads glucose levels and is helpful for diabetics who need constant monitoring.

"The underside of the watch has a membrane that can suck interstitial fluid through the skin,” Dr. Guenther Boden told WebMD.

Imagine a world where your smartwatch monitored your glucose level and independently contacted your doctor or called an ambulance based on its readings? It might also alert you via text to seek help, and could allow your loved ones to track your location. Creepy? Yes, a little, but potentially life saving and helpful. With potential assets like this, you can forgive the smartwatches for being less than pretty.

Well, maybe.

“The people who wear watches in 2013 don't need to wear watches,” said Andrew Nusca from ZDnet. “The challenge for the technology industry as it takes further steps into the wearables market is that it must compete in a market that is no longer defined primarily by function.“

We just want everything nowadays.

So, the future of smartwatches is still to be decided. The big Contenders in the smartwatch game are Apple’s iWatch, Samsung Galaxy Gear, Sony’s SmartWatch 2, and Qualcomm’s Toq.

With these brands trying their best to pocket your paycheck we’re going to see some interesting competition and a battle for showcasing innovative features. That can only be a good thing for us, as the more brands involved means we’ll get some of the assets that would make these watches actually valuable to us.

Let the smartwatch battle commence!