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Feb 3, 2015

A Step Too Far?

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A strange thing happened to me today: I received the latest and greatest in wearables in the mail and, after opening the box and rifling through the various bits and pieces, I realized that I was not going to use the product at all. That’s pretty unusual for me: I’m typically right up there at the front of the line, willing to try anything; at least for a short while, but not this product.

What makes things stranger is that the new device does everything that I need: it tracks steps, heart rate, GPS and more. All of this would be really valuable as I head off on vacation to windsurf for a week. Just last year I was busy tracking some of the above stats wearing multiple products so this device should be a no brainer as a much simpler solution.

After some quick self-analysis, I think the decision is balanced between the emotional and the practical.

Looking at the practical aspect, the data tracked by this particular device is not compatible with my current stepping ecosystem and, after having switched several times in the past year, I’m ready to settle down with one. The barrier is far, far higher now for any new device looking to gain time on my wrist. While I’m sure that I could pull in most of the data into iHealth, or one of the other unified apps, I have not yet found one that is as good as the ecosystem that I am part of, at least for me.

The more emotional side of the decision comes with the form factor of the device. It looks more like a watch – heck, it IS a watch to all intent and purpose – than my current activity tracker. And I’m just not ready to wear a clunky watch again. Not yet. Having abandoned that form factor quite a few years ago, putting one back on feels strange, and it’s cumbersome and heavy. Logically, the device is none of those things: it’s actually pretty elegant, but is still far larger than my activity tracker.

Perhaps if it did fit with my current ecosystem, I could justify sticking it on as I could wear it only for the windsurfing times when I need GPS and heart rate, and swap out for the smaller tracker the rest of the time. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before and is, I believe, fundamental to the success of the “sports watch” evolution of activity trackers. But that’s not necessarily the way the majority of the market is moving. Rather, the industry is rapidly recreating the watch, making it smarter in different ways (sports watches, elegant notifiers or full-blown smart watches) in the belief that we all want – or need – a watch once more.

I’m not convinced. By breaking some of this functionality up into separate devices I can typically get to a better solution for specific types of activity. Going back to my windsurfing addiction, for a minute, I would be better served by Xensr’s GPS device that sits on the board than by wearing one myself. By attaching to the board, I can understand the angle, the height above water and so much more that is relevant to the sport. And while that may seem like an extreme example, there are many other sports that need a closer type of sensor than one that is “just” on the wrist. Heart rate sensors in headphones come to mind as a perfect example of leveraging devices one already wears (for running perhaps) rather than adding bulkier technology to the wrist.

But I suspect that in general, I may be in the minority. Apple’s planned launch of the Watch in April has already set a path that others are following (or preceding Apple on) and we can expect many more large, sensor-packed, wrist watches in the near future.



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