Why has the Android watch failed? Jack Wallen has a thought or two on the subject.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

They’re everywhere. You cannot step onto the street without seeing one. Which is somewhat ironic, given that so few bothered with them before. Now? It’s as though they’ve become ingrained into the soul of the population to the point where they’re as ubiquitous as smartphones and earbuds.

I’m talking about the Apple Watch. Walk through your local Target or sit at your nearest coffee shop, and you’ll see them on more wrists than you can count. Those square metal and glass timepieces that connect and interact with iPhones as seamless as any other piece of technology ever has.

SEE: VPN usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Android Watch—or whatever you’d like to call it. There have been numerous attempts at creating the Android equivalent of the Apple Watch, most of which have failed spectacularly.

But why?

Recently I endured an experience that I believe helps to typify why the Android Watch has been such a failure.

Let me set the stage.

The woe of beta

I purchased a Fitbit Versa some time ago. For the longest time it worked like a champ—syncing with my phone to inform me of my exercise and sleep habits. Like so many, I became accustomed to measuring the success of my day by how many steps I took, how many miles I ran, and how much sleep I got.

But then my Pixel phone took a dive, and I wound up having to upgrade it to the beta version of Android Q (it was either that or return the device for a third time, due to a serious lack of  quality control). After the upgrade to Q, the Fitbit Versa synced once and then, after a day, stood confused, unsure of what to do. It couldn’t connect to the Pixel any longer. Had this been a normal watch, that disconnect would have only been a problem if I depended on looking at a dashboard for my goals. But this was no ordinary watch. Without that constant sync with the Android device, the watch couldn’t do the one job watches have been doing since their inception—keep time.

After reaching out to Fitbit, it turns out the watch depends on the phone connection in order to take care of that most crucial task. So without the ability to sync to Android, the smart watch becomes extraordinarily “dumb.” Overnight the Versa lost hours. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to daylight with my watch insisting it was 3:40 am.

SEE: Special report: The rise of Industrial IoT (TechRepublic download)

A different phone

Fitbit also informed me that their devices weren’t supported on the Pixel 3 device. Considering the length of time these phones have been on the market, that came as a huge surprise. Nevertheless, I turned to my previous device, the Essential PH-1. I connected the Versa, and immediately the phone and watch fell into perfect harmonious sync.

Until Fitbit informed me they didn’t support the PH-1. It seemed, almost to the second, as soon as this information made its way to my eyes, the connection between the watch and phone broke. No matter what I did, there was no way to reconnect them. My smart watch lost minutes, then hours—only to finally be relegated to its cradle.

The problem

In a word: Bluetooth. Of all the things the tech world should be able to agree upon, bluetooth is too often a point of frustration. It’s slow, unpredictable, insecure, and (because of these reasons) frequently goes unused.

And this, my friends, is one of the biggest reasons why the Android Watch has failed. Bluetooth. With so many Android phones on the market, each with their own take on hardware (and, quite possibly, standards), how are companies supposed to bring any level of consistency to the market? And when a consumer purchases a device that is incapable of consistent behavior, frustration quickly sets in.

Today’s technology is supposed to ease our days and nights and help us work and live more efficient and productive lives. Instead, at least on the Android watch side of the coin, they cause us no end of frustration. Thanks to the inability of Bluetooth to deliver any level of consistency, we find ourselves at wits end with devices like watches.

All the while, most Apple users continue on, their devices always in sync and rarely failing.

Of course, this doesn’t even address the inability of Android watch manufacturers to come up with even the slightest bit of standardization. Just what is the point of Android watches? An extension of the phones? To read notifications, make calls, track steps/pulse? Calculate tips? Tell time. Does anyone know? Is this thing on? Hello? Hello? Bueller?

SEE: Mobile device security: Tips for IT pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The solutions

The first solution is for makers of Android watches to stop requiring that those watches remain in constant sync just to keep time. This should be a no-brainer. A watch is a watch, is a watch. They’ve kept time for centuries and shouldn’t depend upon a phone to help them count seconds properly. Imagine if turn-of-the-century gentlepeople tugged their pocket watches out, only to find out those wind-up devices couldn’t keep time because the user didn’t have their Pince-nez glasses perched on the bridge of their noses. What of those who didn’t need glasses? Would they be out of luck and forced to depend upon the placement of the sun to know approximately what time of day it was?

The second solution is to fix Bluetooth on Android. You can do a quick google search to see plenty of complaints about Android and bluetooth. How can this be fixed? Considering how flawed the Bluetooth standard is (from the ground up), I’d say smartphone manufacturers need to reinvent this particular wheel. Bluetooth uses the same frequency (2.4 gigahertz) as so many devices (even fluorescent lighting). Every one of those devices compete with Bluetooth, to the tune of interference. Bluetooth also requires surfaces to bounce off. That explains why your headphones so easily remain connected inside a building, but quickly break in and out when beyond the confines of those walls.

In other words—Bluetooth is not the solution. It’s time smartphone manufacturers develop a new standard for device connectivity. That 2.4 gigahertz frequency is only going to get more crowded, until no watch will ever be able to connect to a single phone. What that standard is, I have no idea. But until Bluetooth is either scrapped or completely revamped, consumers will continue suffering under the weight of these woes.

Until then, I’ll return to an analog watch (my old trusty Swatch Watch), so I don’t have to keep pulling out my phone just to see the time.

Now, where did I put those glasses?

Also see

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *