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You Don’t Need a Smartwatch. (At Least, Not Yet.)

Don’t ask, “Which smartwatch should I buy?” Ask instead what a smartwatch can do for you.

Tyler Pina for Re/code

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Most normal, non-tech-obsessed people don’t really need a smartwatch.

I’ve been reviewing the latest wave of wearable technology for a few years now, and it’s a thought I keep coming back to. Most recently, I’ve worn the Moto 360, the Apple Watch and a new Pebble watch for weeks at a clip (not to mention the Jawbone Up3 and a few Fitbits before that).

I wear, test and write about many of these new whiz-bang wrist things because there is a market for them, and each one is incrementally better than the last, and consumers are looking for guidance on whether they should buy one.

Case in point: The new Pebble Time, from startup Pebble. The Pebble Time has some new stuff. And a few consumers might be wondering, “Should I take the plunge with the $199 Pebble Time, or should I get a $349 Apple Watch?”

I can tell you that if I had to choose from all the Pebbles available, the Pebble Time is the one I would go with. It has a color display, a useful “Timeline” feature, and kind of adorable, retro-style graphics. It’s also waterproof — you can swim with your smartwatch! — and its battery lasted four days on a single charge.

But the question isn’t whether you should buy this new Pebble, or a fancier Samsung watch, or the Apple Watch. The question is whether you need a smartwatch at all.

Tyler Pina

For the uninitiated, the first aspect of smartwatches to consider is that most of them only work optimally when they’re within range of your phone. We are no closer to having healthy relationships with our smartphones than we were six months ago.

The idea that “Apple Watch = iPhone killer” is bogus. Your iPhone is still around. You still need your iPhone to make phone calls, and to get messages on your wrist.

You’re not going to read an 800-word article or a Gmail containing an important contract on your smartwatch, unless, I don’t know, you find yourself trapped in a bathroom and that’s the only screen to look at. You might do this on your smartphone, though.

The second aspect to remember is that most smartwatches (and other wrist-wearables) have trade-offs, or feel like works in progress. Testing a new wearable is a test in patience.

Maybe one smartwatch looks and feels luxurious, but its battery life is poor. Or this one has a cool charging mechanism, but its software is confusing. That one has optical heart-rate sensors, but they’re not very accurate. This one tracks your workouts, but only has GPS when you’ve got your phone in tow. This one doesn’t have many apps yet — but it will. This one has apps, but many of them are stripped-down versions of smartphone apps. This one works with both iOS and Android, but the iOS app is stalled.

LG G Watch

If you paid for a vacation at a new resort and found out when you arrived that the food and drinks weren’t very good, that the rooms had a few bugs and the hot water wasn’t working yet, but resort management expects major improvements in Q3, you probably wouldn’t rave about it, right?

And yet, when we spend money on new pieces of tech, we’re often willing to give them more of a chance to evolve, to improve, to get rid of the bugs. This is not just with wearables; this has been the case with smartphones, apps and many other items.

More often than not, after testing a smartwatch for a long period of time, I find I look forward to taking the thing off my wrist — to not think about charging it, to not wonder if it looks totally dorky, to be free of the buzzes and taps and pings and chimes.

Recently I took a two-week trip to a part of the world where smartwatches aren’t really a thing, and during that time, I didn’t wear a smartwatch.

I didn’t miss it.

I only started to miss wearing a smartwatch when I was at Re/code’s annual Code conference and noticed that a handful of my colleagues were wearing theirs. So I put mine back on. We all got a “Time to Stand!” alert on our watches at the same time, during our first meeting with our new owner. Everyone had a good laugh. Oh, the FOMO.

That’s not to say I’m two-thumbs-down on wearable tech — actually, the opposite. I tend to fall into that category of consumer who is willing to give devices a second or third or fourth try (also because it’s part of my job). Despite some hokey experiences, I still find the category pretty exciting.

There are two specific areas I’m most hopeful about: Authentication, and health and fitness.

 The fitness app on the Apple Watch
The fitness app on the Apple Watch
Quin Paek for Re/code

Now, when I walk into a fancy gym I can shove my wrist under the scanner at the front desk rather than fumbling for my phone. I’ve also used the Apple Watch to pay for groceries at Whole Foods.

What I just said is on the verge of obnoxious, so let’s swap it out for more accessible everyday activities: Let’s say you could use your smartwatch to open your car door, to identify yourself at the bank, to pay at the gas tank, to buzz open the door in your office building or school or hotel, and to rent a library book. You’d never have to take out your wallet, your car keys or your ID card. Some of these things are possible right now; others are expected to come.

Health-and-fitness monitoring is another area of wearables I’ve written about a lot. Whether you run marathons, do deadlifts, practice contortionist yoga or are tethered to your desk all day and need a reminder to walk around, there’s likely a wrist-thing for you.

But few smartwatches track every health-and-fitness-related metric for you. And somehow, you’re supposed to glean life-affirming information from rings and graphs and data points in the compatible apps.

What if a smartwatch not only tracked what you’ve already done for your health, but tells you what to do next? What if it knew when you were stressed out? What if that personal heart-rate data you’ve actually handed over to giant tech corporations became useful data in predicting your chances of health episodes or disease?

These are all cool ideas. The future is filled with possibilities. But the smartwatches I’ve seen — even the latest ones — aren’t quite there yet.

So, as you consider one of these shiny new things right now, don’t ask, “Which smartwatch should I buy?” Ask instead what a smartwatch can do for you.

This article originally appeared on

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