Wearable Tech: Innovation or Gimmick?

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on October 3, 2014, Buying Guides

Wearable tech is the latest thing in the mobile world, and the release of Apple’s new Watch has legitimised the fad. Sure, other companies have produced wearable gadgets, but once Apple jumps on board, you know that something’s for real. But is wearable tech really necessary, or is it all just a gimmick? That’s what we’re here to find out. So, if you’re thinking about investing in an Apple Watch, or any other wearable gadget for that matter, read on to find out what you’re getting yourself in for.

What Are We Talking About?

Let’s start with a brief intro to wearable tech. The vast majority of these devices are either watches or bracelets. You stick them on your wrist and they communicate with your mobile phone to give you alerts, messages and all kinds of other funky stuff. The Apple Watch is just the latest in a line of releases, which has seen both Samsung and LG release smart watches, as well as a host of other companies launching wearable gadgets.

But What Do They Do?!

The thought of wearing your communication device around your wrist might bring memories of childhood cartoon spies to mind, but the truth is that wearable tech hasn’t quite reached super-spy status yet. The functions of smart watches (and bracelets) are actually fairly limited at the moment. Depending on which device you invest in, you’ll obviously be getting different functionalities, but there are two basic things that wearable tech does.

The first is to become a notification centre for your mobile. That essentially means that when your phone receives a message, email, or call, your smart watch will give you a buzz. In some cases you can actually read your messages on the watch screen. Similarly, you can get alarm alerts on your wrist as well. In general, the watch will vibrate to notify you of activity, rather than making sound.

The second basic function of smart watches involves health. Many of these products are able to act as pedometers (measuring how many steps you take), as well as measuring your heart rate and pulse. This information is then fed back to specialised apps on your mobile to allow you to keep track of your fitness regime.

The Downside

Okay, having your messages on your secret watch and getting health info is pretty groovy and all, but there are limitations to wearable tech. The first of these is the price, you’re going to be paying premium prices for these devices, something that puts many customers off. However, it’s the functionality limitations that really dissuade most people from going with a smart watch.

The primary downside of current wearable tech is simply screen size. Most of these products are watches, which means they have watch size screens, and in today’s world of monster screen sizes we’re simply not used to viewing media on tiny displays. Some would argue that this disadvantage is actually an advantage, since it means that you don’t need to carry a large screen phone around with you. But that brings us to a second downside…

Your wearable tech must be within a certain distance of your phone in order to work (though there are a couple of products that accept SIM cards themselves, though these are large, unwieldy and generally unpopular). That distance does vary depending on product, but it still doesn’t mean that you get to walk around without carrying your mobile around with you, which rather puts a damper on the small screen/large screen argument.

Does That Mean I Shouldn’t Buy One?

Not necessarily. In essence, the wearable tech market is a fairly limited one, but there are a couple of groups of consumers that really can profit from these smart watches. The first of these groups is the health conscious. For those that like exercise and like being organised, then a smart watch might be a good buy. All your health info is recorded automatically, which is convenient and saves you time.

The other target market is more business oriented. For those that aren’t in a position to be constantly checking their mobiles, a smart watch is a discreet way to stay connected and get the info that you need without having to pull out a phone during a meeting.

Other than that, do you need wearable tech? Probably not. It’s tough to justify the high price of smart watches if you’re not going to be making full use of their functions, and if you’re not a fitness freak or a busy businessman, then right now wearable tech has little to offer.

Is Wearable Tech a Gimmick?

That’s pretty tough to say. Given the current state of affairs, yes, wearable tech is a gimmick, and could well be nothing more than a passing fad. There are few advantages to a smart watch in a world of powerful and light mobile phones. But that doesn’t mean that wearable tech isn’t here to stay.

To make a smart watch a smart buy for the majority of people, it would probably need to work independently of a mobile phone. That means that on occasions when you don’t want to carry your mobile (such as going jogging, or even going out for the night) you could have the same kind of communication abilities using your smart watch. Having said that, the current incarnations of wearable tech are pretty much first generation. Think of them as Walkmans compared to MP3 players. There’s a solid chance that we’re going to get huge new advances that are really going to make smart watches essential to us.

However, there’s an equal chance that smart watches are Laser Discs (and if you don’t remember those, that kind of makes our point), and are a tech dead end that will blow over in a couple of years. As flexible screen tech improves particularly, which could leave us with roll up screens the size of pens, the need for wearable tech might just diminish.

The bottom line? Right now, unless you desperately need the couple of functions that wearable tech is capable of, spending a few hundred pounds on a smart watch is far from a good deal. Your best bet is to wait and see. Tech moves fast, and two years from now you’ll either get a way better smart watch, or find that they were just one of those embarrassing fads.