Happy New Year! and welcome to the next year of technology: wearables and connected devices. During the last half of 2014 I’m sure you read many, many blog postings, tweets and news posts regarding wearable technology and connected devices.
If you were at CES 2014 last year then you were one of the lucky people to see some of upcoming wearable technology hands-on. Everything from Samsung’s Gear, Apple’s Watch, Google Glass, FitBit’s new Charge devices to Microsoft’s shocking entry into fitness tech. It’s a whirl-wind of step counting, calorie tracking, sleep analysis, wireless, turn-your-thermostat-on-and-coffee-maker-off-all-from-desk-chair-at-work-world that is starting to get competitive.
Over the past four months I have gotten my feet wet in this wearable, connected-device world through activity or fitness tracking devices. First with a FitBit Flex, then a Misfit Flash, FitBit Charge and most recently Garmin’s Vivosmart. It’s an affordable way, $99 to $180, to introduce yourself and play in a new market, a new tech-trend that isn’t on the higher-end price range of more sophisticated wearables like Samsung’s Gear Neo, Apple’s Watch, Moto 360 or Pebble.
Whether it’s activity tracking, turning on and off lights from another city or extending the features of your current smartphone, the first question you should ask yourself is: What is my goal? This is going to help you decide what kind of wearable or connected device will work best.
If your goal is wanting to turn up the heat in the house on a colder than usual day or not have to worry about unlocking your front door with your hands full of grocery bags, then you will be searching for a connected device versus a wearable. Nest or Insteon offer some great Wi-Fi thermostats and Lockitron or Danalock have some easy ways to convert your existing deadbolt into a wireless lock using Bluetooth. So as long as you have your phone, you will have a way to unlock your front door, as well as turn up the heat or cool down AC on a hot day. There are also Wi-fi enabled light bulbs and electrical switches becoming available. Imagine having the control to turn on your family room TV in Sacramento, California from Paris, France. Why? Why not.
However, maybe your goal is that you want to use tech to help you become more active? or maybe shed a few of those holiday pounds? A basic activity tracking wearable device, like Fitbit’s Flex, Jawbone’s Up24 or Garmin’s Vivofit will track steps and report calorie burn, providing you with daily/weekly/monthly graphs and charts helping you to attain your goal. Fitbit takes it a step further providing a food diary within its mobile app. Each device has it’s own unique strategy (or “science” in Fitbit’s case) so take the time to read the reviews on Amazon as well as download the device’s software and look at it. Do your research, because even though activity trackers all basically do the same thing -step counters- there are major feature differences and gaps in mobile software, which you may or may not want or discover the perfect device -band wise- but the software is lacking. This I feel is the case for the sexy and expensive Jaybird Reign. Incredibly well made and designed band, but trips itself up in half-baked software, making it really hard to invest $200 on an activity tracker that can’t show you any stats from the previous day or have a web based interface or online community. But, it does have some unique features like Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and focuses less on calorie intake and burn and more on just being active and using its machine intelligence (data the device collects) to help you be better at the fitness you love to do and predicting the days you will be best at it.
Now, if you want apps, a calendar, send/receive calls and texts then you have just leveled-up your requirements and may consider a smart-watch. Although some fitness bands like Microsoft’s fitband, Fitbit’s upcoming Surge and Garmin’s Vivosmart also provide “smart-notifications”, or they display alerts for calls, texts and notifications usually on a small OLED display; however, this accomplished with limitations and that’s where the smart-watch adds functionality.
Most of these smart-watch devices will allow you answer a call from your wrist, as well as send a text using your voice. They also count steps, stairs and distances like activity trackers, appealing to a high-level of health goals but at the end of the day of trying to be that all-in-one wearable that does everything; okay. This may not be your cup of tea, and ultimately end up disappointing you because most smart-watches are still tightly coupled with having their master (the phone) nearby in order to reasonably work as advertised, which in my opinion almost defeats their purpose. If I am spending $349 on an Apple Watch it needs to have the following tech in: activity tracker functions, GPS, offline music playback, touch screen, waterproof (not resistant), somewhat ruggedized, but work without requiring that my phone has to be 50 feet from the watch.
There is one problem that all wearables whether smart-watches or activity trackers share is the lack of adequate or expandable device memory for offline features like playing music, voicemail and data storage that keeps our phone tethered to us in circumstances, like running, swimming, biking, or just a big house, where the purpose of having a wearable device is to simplify your tech for the task at hand.
So what’s the answer? Use the tool that does the job and does it well. Would you use a screw driver to drive a nail into a piece of wood? I think you understand what I am getting to and can use other similar analogies to make a great decision on what kind of wearable or connected device that will best fit your needs and your lifestyle.