Should You Buy a Smartwatch?

Now that almost every electronics manufacturing company and their dog has come out with a “Smartwatch” with price ranging from $80 to $17,000 (no that is not a typo, it is seventeen thousand US dollars) the obvious question to ask is this just a latest fad or is there useful applications for this gadget. Before I get into the potential useful applications lets define what a “Smartwatch” is and what sets it apart from a conventional watch.

What is a Smartwatch?

A smartwatch is a computerized wristwatch with enhanced functionality beyond what a digital watch offers. These enhanced functionalities include a mobile operating system (OS) that runs the watch (similar to Android OS for Android phones or Apple iOS for iPhone.) Similar to your smartphone, you can download apps on your smartwatch from app stores. Depending on the smartwatch model it will have interfaces such as speaker, microphone, wireless phone, Bluetooth, touch screen display, remote control function etc. In addition there may be sensors for monitoring room and body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, location (GPS), altimeter, compass, accelerometer etc. The smartwatch with its sensors can monitor, record and track the data it is gathering and transfer the data to other computing devices wirelessly for additional processing and storing. Because of LCD display screen, the smartwatch can display time in many different formats that can be selected by the user. It can keep track of appointments and alert you to your upcoming appointment with a gentle buzz on your wrist! The current generations of smartwatches are paired with a smartphone through Bluetooth and allow you to place or receive calls and texts from your smartwatch. Smartwatches are available currently from smartphone makers such as LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony etc. and startup companies such as Pebble. Apple just started taking online orders for its smartwatch “Apple Watch” for delivery on April 24, 2015.

Apple Watch as shown on Apple store.

Samsung Gear™ 2 Neo Mocha Gray as shown Samsung store.

Applications of Smartwatch

Just like your smartphone where you can download apps for practically every application, there should eventually be similar multitude of apps for smartwatches. This is a completely new category hence there may not be very many apps available currently. However, because of new sensors on the smartwatch that can monitor the users body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, location, movement etc. it opens up the door for whole new category of medical, health and fitness applications. You would not need a separate activity tracker such as FitBit, because you can have this functionality from an app running on your smartwatch. With a fitness and training app on your smartphone, you can keep track of your daily exercises, calories burnt etc.

General Applications

Some of the general applications of smartwatch would be hands-free phone functions to answer or place a call on touch of a button on the wristwatch. Calendar alerts and text notification can also be viewed on the smartwatch. GPS and compass functionality can show location and directions. For Muslims, who have to pray five times a day, the smart watch can buzz at appropriate prayer time, automatically determining the location of the user. Smartwatch apps can work as a remote control for TVs, room lighting, thermostat control etc.

Medical and Healthcare Applications

Another application for smartwatch would be the monitoring the elderly who are living alone. You may all have seen the TV ad where an old lady cries “I have fallen down and can’t get up” – well with smart watch she can call 911 from her wrist. And with appropriate app the emergency healthcare professional can accurately receive her blood pressure, temperature and other vital medical data even before they have arrived at her location. Other medical applications would be to record blood pressure for period of time that is more accurate representation of patient’s health. Also, it could use to monitor patient’s blood oxygen level and detect signs of sleep apnea and even buzz the patient to change position and breathe again. Many people die of “silent heart attacks” and smartwatch app which monitors heart heath can send out alert immediately on detecting such event. Immediate alert and response is essential to minimize damage and save life of a patient who is having a heart attack. There are enormous medical potential that is limited only by the imagination of the app developers.

Final Words

In conclusion, I would say that smartwatch technology has the potential to provide much useful functionality that can enhance and simplify the interface to many other devices we interact with every day and even save lives. Not all the functionalities will be available right now in all the smartwatches. You may have to do some research to find which smartwatch offers the functionalities that you want and within the limits of your budget. And if you do not care to be the first one in the block with a new gadget, you may consider waiting for few months before the initial hoopla dies off and there are more choices with more reasonable prices.

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