It seems like everyone is wearing some sort of fitness tracker or smart watch these days. Sitting in a meeting or at a restaurant, you’ll see people look at their watches like they’re busy to get somewhere else, when in reality, they’re just looking at their incoming emails, text messages or phone calls and deciding which ones to answer, which to leave until later. Conversations tend to revolve around how many steps you got compared to the next guy, how many hours you slept really well and whether or not you can get a whole day out of your wearable. Wasn’t it just yesterday you were talking about having a digital watch or an analog one? What’s the big deal?
There are three main types of wearable technology (not including Google Glass and other one-offs): Android, Apple and stand-alone fitness trackers. Fitness trackers are as advertised, more or less. They work as a pedometer, tracking your steps. They’ll track your sleep and whether or not you’re up several times throughout the night. They’ll track your heart rate. They’ll keep a history of your health on any given day and let you see how you’re doing from a fitness standpoint. Some also include a digital clock, giving you timer, stopwatch and alarm options as well. Some will fit into a watch band, others hang from your belt or in a necklace.
The Apple smart watch comes in two types – one that’s tied to your phone, lets you access phone apps and smart watch apps, reply to texts and see a preview of your email; it also shows who’s calling you and gives you the option to answer on your phone or reject the call. The other type gives you the ability to answer the phone right from your watch and works on your Broadband network; feels more like “Get Smart” than “Star Trek.” Of course, the Apple smart watches only work with iPhones and other Apple devices.
Android smart watches work much the same way as the Apple watch, depending on the model. They are more flexible in that they’ll work with anything using the Android operating system. Several manufacturers offer everything from rose gold smart watches that actually look like a watch, hiding the apps and notifications behind a standard-looking AMOLED clock face, to the simpler models that look like fitness trackers with added access to text messages, email previews and the ability to accept or reject calls on your phone. The higher-end Android smart watches work similarly to the Apple smart watch, allowing you to answer calls on your watch as an extension of your phone.
If you don’t have a wearable or have never used one, it can be a real people-watching opportunity. Sam and his wife were at the home of some friends who were very proud of their smart watches. After dinner, the friends were teasing Sam and his wife about their not having wearables. As they were showing how the smart watches work, the husband realized he needed only about 100 steps before he hit his target and the wife needed about 50. They started running around the house like crazy people to get the steps they needed and only then were they ready to sit down and actually talk.
Leanna, a marketing executive in Cincinnati, tells of being at a meeting and hearing buzzing coming from either side of her. As the buzz was heard, those sitting next to her would jump a bit and look at their watches. Finally, Leanna was so distracted, she said to the coworker on her left, “Do you have another appointment you need to get to?” Her coworker assured her he was in the meeting 100-percent and only was being alerted to emails he was receiving.
There’s no question wearables have helped more people increase their exercise. Ann, an 80-year-old Brit living in Boston, had hip replacement surgery and has been using her fitness tracker to help her walk more, which has meant she’s had less difficulty adjusting to the replacement hip. Others have given fitness trackers to their kids and whole families enter into competition with one another as to who can walk the most steps.
One of the issues smart watch and wearable owners are finding is that once they buy one, the novelty fades. You might spend two or three weeks really digging into your exercise and sleep routines and then, it starts to wear thin. If you have a smart watch, you’ll use it more because it does more than just track your health, but it can be incredibly distracting if you’re trying to get something done or pay attention at a movie. There’s nothing worse than sitting next to someone with a vibrating smart watch that goes off in the middle of a movie, with the watch face lighting up as much as a cell phone would.
Should you get a smart watch or wearable? Only you can decide, but here are a few questions to ask yourself before you spend what can be big bucks:
- What’s your goal for having a wearable – fitness only or added technology?
- What’s your budget?
- Android or Apple operating system?
- Do you need to increase the amount you move during the day or keep in touch while you’re exercising?
- If you’re out and about, do you need to stay connected to your email, texts and calls or are you looking to get away from all that?
- What’s your budget?
- Are you looking at wearables for status, because you’re a techie or you just want the basics?
Answering these questions will help you make the decision on which type of wearable you are more likely to be satisfied with. Remember, too – most wearables, whether they’re fitness trackers or smart watches, connect to your phone and record the information in an app there, so you have history and can track for yourself what you’re doing.
Is a fitness tracker or smart watch for you? What will they look like five years from now? We can only guess but it’s fun to watch! (pun intended) For more information about which smart watches and fitness trackers are the best and for comparisons, check out Consumer Reports’ buying guide.