Confusing Wearable Tech – Smartwatches and Health Bands

Does anyone know the difference between the two?  Does it matter..?

Check this Computer World article about apple watch

Ok… those who are confused, please raise your hand

That should be everyone, by the way…

Ever since the Apple Watch announcement, the tech world has been all , uh-hem, a-twitter with news and such on wearable technology.  Now that Google Glass is (nearly) officially dead – nothing has been seen or heard from Google on it in more than a year – the trend in the market is turning away from stuff you strap to your head to stuff you strap on your arm or wrist.

There are a number of different options out there and while I would REALLY love to turn this article into a roundup of smartwatches and fitness bands in time for the 2014 Holiday Season, I just don’t have enough money to go and buy those that are most compelling.  Unfortunately, most of them cost $199 to $349, and there are at least 4-5 that really should get looked at, including the Microsoft Band, the Galaxy Gear S, the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and of course the Nike Fuel Band SE; and I just don’t have the cash to buy them all and compare them, regardless of how much I would really love to.  Heck, the Apple Watch isn’t even out yet, and won’t be available for the 2014 Holiday Season, anyway…

The biggest problem I see with wearable technology right now is no one knows the difference between a smartwatch, a fitness band or any other electronic biometric sampling device you might strap to your arm or wrist. Without going into a huge litany of which devices have which sensors or have which processors, etc., the following chart may be of help in trying to tell some of these things apart.

tabel

There’s not a lot of information the specifics of Apple Watch. It should have most if not all of the same sensors as Microsoft Band, but I was unable to find specifics on every sensor it has.  Though introduced in September of 2014, I think more specifics will become available as its actual release nears.

So what’s all the hub-bub about?

The quantitative self.

Everyone wants to know how much they weigh, how much weight they’ve lost, how many calories they’ve taken in versus how many calories they’ve burned.  They want to know how often they exercise, how far they’ve walked, how much hydration they are replenishing, what their active and resting heart rates are, how many flights of stairs they’ve gone up and down, how far they’ve run, walked or spun on a treadmill or elliptical.  The whole sedentary American thing has finally driven many to get off their widening bottoms and eat less and move more; but like so many people wanting instant gratification, they gotta know where they are right NOW.

In the next few years, its obvious to me that first world consumers are going to see a great many wearable computing devices come and go.  The category is going to define and REdefine itself over the next three or so years in my opinion and unless the devices we buy today are 1) Made to last, 2) Upgradeable (via firmware or other software updates), or 3) Easily and cheaply replaceable, a great many consumers are going to be very upset (as well as have a boat load of unused, electronic junk in one of their desk or dresser drawers…).

As I said, some of the devices being introduced today are anywhere from $200 to $350 USD bucks a piece.  The Nike Fuel Band I bought in December of 2012 recently broke (the button doesn’t press any longer, so the display won’t activate when its pushed).  Its not quite two years old; and it was $150 USD when I bought it. I recently purchased a Pebble Steel in February of 2013, and while it still works and is in GREAT shape (albeit with some weird software based display problems…) there’s no doubt in my mind that its going to (or likely could) get left behind for something else in just a few short months by a Microsoft Band or Apple Watch for example, that will do everything that it does, plus a whole lot more; and THAT was $250 bucks…

So, what’s the difference between a smartwatch and a fitness band..?  Honestly, that’s a GREAT question.  Currently, there’s no real difference between the two.  The way both are being engineered, they pretty much have much of the same functionality. Things like Microsoft Band and the Nike Fuel Band SE are more of a fitness band only because they’re more of a ruggedized, rubber wrapped bracelet than a (sports, luxury, etc.) watch like Apple Watch or the Galaxy Gear S, though they do and track much of the same kinds of things and data, respectively.

So, what do you get?  What do you wait for?  How do you tell them apart?  Right now, without any real market, design, or engineering differentiation, its really up to you and what kind of thing you wanna strap to your wrist or arm.  Do you want something sporty like the Microsoft Band, or do you want something sophisticated and elegant like the Apple Watch or the Galaxy Gear S?

Right now, it really doesn’t matter.

However, in the next few years – even by THIS time NEXT year – there may be a huge differentiator out there that may make a great deal of difference to you and what you’re interested in, want or need to buy based on what you want, what your family can afford and what your doctor wants you to track and maintain.

AND…!  That’s ANOTHER thing…

Don’t even get me started on how accurate or viable your heath care professional(s) will feel about all of this data.  They may think it’s the most accurate stuff in the world, and actively encourage you to get one and compile data with it. They may think it’s a bunch of crap – nothing more than a fad, really – using unreliable or unstable hardware, software and components (because who’s Bluetooth widget hasn’t dropped a connection with their smartphone in the past week..??) – and may not buy into ANY of the data it maintains, instead making you come in to their facility for specific exercising and health monitoring…

The market  has yet to address ANY of those issues; and the FDA has yet to chime in with what I’m certain will eventually become some kind of an addendum or an offshoot of the 21 CFR regulations on medical devices (though it isn’t right now…).

Conclusion & Buying Decision

With the start of the 2014 Holiday Buying Season officially on in the US as of 2014-11-28, the obvious questions are what should I get and should I wait until Apple Watch is available in 2015.

That depends.

As you can see from the chart I created, its going to depend on the depth of your pocket book and what your want to do with the device.  At a $350 entry point, Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S are both at the ultimate high end of the spectrum.

The Nike Fuel Band SE is definitely an activity tracker and NOT a smartwatch, though it tells the time. Time telling is a tertiary function on it, and honestly, the FuelBand SE does little more than track activity. However, at its current price point, it makes sense.  In fact, you can get a FuelBand SE for as little as $99 bucks.

The Fitbit Surge really seems to be firmly stuck in the middle. It wants to be a smartwatch, but Fitbit is so firmly planted in fitness that I think the organization would have a hard time producing anything that didn’t concentrate itself on fitness anyway.  This device is also not available yet. Fitbit notes it as “coming soon” as of the date of this publication.

The Samsung Gear S looks REALLY nice, and it’s the only device that can be its own smartphone, if it needs to at this time.  The Apple Watch is supposed to do this, but it won’t until some time in 2016, and then I don’t know if devices sold in 2015 will be upgradable to that new feature with a simple SIM card.  If not, it would be problematic, because $350 is the ENTRY point price.  The Apple Watch, Watch Edition device (with 18k gold) is likely going to be more than $1000 (depending on the price of gold at the time of release).

Microsoft Band is the only device left at this point, and the biggest problem with it is that Microsoft didn’t produce enough of them.  They are sold out online as of this writing.  There are SOME available at a Microsoft brick and mortar Store, but quantities are extremely limited, and sizing the device is going to be critical, as you’re going to need to have the device sit flush (but not gripping your wrist) so that all the sensors work right.

In my opinion, you can buy in now if you want, but you may want to wait. If you do buy in, and you want something more than just an activity tracker, Microsoft Band is probably your best bet, but you’re going to have a great deal of trouble finding one if you don’t live close to a physical, Microsoft Store.

Does all of this make sense to you?  Do you understand the difference between an activity tracker or fitness band and a smartwatch now?  Does it make a difference to you, this early in the wearables game?  Will you buy into Apple Watch when its released?  Is the Samsung Gear S something you’re interested in?  I’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts on all of this.  Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and tell me what you think and what, if anything, you’re going to chase after in this category for the 2014 Holiday Season.  I’d really appreciate hearing from you and getting your insight.

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