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Who has the most to gain from a smartwatch?

By Evan Wade / October 9, 2014


Four great wearables for kids

It’s official: Smartwatches are on the market, making them the newest member of the ever-swelling smart device revolution. And while they still seem to suffer from the early-life lack of functionality–something several less-than-receptive reviews of various devices have touched on–it’s at least clear that these wrist-mounted gadgets have fistfulls of potential.

Every demographic segment stands to gain something different from adding potentially revolutionary touchscreens on their wrists. Here’s a look at how smartwatches will assist several groups of people, and how these tech-savvy individuals might best make use of the sweet new gadgetry.

Early adopters: testing stuff for the rest of us

You’ve gotta love the growing contingent of early-adopting techies out there in smartphone land. In buying new tech early–often on the very day it launches–they help us determine whether we should dump hundreds of dollars on the same electronic gadgets they just snatched up.

Being an early adopter is all about the novelty, and the current selection of smartwatches on the market (most notably the Wear lineup) are totally bereft of cool stuff. We’ve spent quite a bit of time nerding out about Wear’s Notification Access API, which allows Android apps to transfer to the small screen with zero effort on the developer’s part. Then there’s the ability to control automated home features like the Nest and Phillips Hue. If pulling a phone out of your pocket to set the temperature or dim the lights is awesome, doing it from your wrist is even cooler (or hotter, depending on your temperature setting).

The techie who buys a shiny new Wear watch just to have the coolest new tech is probably going to be in good shape. Whatever functionality they offer, the devices look awesome, and they’re only going to get better.

Health aficionados: a perfect product by design

If you watched the Apple Watch unveiling, you know the attractive line of Cupertino-designed wristwear largely comes targeted at two distinct lifestyles: people who love home automation and people who want to stay healthy. Android Wear, while a little more open-ended than its Apple counterpart (as ever), also packs a number of health-friendly internals for developers who want to give the mhealth trend a go.

In either case, the Big Two’s smartwatches couldn’t be better for users who want to monitor and compare their stats in the name of meeting their overall health goals. Take Google Fit, a pre-installed Wear app designed to track stats like the number of steps taken in a day or the user’s heart rate, at least on watches supporting the optional heart rate sensor. While all that tracking goodness is awesome in and of itself, the app also lets users do things like set personal goals via cards within the app’s UI, giving them more complete control over the steps they take to stay healthy (zing).

Apple, who automatically gets a greater degree of control over their hardware by producing it themselves, also plans to offer a first-party smartwatch fitness app, this one known simply as Workout. Apple Watch’s collection of sensors can help remind users when they’re halfway through a session, and its Achievements sub-feature helps dole out encouragement when they topple a personal best somewhere along the way, along with the standard step/heart rate/motion tracking necessary to a strong fitness app.

Though it’s hard to say which offering is “best” when only one’s available on the market, we’d be lying if we said Workout didn’t have us intrigued. With its cross-device functionality, achievement system, lifetime tracking, and traditional clean Apple design, it could easily be one of the best fitness tracking options available out of the gate.

Professionals: when time is money, at-a-glance is invaluable

Connected professional. While the term might scream buzzword, there’s a whole lot of meaning there. Like the header says, time is money. Making any device designed to speed up interactions between user and phone is at least a little useful.

From a communication standpoint, both Apple and Google’s offerings seem strong. Each device promises its own solution to text-based communication, with both companies putting heavy emphasis on dictation to avoid typing on the watches’ tiny screens. Both Wear and Apple Watches also feature some form of predictive typing, with the Apple Watch apparently going as far as to predict entire messages. Either should prove quite useful for pros looking to send a quick text/email response without pulling their devices from a pocket/bag and unlocking them.

Then there’s voice communication, an area Apple (thus far) appears to have a significant edge in. Both watches allow you to answer or decline calls from your wrist, but only Cupertino allows for full-on voice communication from its hardware via a standard speaker/mic setup – making it much for useful for the pro wanting to, say, answer a quick call on the subway.

apple_watch_walkie_talkie_3.0

IoT connectivity (another feature we’ve said will have big merits in the workplace) is also a potential area for smartwatches to shine. Using a combination of connected watches and beacons, employers could keep track of their employees’ comings and goings. Professional contacts at conferences or other events could exchange credentials (or even leave them at a set beacon-point) with little more than a tap of the wrist. Name badges and other security measures could be directly implemented into wrist-based hardware as well.

Smartwatches are as inherently flexible as their full-screened counterparts. Whatever professional applications Android Wear (and later, Apple Watch) devices feature, efficiency is the name of the game, and all smartwatches can definitely help on that end.

Parents: let a smartwatch make “the hardest job” easier

If you’re a parent, the first smartwatch feature that likely comes to mind is GPS tracking. Knowing where Little Johnny is at all moments without being a helicopter mom has all sorts of benefits for parent and child.

The problem, at least with current hardware revisions, is the need for extra hardware. Without a connected Android or iOS device (depending on the smartwatch you choose), Wear/Watch devices just can’t do much. That, as implied by a Google FAQ, is sort of by design – space is limited in a form factor so small, and adding full, independent WiFi capability would undoubtedly chew up too much room.

Fortunately, the idea of a kid with a smartphone isn’t exactly foreign these days. Assuming your young’un does have another smart device to carry, the possibilities are (as always) endless: location-based reminders could let your child know when they’ve hit the boundaries of where they can go by themselves, while trackers can obviously help keep an eye on their locations yourself. And while your kid may be able to play dumb with messages on his phone, a text popping up on the front face of his watch is a heck of a lot harder to ignore.

Then there’s the adolescent fitness aspect. In a country gripped by a childhood obesity epidemic, health trackers can help make sure children are getting proper exercise while away at school, and more esoteric features like calorie counters only serve to further the goal. Apps like MediSafe could be great for latchkey kids requiring medication – a quick reminder and boom: the kid takes her meds on time. And, of course, there’s no quicker way to check in with mom than tapping a few buttons on a wrist-mounted screen, at least until thought-controlled interfaces become a thing.

That all said, we’re inclined to advise parents to give the hardware another revision or two before outfitting the kids with a smartwatch. There’s a chance future models won’t require a full smartphone to operate, allowing further flexibility (financial and otherwise), and most of the things kids use smartwatches for can already be done on phones. Adding a watch to an existing stable of devices won’t be a hindrance, but don’t expect a world-changer, either.

A world of watches

Countless other demographics can make use of smart watches, and again, more will show up as the devices add functionality and gain exclusive (read: non-phone-dependent) uses. From busy pros to harried parents and everything in between, there’s guaranteed to be some added functionality.

Learn more about the future of wearables by reading our Helpful Wearables Trend Report.