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Back in 2010 when cases started showing up for the iPod nano allowing you to wear your iPod on your wrist as a watch, I could not help but think that the idea was coolest thing I had ever seen. I read the reviews, shopped around, and tried a few of them out before settling on the Lunatik Classic. Soon thereafter, when Apple(s AAPL) updated the iPod nano firmware that incorporated clock faces I thought this would be the future of wearable computing. Then when Apple changed the design of the iPod nano to a form factor that prevented it from being worn as a watch, I was wondering what Apple could be thinking.
I have been tempted by alternatives like Motorola’s MotoActv or the Pebble, I continued to wear my iPod nano as a watch for a little over a year in all before the novelty of wearing an iPod as a watch stopped outweighing its shortcomings as an actual watch. The experience has made me a much more astute when it comes to evaluating the next smart watch I will buy. In fact, I now believe that it is not a smart watch that I am looking for at all, and a dumb watch may be more appropriate. Below is a list of the limitations of Apple’s past iPod-powered “smart watch” solution and suggestions for what would make it better.
Battery required regular charging
Having a 30-pin charging cable just about everywhere I go, one would think I would be accustomed to charging my gear on a regular basis. In fact, I routinely have been charging my iPhone almost twice a day given how much use I get out of it. Watches on the other hand are not something I have been accustomed to charging. On more than one occasion, I would end up forgetting my Nano watch and leave it behind charging somewhere. It would be left charging at my desk, on an end table, in the car or next to my bed. I never did quite get the optimum charging cycle down, and eventually ended up charging it every night.
Solution: Use less battery power, embed a longer life battery and possibly charge the device without cables.
Content required daily syncing
When my iPod moved to my wrist, I started syncing my iPod to my iTunes library less and less since it was now my watch. One of the features I initially enjoyed with the iPod Photo when it first came out in 2004 was the ability to store and show other people photos. I continued to carry around my photos on an iPod for quite some time thereafter, but stopped with the Nano watch in part because it was awkward to twist my arm around in order to show someone my photos. But that was not the biggest challenge I faced. In addition to photos, the same was true for all sorts of content that I would access each and every day on my iPod. Music, podcasts, audiobooks, contacts, calendars and even notes. Being able to sync all of my content wirelessly to my iPhone rendered content syncing content to my iPod obsolete. Eventually I stopped syncing to my Nano watch all together, and only used it as a watch.
Solution: Wirelessly deliver information to the device like the Apple TV (which is basically just a conduit of information, sitting on your network between your Apple devices and your HDTV)
Earphone cord kept tugging my ears
It seemed like my arms were just a bit too long for most of the headphones I liked wearing. The cord would be whipping itself all over the place, hitting me in the face or getting caught on something as I walked by. Carrying your music library around on your wrist ends up not being such a good idea. Because of the the case I was using, detaching the iPod from the watch band required tools to unscrew the casing. I liked the way the Nano looked as a watch, it was one of the more attractive solutions available, so switching cases was not an option for me. I just ended up putting the watch in my pocket when I wanted to listen to music.
Solution: Use wireless headphones, or design a stylish and easily detachable band.
Pedometer would skip a step
Some pedometers are designed to be in the soles of your shoes, others are meant to be attached to your hip, and only recently have a few pedometers like the Jawbone Up or the Fitbit Flex have the sophistication of being worn on your wrist. Having a classic hip pedometer like the one in the iPod nano on your wrist produces inaccurate results that rendered the fitness functionality of the device unusable. No matter how many times I tried to calibrate the pedometer, it just would not keep up with my steps accurately. Even placing the watch in my pocket would not completely resolve the issue, so I ended up using a separate pedometer.
Solution: Implement smarter accelerometer technology that can adapt to where the device is being worn.
It just could not tell the time
Don’t get me wrong, the iPod nano knew what time it was. It even had a lot of pretty faces that would display the time. It just did not do a very good job of telling time when I needed to know. If it happened to have been left unattended for a while, I would see the Apple logo instead of the clock face as it went through its boot up sequence. Having a design that would leave the screen on all the time would just run the battery down even faster. And entering a darkened room with a flashlight on your writs would not be acceptable. Having to turn on your watch to tell the time sort of defeats the purpose of placing it on your wrist in the first place. I, like most people, am used to having a watch where you can quickly tell the time by just glancing at it.
Solution: Display the time, all of the time, without emitting a bright light.
So why do I occasionally still wear my iPod nano as a wristwatch? It never ceases to attract attention and pique others’ curiosity. I have had more comments and questions about this watch than any other watch I have ever worn. And in doing that, what I’ve come to understand is that almost everyone I talk to about it thinks it’s a great idea to have a smart watch. But when you think about how to overcome all of its shortcomings, you start to realize that it does not need to be that smart at all. Rather than being the place where decisions are made and information is processed — like a smartphone — it needs to focus on fewer tasks and do those things well: like display simple information that can be read with a glance, or capture some basic data points like health statistics.
Apple(s AAPL) is said to be working on a smart watch, but there are few details about what such a device would entail. And as an ex-Apple designer has speculated, based on patents it already holds, the company could tackle many of the aforementioned issues I found with the Nano watch by changing charging technology, using curved glass, and possibly using Siri as an interface.
While I might not be ready to talk to my watch just yet, what I have learned is that there are some things one should definitely avoid: like streaming media and content on to the device over the air only to stream back off of the device to your wireless headphones does not seem very practical. Having a high-resolution screen that is often too bright and will just run the battery down even faster is likely the wrong way to go no matter how flexible the glass is. Just like Apple discovered that all of their customers have ears when they re-engineered their earpods, it will be interesting do see what Apple comes up with they discover that we all have wrists as well. In my opinion the more like a smartphone your watch gets, the less functional it ultimately becomes.