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What I want from a smartwatch or fitness tracker

Posted by Ian McKee on 10th November 2014

The views on smartwatches in the Wildfire office are, well, varied.

Personally, I would love a smartwatch, or a fitness tracker. Something that I wear on my wrist and does some clever stuff. I’ve gone through phases of wearing a watch all my life, I’m a bit of a fitness freak and tend to buy the latest smartphone as soon as I can. So I’m a prime target.

But I haven’t bought a single fitness tracking device or smartwatch yet, because none have really come near to fulfilling my checklist of requirements.

I’m not sure whether to call this device a smartwatch or a fitness tracker yet, because I want elements of both categories in one device. A watch that has a screen that displays notifications and stuff is not enough. A fitness tracker with no screen but tracks all my movements is not enough either.

I viewed the Apple Watch launch with excitement and anticipation, being an unashamed Apple fan I was convinced it would be the company to come in and sort out this category. But while the device would look like it ticks more boxes than any that’s come before it, I’m not sure it quite does the job.

So what is it I’m looking for?


Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m the world’s most stylish gent, but a watch is a thing you wear. It needs to look at least vaguely stylish. Technology is always a trade off between form and function, and in the case of a watch, the form(er) is more important than usual. It doesn’t have to be high fashion. But it can’t be a garish chunk of black plastic either. Most fitness trackers are just that.

The Pebble Steel looked OK for my standards, but unfortunately that device fails for me on too many other counts, only really functioning as a notification outpost for my phone, which as far as I’m concerned is the bare basic requirement. It’s only really recently that better looking smartwatches have started to enter the market, with the Moto 360 looking the best for my money. But while that has fewer failings, it still has too many for me.

I’m reserving judgment here for the Apple Watch. It looks quite chunky and cumbersome in pictures but I’ve read in several places that it looks much better in person. What I do like is the customisability; you wouldn’t buy a t-shirt that you knew millions of other people would be wearing, but if it’s a plain t-shirt you can accessorise 100 different ways that’s fine. I do want to be able to choose a style beyond just black, white or gold.


A big reason I want a device like this is I’m a big runner and cyclist. I’ve been contemplating buying a GPS running watch for a while, and right now I’m in the market for a bike computer too. What I would really like is one device to solve all of these problems, something I can wear on my wrist all day that will also track my runs and rides without needing my phone present. And in order to do that, it needs GPS. Most fitness trackers are essentially glorified pedometers, as they lack this functionality.

This is where the Apple Watch looks like it falls down for me. Without GPS, it needs the phone present to really track a run, and while I generally run with my phone anyway to listen to music and audiobooks, I’d like the option to leave it at home. Especially for races, when I never take my phone and currently rely on a Timex Iron Man that’s really just a stopwatch, to track my pace.

The new Microsoft (I know, Microsoft!) Band fitness tracker has GPS functionality. Apparently it is a little slow and inaccurate in comparison to a smartphone however, as your smartphone will use its network connectivity to use cell towers and Wi-Fi to assist in positioning.

Network connectivity

So perhaps I need a smartwatch that is fully connective in its own right? I don’t want to make phone calls from it (via it but from the phone is fine), but some kind of network connection for very light touch data would be good. Enough to assist GPS and maybe send my runs to RunKeeper. Is this possible by using a similar system to Amazon’s light touch 3G network Whispernet?

This, incidentally, is the only reason I think an Amazon entry into the smartwatch or fitness tracker market could be interesting.

Decent battery life

This is further down the priority list for me than it is for many people, but I am not all that enamoured by the idea of having another device to charge every night. That said, I will bite the bullet if I have to.

However, if like many reports of the Moto 360 have stated, battery life is even less than a day, that is a dealbreaker. If the device can’t handle a run in the morning, notifications through the day, track wherever I walk, a phone call or two, and not need a charge until last thing at night, well it’s not going to work out. Equally if I get my GPS and network connectivity wishes, it needs to be able to handle a long old bike ride; if I’ve ridden for seven hours, I want to know where, how far, how fast. I’m aware this is a big ask as even my iPhone struggles with tracking on long rides.

And that’s it. It’s not a long checklist, really. But the maker of the device that fulfils all categories can take all of my money, and there does not seem to be anyone doing that, or about to do that, just yet.

In reality, I think it’s a little early to be expecting all of these things in one device. The smartwatch / fitness tracker market is a lot like the smartphone market was just before the launch of the iPhone. Tech companies have worked out that we want a device somewhere along these lines, but haven’t worked out what exactly that looks like. I suspect that the story may be similar to the iPhone (and the iPod, and the iPad). As in the Apple Watch, while it has its compromises, and isn’t the originator, it will be hugely popular and go on to shape the market. I may need to wait another couple of years before the device I want comes to market though.

photo credit: Janitors

Ian McKee

Ian started out his career working in travel PR, working for tourist boards, airlines and hotel groups. Whilst there he carved out a position as a digital communications expert, managing social media, SEO and email marketing campaigns for clients.