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6 fatal flaws of smartwatches for health users

image of various smartwatches to support health tracking

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bestboyzde/

So the Apple watch finally came out, and predictably there was a tsunami of media attention with some fairly immoderate comments about it ‘revolutionising healthcare’ along with quite a few sceptical voices along the lines of ‘how useful is this really?’ From an mHealth point of view the features seemed to be a) activity tracker b) activity tracking app c) heart rate monitor – pretty standard functions these days.

For me the Apple watch sums up all that is flawed about ‘smartwatches’ currently:

  1. They have to be tethered to a smartphone  This is perhaps the biggest flaw – they’re all useless without another expensive device, which also needs to be kept charged, to be of any use. To add insult to injury, they are usually manufacturer specific too – so it’s an iPhone for an Apple watch, a Samsung Galaxy for a Samsung watch etc. A few like Pebble at least try to go cross-platform, but you still need the phone. So if the phone is the real brains of the operation, why do I need the watch?
  2. Battery life I am already overwhelmed with devices that need daily or more charging. Why do I need another one to worry about? In the case of the Apple watch it seems almost insane to have a device that I would like to wear all the time but I have to leave it off my wrist to charge 6 hours in every 24. This factor alone will lead to massive abandonment after a while.
  3. They’re not useful enough Maybe the app makers will find a way to change this, and Apple are probably best placed to encourage that creative ecosystem. But right now to give me a very small display and throw in activity tracking and heart rate just isn’t that interesting.
  4. Niche is a much better way to go  I think the problem here may be that the generalist smartwatches are trying to be all things to all men – as opposed to a really purposeful niche wearable like the Limmex smartwatch. This is designed as an emergency personal locator and safety alarm, includes GPS and a fully functioning phone, the battery lasts for months – and it looks nice because it’s designed in Switzerland.
  5. The young don’t wear wristwatches  I don’t know if anyone in the marketing or strategy departments of the major electronics makers has noticed that people below the age of 30 don’t actually wear watches these days? They use their phones to tell the time (if they even bother to worry about time). I asked my own daughters and their friends about this phenomenon and it was a simple as that – wearing a watch to tell the time is for an ‘older’ generation (they meant me). The only time they wear a watch is as a fashion accessory when going out, which brings me to point 6
  6. They only work as a fashion item  The part that Apple seem to have judged correctly is that sales of these devices are currently driven by fashion and love of bling – hence the high-end versions costing $10K simply because they’re gold-plated, with no additional functionality. There’s a problem here though – fashion is highly transient, and someone else will always come along and become more fashionable. Right now I’d say the Apple watch is rather ‘geek fashion’, whereas something like the Huawei smartwatch is more classic looking, but will either of them retain their value in a few years’ time?

Emperor’s new clothes?

Please note that I have nothing against Apple per se – I think they just epitomise the general failings of the ‘general’ smartwatch. It’s only those designed with a specific purpose, executed well, that look to have sustainability.

So what do you think about smartwatches for mHealth – a real breakthrough or just ‘Emperor’s new clothes’? I’d love to hear your views.

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