Wearable trends: a personal perspective

Article By : Brian Dipert

The wearable device market is expected to grow next year in conjunction with an ongoing transition to higher-end products. How has your wearable usage evolved?

As regular readers may remember, I’ve covered wearable electronics a fair bit over the past few years; conceptually (various Apple Watch generations), from a hands-on ownership standpoint (the Moto 360 and Pebble Time Round smartwatches) and as teardown victims (the Moto 360 again, along with fitness bands from Microsoft and Skechers … two Pebbles, along with a couple of other smartwatches, are sitting in the to-disassemble pile as I write these words). As my ongoing coverage of the wearable product category has rolled out, the wearable market itself (which is quite broad, spanning everything from elementary activity trackers like the Skechers GOwalk to advanced smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 4) has shifted in lockstep. EETimes‘ September, 2018 writeup, for example, notes that overall wearable market growth is forecasted by IDC to slip below 10% for the first time this year, and regain its double-digit stride next year in conjunction with an ongoing transition to higher-end products at the expense of more basic devices.

In light of this overall market evolution, I thought I’d devote this particular post to the ways that wearable device usage in the Dipert household has (and hasn’t) mirrored these big-picture trends. For myself, first off, I’ve pretty much retired my Moto 360 smartwatch. As far back as mid-2016 I knew (and wrote) that it wouldn’t be getting ongoing firmware updates, a decision likely driven by its status as the sole Texas Instruments SoC-based smartwatch in the Android Wear stable. But when Google rolled out the latest Wear OS 2 (versus its confusingly similar-named precursor, Android Wear 2) at the end of August, I decided to pull out of inventory the refurbished LG G Watch R that I’d bought in January 2017 for $99.99 as a sooner-or-later successor. The LG G Watch R (formal product name: W110 … and R for “round,” which is a bit confusing given that the original LG G Watch was rectangular) dates from late 2014, but is still getting updates, thanks in no small part (I suspect) to its Qualcomm processing subsystem foundation, which dominates the Google smartwatch ecosystem.

Here, as a reminder, are a couple of shots of the Moto 360 on my wrist, from my mid-2015 initial coverage of it:

Moto 360 watch

Moto 360 watch side

And here’s what the LG G Watch R looks like similarly donned, with the display both turned off and on, showcasing the LG-supplied “Red” default face:

LG G watch R off

LG G watch R face

Here’s a clearer view of “Red,” thanks to the screen capture capabilities built into the Wear OS app running on my tethered Google Pixel smartphone:

Moto 360 watch

Up until Wear OS 2, I’d been somewhat baffled with the user interface, as it “wasted” (IMHO) two of the easy-swipe directions (left and right) with face-changing functions. With Wear OS 2, Google returned to what I’d gotten used to with the Moto 360; press-and-hold exposed watch face-change candidates, whereas the four swipe directions were devoted to more meaningful (again IMHO) operations.

A bottom-to-top swipe brings up the notifications list, while a top-to-bottom swipe exposes a high-level “quick settings” control panel:

LG G watch R notifications
LG G watch R quick settings

Swiping left-to-right brings up a Google Assistant information list (yes, it’s been an unseasonably chilly early-October in Colorado; we’ve already gotten snow at 7,500′):

LG G watch R google assistant

And a right-to-left swipe reveals Google Fit, now promoted to showcase positioning in the UI befitting fitness’s increasing importance as a smartwatch function:

LG G watch R google fit

My watch received its Wear OS 2 update about a week after the upgrade started rolling out to the world, and at first I was concerned because the resultant UI responsiveness was so molasses-slow as to be essentially unusable in some cases. In short order, however, everything settled down; in retrospect, this is similar to what I’ve experienced after a major Android smartphone O/S upgrade or factory-reset-and-restore-from-backup. I could imagine the UI being snappier than it already is, especially from a voice-activated Google Assistant standpoint, but right now it’s more than tolerable.

Some folks give Google and its partners grief for still using 28 nm-fabricated SoCs, but I’m more pragmatic; the chips aren’t fab-fillers, after all (something that Intel figured out quickly), so they need to be built on already-depreciated equipment in order to keep costs tolerable. And the LG G Watch R’s battery life is still pretty darn good, thanks in no part to its self-illuminating OLED display versus the Moto 360’s backlight-required LCD; I can stretch between-charges usage to several days with ease even if I keep the display constantly lit (after a few seconds’ worth of dynamic updates, it switches to a low-power mode where it only updates the hands’ positions once a minute).

The LG G Watch R is powered by a single-core neuter of the Snapdragon 400; I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I’m getting a quad-core Snapdragon Wear 2100-based Huawei Watch 2 Classic for my upcoming wedding anniversary. If I’m right, and if it’s a notable performance and/or other upgrade to what I’m currently wearing, I’ll report back. As far as I can tell, by the way, the latest-and-greatest Snapdragon Wear 3100 is a modest-at-best update from a performance standpoint; its primary focus is extended battery life, courtesy of a fifth low-power processor core akin to Arm’s big.LITTLE architecture approach.

Speaking of wedding anniversaries … what’s my wife’s wearable status? After a brief experiment with the Pebble, as I wrote before, she ended up with the Fitbit Blaze. She still wears it sometimes, and she especially loves its sleep and activity tracking capabilities (ironically, too, its limited notification support in comparison to other smartwatches is just fine with her). But she sometimes wants to wear a traditional watch instead … while not giving up her ongoing sleep and activity tracking in the process.

fibit blaze

Fitbit’s product line is … umm … diverse (“overly complicated” is another description, depending on your opinion), spanning a variety of form factors, integrated display-or-not options, and feature set proliferations. The Flex 2 was too simplistic for her tastes, while the newly introduced Charge 3 was too wide and watch-like. The Alta product line, on the other hand, was just right (I feel like Goldilocks right about now); the HR (heart rate) version included the photoplethysmography-based optical pulse sensor she was looking for.

With a traditional watch on her wrist, there’s still room for the Alta HR either alongside it (or on the other wrist). Like the Blaze, the Alta HR also offers (all-important) interchangeable (and ridiculously overpriced) bands in metal, leather, and other material options (comments in parentheses are the husband’s undoubtedly misguided perspective, of course 😉 ). And she can simultaneously pair both the Blaze and Alta HR to her Pixel XL smartphone, selecting between and donning one of them as fashion mandates of the moment dictate.

fitibit Alta HR
Fitbit’s Alta HR

So that’s where the Dipert household is from a wearable standpoint, at least as of the fall of 2018. How has your (and yours) wearable usage begun and evolved over time? Sound off in the comments.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

Related articles:

Leave a comment