Decluttering my wrist (or why I sold my Apple Watch)

Simple on-wrist notifications save digging for your iPhone
Some wearables, today

Some wearables, today – image via Heide Forbes Öste on Flickr (Creative Commons)

We’ve cleared house and gotten rid of non-essential wearables. That meant disposing of everything that doesn’t work – or that we couldn’t find a use for.

What’s gone into the recycling
First to go was WTW’s “graveyard” of smart wristbands and spare silicon bands. Among the contents were an original Fitbit Flex, which looks pretty slim these days, pre-dating the trend for chunkier wristbands. But this didn’t stop it from going into the recycling. Because of their batteries, and electronics components, smart wristbands are not intended for landfill but should be taken to a recycling center for proper disposal.

Off went the Flex along with a handful of damaged Fitbit Charge HR models, including the most recent, also known as the one that tipped us over the edge to abandon Fitbit, when the outer silicon outer skin started blistering. In the new-generation device, the strap is separate – but in the original, it’s an integral part of the device.  We’ve had enough of this, so Fitbit has also reached at the end of its useful life in the WTW team.

We also tossed a broken Jawbone UP2, a perfectly functional Fitbug (because nobody wanted to wear it), several generations of NuBands, and the Kickstarter-funded ERI, which was too flawed to ever work properly.

What’s left … for now
Next, it was time for a long look at the only remaining devices – an Adidas miCoach FitSmart, a Withings Activité Pop, a scratched Misfit Shine and an Apple Watch Sport. Although the Activité is getting on for a couple of years old, it’s still the easiest step tracker to live with – it’s waterproof and the battery lasts for several months – longer than the silicon straps, in some cases.

However, the Activité is still pretty useless at tracking sleep, as far as our extensive tests show, and it is much less generous in tracking steps than any other device we’ve ever tried. For your standard 10,000 steps a day, read 7000 on the Activité. It also looks pretty cheap … Over nine months or so of solid wearing, we’d considered upgrading to the luxury Sapphire model a couple of times, but held back because of the flaws: Inside, the watches are technologically identical.

Despite these flaws, we decided to keep it – while the miCoach FitSmart is waiting for the winter, when we’re planning to put it through its paces (forgive the pun) with some cross-country skiing.

As for the Misfit, it’s an incredibly versatile tracker, but let down by its silicon strap – as it has a tendency to pop out during sports. It’s the kind of device that works best when you slip it into the coin pocket of your favorite pair of jeans – but too much hassle and really not enough functionality to wear as a day-to-day smart wristband. We decided to keep it, for now …

That left the Apple Watch – a first-generation 42mm Sport model with a fetching turquoise “look at my Apple Watch” strap, which cost more than EUR 450 just over a year ago.

We had made several attempts to find a viable use case for the Watch, and tried as many apps as possible, all to no avail. Sleep tracking can be ruled out immediately – because the Watch needs nightly charging after anything exceeding very moderate use. It has a built in heart-rate monitor, but this doesn’t run in real-time like the Fitbit Flex HR, so it’s hardly a killer feature. The 42mm model is also quite chunky and we found that the strap got very sweaty during the summer months.

Our main gripe was that instead of being a super-helpful tool for a gadget fan, the Apple Watch turned into an albatross. On a desk day, its constant notification of incoming email and calendar appointments was quickly annoying – and fiddly to turn off (you need to change notifications from mirroring your iPhone to custom – and then you’ll probably forget to change back, and end up missing wrist-borne notifications when you’re not at your desk).

A few days after listing on eBay and our Watch was in the hands of a delighted new owner – who picked it up for a song at EUR 250, or half price. And if you think we’re going to sink that cash into a new, second-generation Watch, think again.

This made us ponder – once again – on the actual use case for an all-rounder smartwatch – not just an Apple device. (We’re excluding the growing number of sports trackers, which are made for a purpose – although, like ski jackets, we’ve noted that people also tend to wear them off-piste.)

Examining the use case for a smartwatch
Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Making calls? Forget it. You’ll have arm-ache after 30 seconds (and look ridiculous)
  • Reading your mail? When are you not going to reach for the bigger screen and convenience of your phone?
  • Calendar appointments? Yes, on a busy day with a full meeting schedule, but nothing a phone can’t do
  • Listening to music while jogging without a phone? Maybe in a parallel universe
  • Discreetly screening incoming mail while in a meeting? No more discreet than looking at a smartphone – and while glancing at a smartphone may be considered rude, pop-up notifications make it more discreet, when left on a desk – while continually glancing at your watch sends a different signal entirely
  • Stargazing? A phone is more practical
  • Use as a payment device? Possibly – if you live in a country where Apple Pay is live
  • Movement reminders? Yes – one of the best apps for Watch, but VERY ANNOYING INDEED when you are trying to create a masterpiece and need to concentrate
  • Travel aid for your flight boarding pass? If you can twist your arm around to the scanner. Most are on the right. Most people wear their watch on their left arm. A phone is more practical

The Apple Watch features we most admired have also now appeared on the iPhone – notably the haptics, which are really excellent on an iPhone 7, plus force touch (iPhone 6S and 7) and the way the screen activates when you raise the device. Apple Health, probably the company’s unsung secret, is also equally available on iPhone.

Our search for next-generation devices has started
The search has started for our next-generation wearable devices. One thing is clear, they will have to put function in front of form – no more cheap silicon wristbands. We’re looking for step and sleep tracking, perhaps movement reminders, and of course the ability to tell the time. In the future, we’ll also be looking to the device to act as a digital key to lock/unlock doors, and simply by having it near a computer, we’d like it to provide two-factor authentication.

At WebSummit next week, as well as moderating a panel on the form factor that consumers are looking for from the next-generation of smartbands, we’ll be on the hunt for inspiration, and for technologies that will finally put the smart in “smartwatch”.

Editor’s note: Goodbye Apple Watch. I’ll sort-of miss you lurking in the corner of my desk.


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