Simply sitting on your wrist doesn't make a smartwatch a watch

It should be clear as day that the primary function of a smartwatch is very different to that of a conventional watch. After all, both smartwatches and their regular counterparts tell the time.

Among his enviable qualities, of which he had many, my grandfather was a great stickler for punctuality.

To him, 8 o’clock meant 8.00 am — not 8.15, not 7.45 and certainly not 8.30.

His companion, for as far back as I can remember, in this habit cultivated over a lifetime was an HMT wristwatch with a stainless steel watch band and a metal band clasp that had a distinctively attention-grabbing clicking sound when it was snapped into place.

The watch had one purpose — telling the time.

And when it came to upkeep, it was as low-maintenance as they come. Beyond winding it up every so often and remembering not to submerge it into water, there was literally nothing else the watch needed — none of this ‘replace battery’, ‘update OS’ or ‘replacement charger cable’ business.

As a fond personal memory as well as a reminder of the importance he gave to punctuality, that watch sits in the display case of my living room.

Fast-forward to the present day — nearly nine years since my grandfather’s passing — and the space occupied by a watch has changed, albeit to an extent, to the point where telling the time is merely a function, rather than the function.

To an extent because although the Swiss watch industry experienced its largest drop in exports in seven years, the conventional watch industry doesn’t have reason to panic just yet. This is particularly so in light of this week’s announcement that the newly-unveiled Android Wear 2.0 OS for smartwatches will not be arriving on a few models including the original Moto 360 and the LG G watch.

But first, a bit of background is required.

The first generation Moto 360 was announced in March 2014 and released in the US in September that year. That the device will not be receiving further OS updates was (probably) for its owners, enraging at first. Then, fairly disappointing, maybe even a little depressing. Now with all that out of the way, there should be a realisation that this shouldn’t really have come as a huge surprise.

If anything, this should make you rethink two things:

1) What is the actual function of a smartwatch?

2) Do you really need a smartwatch?

For starters, it should be clear as day that the primary function of a smartwatch is very different to that of a conventional watch. After all, both smartwatches and their regular counterparts tell the time.

It’s the fact that your (slightly above) average smartwatch can notify you about calls, messages, emails and alerts your phone is receiving, let you read emails and watch videos, track your fitness levels and in most situations, generally reduce your usage of your phone that makes it a smart watch. It is this change that has seen the idea of a watch go from being a timekeeping apparatus to a device, a gadget or a gizmo.

With that in mind, a smartwatch’s primary function is to reduce the time you spend on your phone.

A secondary function involves the onboard sensors — heart monitors, gyroscopes, GPS and the like — that allows you to pinpoint where you are and how you are. (Note: For some users, this is the primary purpose, but we’re speaking in general terms here).

Thirdly, its purpose is to be a fashion accessory. Why else would smartwatch manufacturers provide a variety of colours, designs, straps and materials for customisation purposes?

Let’s move swiftly along from what it is to what it isn’t.

There’s obviously the aforementioned ‘low-maintenance’ point, in that these are decidedly not low-maintenance and require plenty of care to ensure they remain functional. Even a Pebble can only go a maximum of nine or 10 days without needing a charge. And with each smartwatch having its own unique style of charger cable, may some sort of higher power be with you if you misplace or damage yours

Next, smartwatches are not designed to be family heirlooms or precious artefacts handed down from generation to generation. That said, the only auction a smartwatch is likely to see is one on eBay where a user is trying to offload a perfectly functional, but obsolete device at a significantly lower-than-normal price.

This notion of obsolescence merits further examination.

Going back to the Moto 360 example, if it’s a regular and long-lasting stream of OS updates you are after, then smartwatches are definitely not for you. Even smartphones barely enjoy this sort of support for more than two to three years. Overall, iPhones tend to enjoy updates for longer than Android phones do. This is to be expected since there is only one OEM that develops Apple phones, while there are tonnes that develop Android devices — and so have different timeframes when deciding when a particular model needs to be cut off.

The broader lesson here is that with smartphones turning increasingly disposable — especially if you simply must have the latest OS, it is naïve not to expect smartwatches to be much the same.

But is this really a bad thing?

A smartwatch is essentially a wrist-bound companion to your smartphone. That it shows the time is quite possibly just an aspect of marketing.

The time factor could be linked to the fact that most people traditionally associate things strapped around the wrist — that are not fashion accessories or articles of faith — with timekeeping devices.

Think about it. Are you more likely to buy something being sold as a smartwatch or as a wearable minicomputer-cum-notifier?

This brings us neatly to the second issue: Do you really need a smartwatch?

That’s for you to decide, but if it’s primarily punctuality you desire, it might not be a bad idea to hang on to that conventional watch of yours.

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