Monday, April 4, 2016

Smart watches two biggest problems

Prior to purchasing my Pebble Time I hadn't worn a watch in almost a decade. I stopped wearing a watch after breaking several in day to day activities. While it was less convenient to look at my phone for the time, it was better then shelling out hundreds for a new watch every couple of years.

The Pebble Time was the first smart watch that actually made me want to wear a watch again. Not because it was a great fashion accessory, but because I hoped it would fill a couple gaps of convenience for me. I really liked the idea of being able to respond to text messages via voice, being able to see my calendar and get reminders without having to pull out my phone, and being able to do a variety of small tasks like checking the arrival of the next bus.

The input problem

Reading messages, calendars, activity tracking, and other types of small time bound information like sports scores and bus schedules is pretty easy and convenient on a smart watch.  But inputting information is incredibly difficult. There are three main ways to input information and all three of them suck. There's canned phrases, voice dictation, and keyboard input.

Given the small size of the smartwatch input, the only effective keyboards I've seen are T9 style. Anyone who remembers features phones remembers what it's like sending a text on a T9 keyboard. It's difficult and time consuming. A full keyboard on a smart watch is likely a non-starter unless someone can figure out how to make Swype like functionality useful on such a small screen. The only way I can see a keyboard being useful on a smartwatch is for it to learn how I talk and to predict what I'm going to say.

Voice dictation on a smartwatch isn't everything I thought it would be. There are times when it's incredibly useful but more often than not, it's just not convenient to dictate via voice. It's super frustrating when you dictate a long sentence and it gets 99% of what you said but changes some crucial word or phrase such that the entire dictation is meaningless. This happens often enough to make me not trust that it's going to be correct. Another problem with voice dictation is that often your surroundings aren't conducive to you being able to dictate via voice. A good example is when standing in line at the coffee shop or riding on an elevator. Speaking into your wrist in these situations just feels awkward. Whatever I'm trying to do, whether it's set a reminder or send a text message, the conversation feels too intimate for me to be saying out loud. It's also just weird to be talking into your wrist and not to another person.

This leaves canned phrases. I don't know about you but I can't seem to narrow down all the things I'm going to need to say at some point in the future to 4-5 canned phrases. It would be useful if the watch could predict what I wanted to say based on previous conversations. interactions, or time of day. For example, everyday when I'm leaving work (between 5-6:30pm) I send my wife a text saying I'm packing up. The likelihood of that being what I want to send in that time-frame Mon-Fri is pretty high. It would be nice if my watch allowed me, with one click, to send that message. For everything else, I've found that what I want to say is so context specific that canned phrases just aren't useful. The only thing I can think of that may work would be if the companion phone app was monitoring everything I sent and building a profile and creating dynamic canned phrases. But, that's just creepy.

The battery problem

The battery life on the Pebble Time is really good. I only have to charge my watch once a week. But even that feel too often. I couldn't imagine what it's like to own an Android or Apple watch where you have to charge it everyday. Smart watches need to perfect wireless charging.  I'd be more than happy to have a wireless charger setup at my desk at work and near my couch at home. I'm in both these locations often enough that my watch should be able to keep a charge indefinitely. I should not have to think about taking off my watch and charging it.

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