Trialling Wearable Technology

22/08/16

Over the last few years Wearable Tech has become one of the hottest topics in technology. It seems that every manufacturer – from major players to smaller start-ups – have produced devices ranging from smartwatches to sleep monitors and everything in between.Watch 22

Health and fitness has been the initial driver behind wearable technologies. Early examples included the Nike+ module that could be inserted into running shoes and linked to an iPod device to provide GPS & Step Count; more recently FitBit, JawBone and many others have created dedicated fitness trackers for a mainstream audience by marrying affordable pricing and unobtrusive design.

The humble wristwatch, one of the earliest embodiments of wearable tech, is a perfect example of the progress of technology – from the traditional analogue wristwatch to the Apple Watch, time really has moved on.

But what will a smartwatch do for you? We decided to put it to the test…

Ordering 3 Apple Watches, 2 of the larger 42mm size in silver and space grey and one 38mm in rose gold, we asked 9 colleagues from around the business to take part in a test which was very simple in nature: wear the device for 3 weeks making notes around any behavioural changes you notice and general likes or dislikes.

Initially, reactions to the wearables were mixed. There was a healthy dose of scepticism from some who struggled to see the need for an extra device, and in contrast others were eager to try particular features of the Watch and curious about how it could change their day to day lives.

The physical form of the Watch was also a talking point, with the majority of testers stating that they felt the Watch was too big and bulky and just not very attractive. Interestingly this feedback came mainly from the female testers who were given the larger of the two sizes. Only one of the male users found the look of the Watch to be an issue, and while the appearance of the Watch is purely based on personal opinion it’s certainly an important factor for wearables, which are designed to be worn and on show in much the same way as jewellery.  Apple seems to have acknowledged this by releasing the Watch in a variety of finishes along with straps in a seemingly endless array of colours and styles.

As mentioned previouwatch pic (3)sly a key driver of the wearables market has been health and fitness and this was a feature that nearly all of our testers found appealing. Most of our testers stated that they got hooked on filling their activity rings which led them to be more active than before. This type of gamification of exercise has certainly proved effective in our limited test, and media reports would suggest that it is a very effective tactic to get people more active. That said, one of our more active testers did point out that despite the Watch’s claims on fitness tracking, it had limited activities listed in the workout app and the lack of waterproofing means it cannot be used to track swimming workouts.

One feature of the Watch that all our testers agreed on was the usefulness of notifications. The simple convenience of not having to take out your iPhone to see a notification is very easy to get used to and something many of our participants missed when it was no longer available to them. The ability to respond to some of these notifications, by dictating a reply or using a selection of pre-defined responses, was also seen as a big positive by our participants. However, inconsistencies were noted: for example, you can reply to an iMessage but not a WhatsApp message which led to frustration among the participants.

The biggest complaint from our participants centered mainly on the apps in general. Performance was a key issue, with Apps taking a long time to load and sometimes not loading at all. This sluggishness was compounded by limited features within the apps once they did eventually load. Instagram and Facebook were both mentioned by our testers, with Instagram’s app having no access to video and Facebook not having an app at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly Apple’s own apps fared slightly better with our testers, with Maps in particular being singled out as particularly useful.

When using the navigation in Maps on an iPhone, a paired Apple Watch displays the route on its screen and also notifies the wearer when to turn left or right using different vibration sequences. This small feature proved extremely helpful when navigating a large city, especially as it removes the need to have your iPhone in your hand to follow the route making you much less of a target for opportunistic thieves, but also allowing you to actually look where you’re going.Cartoon watch

Battery life on the Watch was one area that really divided opinion in our test group. Some users found the battery to be more than adequate, claiming 60-70% charge left at the end of the day. Others found the Watch required charging every day, sometimes more than once, and for them this was a big disappointment. It’s clear that, while the Watch could last two days at a stretch, this is another device that will spend its nights being charged ready for use the following day. One thing that did make this slightly more bearable for our testers was Apple’s decision to use inductive charging for the Watch, a form of wireless charging removing the need to plug in a cable.

Rather surprisingly Apple Pay and Siri on the Watch were only used by a few of our testers although those that did found the features to be very useful. Apple Pay particularly was the standout feature for some. The convenience of being able to pay for things simply by waving your wrist meaning it’s no longer necessary to carry your wallet or purse around with you all the time. Siri on the Apple Watch was great, according to our testers. While some sighted some initial trepidation about talking out loud to their Watch others loved the fact that it made them feel like James Bond. Setting timers, sending messages, changing the music, getting directions or just checking the weather, all our testers agreed that once activated Siri was a very convenient tool to have with you.

So, did wearing the Watch deliver any life changing experiences for our testers?

The answer is no, but what it did do was deliver a lot of small conveniences that made life just that little bit easier. While nobody in our test came out of it believing the Apple Watch would be the next iPhone-like breakthrough device, most of them found that they missed some element of the Watch after they stopped wearing it. This demonstrates that the device and wearables in general certainly have a long way to go, but they are already delivering enough to establish themselves as a key category in the Connected Device market.

The future of wearables could be very interesting indeed. In the short term we can expect the inevitable Apple Watch 2, which is likely to focus on better performance along with improved battery life and water-proofing as well as the new Android Wear devices rumoured to be coming directly from Google. Looking further ahead, Google are again the pioneers, trying new things in the hope of finding a compelling product. Project Jacquard for example, is all about capacitive thread which allows fabrics to become touch sensitive and interact with our other devices. While there is clearly a long way to go before this kind of technology is commonplace, it gives an interesting glimpse into the not too distant future of our connected lives, and we at Assurant can’t wait to see what devices we’ll be protecting for your customers next.