What Apple Must Fix To Make An iWatch That Works

Can Apple’s new wearable device fix all these problems?

What Apple Must Fix To Make An iWatch That Works
[Photo: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns]

I’ve been using several different smartwatches over the past year. And what I’ve learned is that they are all great–at first. But after using them for an extended period of time, the simple frustrations that often get overlooked by early adopters become a plague of problems.

I keep pretending the current smartwatch market is fine because it is progressing somewhat. But now I’m a little scared. Because Apple just might announce a smartwatch at its September 9th event. And if the company that made the modern smartphone appeal to the mass market can’t get wearables right, it may stall the entire sector for years to come.

Here are the problems with the existing crop of smart watches which I’m looking to see if Apple can address, either directly or indirectly, when they take the wraps off their iWearable.

Connecting A Watch To A Phone

After receiving a review version of the Pebble when it was first released, I ended up buying my own. It was new and different, sparking interest from most people who noticed it, but recently I’ve stopped wearing it because keeping it connected to my iPhone is so frustrating.


The basics like incoming calls and music controls usually work consistently, but all other notifications are heavily unreliable–even with the latest updates installed. After the Pebble asking to re-pair too many times, and being constantly unsure whether I’ve received notifications, I’m to the point of giving up on it.

Apple’s iWatch needs to be 100% rock-solid making and keeping a connection. If you can’t depend on it every time then it becomes useless.

Notifications

Both Pebble and Android Wear have an annoyance problem. I want glance-able notifications on my wrist, especially when driving or when my phone’s across the room, but I don’t want to have to manually manage them.


Google Now’s predictive notifications are an intriguing start, but they’re wildly sporadic and will likely remain so for a while. Also, has your Pebble ever disconnected and then reconnected? Then you know what it’s like to get battered with wrist-numbing buzzing.

Notifications on a smartwatch are both its destiny and its curse. Apple’s smartwatch apps will likely be related to iOS 8’s new notification center widgets. Meaning, developers will have to rework existing apps slightly, but not completely.

Setup

The LG G watch I received was stuck in demo mode when it came out of its box. It took a few hours to get it fully charged and finally figure out how to get it reset. It was extremely frustrating for something I wanted to use. This wouldn’t fly for someone on the fence about the device.


On several occasions I’ve had to restore and re-set up my Pebble watch. It doesn’t take too long, but every time it happens it constitutes a severe look at whether the device is worth the work.

The setup for wearables should be instantaneous. Apple’s setup is rumored to include NFC so that you touch the watch to the phone and it’s connected in a matter of seconds.

Buttons/UI

Touch isn’t good with Android Wear watches, but Pebble’s four protruding physical buttons aren’t great either.

Using the Pebble to control music playback shows the limitation of physical buttons on a watch. By default the top and bottom buttons on the right-hand side control skipping forward and back. The middle one is play/pause.


You couldn’t control the volume out of the box until a recent software update. But now to change the volume you have to press and hold the middle button until the top and bottom buttons change to volume indicators. It’s unintuitive, likely undiscovered for most.

The user interface of future watches needs to make sense on a small screen. Something powerful, but incredibly simple. Apple’s new wearable will be the next-generation iPod–especially replacing the iPod Nano. It is probably square with rounded edges and about the thickness of two quarters stacked on top of each other.

Wrist Straps

None of the wrist straps on the current smart watches are very comfortable. Presumably companies are focusing on the actual electronics, which means the look and comfort of the wrist strap is a second thought.


It is nice that some like Pebble and LG allow the straps to be swapped out with other standard watch straps, but it’d be nice if they put the same level of attention to the the non-electronic elements in the first place.

Third-party customization is great, but the shipping wrist strap needs to be good too. It would be ideal if Apple’s token-like device will be wearable anywhere–wrist, around the neck, on your waist, et cetera. Third-parties could also capitalize on accessories such as necklaces, watch bands, clips, and more. Think GoPro and all its different clips to expand its uses.

Battery Life

Anything measured in hours is too short. Here’s a list of the current advertised battery life for several wearables.

  • LG G watch: “All day”
  • Samsung Gear Live: “All day”
  • Nike Fuel Band: 4 days
  • Fitbit Flex: 5 days
  • Pebble: 5-7 days
  • Jawbone UP24: 7 days
  • Jawbone UP: 10 days

Prediction: Apple’s offering will measure battery life in days, possibly weeks.

Charging

The obvious option for being able to charge a smartwatch would be to use the same cable your phone uses. But that probably makes the device bulkier than it needs to be.


Nike’s Fuel band integrates the charging cable into the wristband in a useful way, except it limits the customization of switching out different wrist straps.

After misplacing Pebble’s propriety cable one too many times, wireless charging seems like the best bet. But again, you still have to have multiple charging stations or keep track of one.

The way Apple decides to have the device charge will be one of the most telling items for where they placed its priorities for version one. If the device is fashion first, expect the method of charging to be extremely clever. If the device is all function, expect charging to just be as clean looking as possible.

Health Monitoring

Counting steps is over-rated. Raw data isn’t cool enough for kids, and it won’t sell devices at iPod levels.


The integrated heart rate monitor is one of the only technical specs that differentiates Samsung’s Gear Live from LG’s G watch. I don’t think it’s enough to sway buyers over the look and feel aspect.

HealthKit seems like a slow-burn feature. Apple’s device ought to track steps initially and eventually transform that into useable data such as recommendations for future activities.

It’s Apple’s Turn

I think Apple realized with the square Nano a few years back that they were onto something. Instead of developing it in the public eye, however, the company completely changed the design the next year.

As sales of dedicated music players continue to decline it makes sense that the iPod line would transition into this new wearable category. Hey, Apple may even call it, “the new iPod.”

By all accounts it seems that we’ll see Apple’s wearable device, but the big question becomes: When can we finally use it?

About the author

Tyler Hayes is a Southern California native, early technology adopter, and music enthusiast.

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