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Why I stopped wearing my iPod nano as a watch

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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 LifeBattery 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.

Media SyncContent 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)

Earbud CordEarphone 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.

Missed StepsPedometer 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.

Telling TimeIt 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.

24 Responses to “Why I stopped wearing my iPod nano as a watch”

  1. Sean Riddolls

    A good read.

    Your article actually just talked me out of picking-up a used 6th gen Nano and the corresponding Watchz band that I had been contemplating.

    Realistically, if I had to charge up and sync my watch every morning, I’d never end up putting it on. I’m constantly forgetting my phone – the only reason I don’t leave my watch behind is because it’s attached to my wrist.

    The issue that it goes into sleep mode when not in use would be kind of irritating constantly having to turn on your watch, or conversely turning it off when entering darkened theaters.

    Generally a new technology never catches on, unless it supersedes the existing technology in every way. The fact that a standard analog watch has benefits over the nano-watch, speaks volumes.

    Thanks for the insights.

  2. I found this article interesting, agree with some points, but not all. I have been using my iPod Nano for a couple of years as a watch, timer and for music. I teach dance so put playlists in the watch and use at at the dance studios. I also use the timer for some workouts. I use the watch also and like that it has a face with large easy-to-read numbers. I use it with Senheiser sports headphones in the gym and the sound is great. I like it on my wrist and run the wire through my shirt. It is not as heavy or bulky as the bigger iPods or iPhone, but has a screen so I can use playlists and select songs and even back them up to the correct spot. I also use it at the dentist and while in Starbucks to drown out irritating people on cell-phones.
    My suggestions for improvements are to make the watch the first thing you see when the touch screen activates it…. It always seems to open in music mode so I have to swipe to get to the watch and then open it. Also, lately, the sound keeps turning itself down, so it makes the watch unusable. Finally, I agree with the idea of longer battery life and also making it like the Jawbone. I also had Casio databank watches with touch screen and a Seiko that had an analogue watch that would flip up and reveal a data bank watch with dual time underneath. That was cool. I would also buy an iWatch as it would probably have a lot of features useful to me, and I have Mac computers.

  3. Drawing on recent patent movement in the Apple world, I would hope that when they release the iWatch, it comes with a wireless charging stand that the watch sits on at your bedside.

    That would kill three birds with one stone, to my mind.
    1. eliminate frequency of “forgetting to charge”
    2. allow it to function as bedside alarm clock without running battery down
    3. keep it safe

  4. Phil Menger

    Oh Pshaw Gregory, while you make some interesting points none of them have kept me from adoring my iPod Nano Watch. In fact I think it is the best thing Apple has ever made. My battery life last all day until I get home. It charges very quickly and is ready for next day. The built in radio, photos, music and 18 watch faces make it real special to me. It is small, convenient and I find it easy enough to update pick and choose the music I want to listen to. I usually just put it on shuffle and realize tunes I had not listen to for awhile. I like the cross fade between songs. I was sad to find out Apple stop making this extremely practical appliance and wish they would apply the same practicality to their iPhone (ie a battery that would last all day!) and the MacBookPro with its gargantuan hunger for more RAM. When Apple announced they were going to make a smart watch I thought wait a minute, they already have a smart watch! Or had one.

  5. Paul J Santos

    Fantastic article! I have been a fan of Casio smart WATCHES since the 80’s. I used to have one with a scheduler and a phone book before anyone even had a cell phone let alone a smart phone. They never caught on, and probably never will. I now use a Casio DB-360 because it has five alarms and displays all the time and date info on its face at one time: day, time, seconds, year, month day. It does exactly what a watch does best and has a 10 year battery.

    • Now there’s a blast from the past! I remember wearing one of the first Casio Databank calculator watch to school. I now own one of their Triple Sensir Pathfinder watches. Altitude, barometer, temperature and it has a compass. A regular weather station on your wrist. And it’s battery lasts a good long time too. Much longer than a day. The more recent versions (mine’s a bit dated now), come with solar panels built into the watch.

  6. Felipe Mestre

    I love my Nike band it serves as my watch tells me how much fuel and calories I’m burning, steps, and thus how many miles you move each day. Great App. And it’s not inexpensive $175. I think Apple will succeed with a band that has these plus music , text , and Internet.


  7. Interesting points you make and i am sure the team at Apple is discussing each every possible use case and trying to figure out what such a beast it should be and do. To be fair to Apple though, it did not design a smart watch with the Nano. It just slapped on some clock faces because people were using it as a watch. From a design standpoint, I will be curious as to what Jony Ive and company will come up with if they actually do come out with such a product.

  8. WHMsicle

    Have Nike + GPS sport watch. Run with it every day – charge and sync once a week. Has very large number always on watch – touch screen to turn on backlight. Has
    very innovative band that has embedded USB connector. Would like a little more
    functionality without losing all of above, ie the GPS won’t give me directions back to starting point when I get lost.

  9. mcbeese

    I have the same lunatik and have experienced many of the same issues, and some not mentioned.

    It drove me crazy that it took 2 hands to check the time. You have to hold up the arm with the watch on it and press the button with the other hand so you can access the time display. That by itself makes it a failure for me. Apple could solve this with intelligent application of an accelerometer. When I orient the watch in a certain way, turn the screen on.

    I also thought it was too chunky. Lunatik has the right idea, but the case is just too bulky. Apple could easily solve this with a true watch form factor that is compatible with 3rd party straps.

    I still use it, but only when traveling. It’s great on planes. You can listen to music or podcasts, and if you have to use the toilet, it goes with you. Also, I keep it going during takeoff and landing. When asked to shut it down, I just hold up my wrist and tell them it’s my watch. So far, that has been good enough to get them to leave me alone.

    • Phil Menger

      I am sorry and mean no disrespect but I could not help but laugh when you mention how you had to access time on your watch. I do get your point, using two arms to find the time on your wrist watch but is it really that insurmountable? Raise arm push button with other hand. I just do not find that so difficult. Thanks for making my day

      • It’s not that much effort, you are correct. But it does make things awkward when you have to make such an obvious gesture to check the time when a casual and often unnoticed glance would work with most other watches. Especially when stuck in a rather long meeting when you have other more pressing things to do.

        Not to mention the fact that it almost never fails that the instance you need to know what time it is in a hurry, the iPod Nano has gone to sleep, and you see Apple’s logo instead of the time. It gets very annoying the more often this happens.

  10. I only use my Nano as a watch when I work out. With a Kokkia blue tooth adapter it’s become invaluable to keeping my gear to a minimum. I would definitely buy an IWatch if it had built in Bluetooth and better battery…

    • When it comes to working out at the gym, another valuable feature is an FM tuner. Many gyms broadcast the audio from televisions mounted in front of the exercise equipment. It’s often nice to glance up from your routine to see what the news is talking about from time to time. And some of the nano iPods have featured FM tuners over the years. I don’t think I would want an FM tuner on my watch though.

  11. Excellent points! Battery/Recharge issues IMO will make or break the entire concept. To me music is not required and redundant since that is easier with the phone. Good battery life, simplicity in syncing, and health stats will make an iWatch a real breakthrough and success.

      • I think it’s a bad idea to try to put lots of functions on your wrist. There’s a reason why simple mechanical watches are still the biggest-selling devices among watches.