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Smartwatches I Have Known

When I was a kid, we used to look through the Sears catalog for our Christmas presents. They even called it a “Wish Book” and it worked like a charm. I would dog-ear the pages as flipped back and forth between all of the things I craved and the anticipation was terrible as well as fun. The pictures made the items look so good and it was easy to get swept up in them, ignoring the reality of what they represented.

One day, after reading some vintage Dick Tracy comics, I became fixated on the idea of wrist watch that could do amazing things. It just so happened that, in the Sears catalog, was a “Spy Wristradio” that looked like it would fit the bill. It has knobs and dials and a grill on the face that housed the speaker. I imagined hiding out in spots around the neighborhood picking up interesting radio stations all on my wrist. As Christmas approached I grew more and more excited about the prospect.

Christmas arrived, the presents were unwrapped and there it was. An alarmingly large box with the picture on the side that matched the one in the Sears catalog. I ripped open the package and looked on in horror as the sleek and high tech Dick Tracy wristwatch was replaced with the reality of a large plastic radio mounted on a gargantuan strap. It used four AA batteries and had no antenna to speak of. The power drained quickly as I spent hours listening to static while I turned the knobs patiently looking for any sign of life. I still remember the look on my parent’s faces when we both simultaneously realized that they spent their hard-earned money to buy me this piece of shit and I had been wishing for a Christmas dud all along.

That was my first smartwatch.

Back in 2004, before I contemplated ever owning an Apple product, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft nerd. I was building computers, playing PC games, running home servers (the hard way), and putting my Windows machines to use for both work and fun. As an unabashed gadget nerd back then, the holy grail was a working computer on my wrist – one that would tell the time as well as give me a full calendar, display upcoming appointments and, importantly, let me know when a critical email hit my inbox.

I already had the latest and greatest handheld device, the Palm Treo, so in reality the watch was redundant but when I saw the Microsoft Fossil at Best Buy, I got a little excited about it. This thing looked like what I expected from a smart device.

I bought one, at a dear cost, and spent the afternoon setting it up. It was a gigantic disappointment. The phone was need to be rebooted often, the battery drained as I watched and would need to be connected to a charging cable often, the communication was carried out via a nascent wireless service called MSN Direct which was still a bit too nascent to actually work. After three days of having to explain the ridiculous thing on my wrist to co-workers, the watch started to rattle and then eventually stopped working altogether. I wrote to Fossil and they sent me an updated model which lasted a few days longer but, by then, I realized that the smartwatch thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It ended up being another device full of imagined promise but delivering none of it.

At this point, I feel as if I’ve learned my lessons on this whole smartwatch thing. Smartwatch technology just isn’t very useful or interesting and I can’t think of a good, life-changing use for it. The Pebble looks like it “works” but delivers information that’s not important enough that I need it at wrist level. Plus it is ugly.

Nothing that can be displayed on my wrist is important enough to get me to wear anything on my wrist. For now, my phone will remain in my pocket and I will check it when I need to know something but every time I see someone wearing a smartwatch, I’ll be sure to ask them the time so they can enjoy a little jolt of superiority staring at the screen of their future piece of garbage.