Smart watch as assistive technology: Part 1

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Smart watch as assistive technology: Part 1

Overview: What’s this about?

This two part series will have a look at smart watches. This week, we look at what they are and next time we will review actual smart watches in more detail.

Pros and cons of smart watches

This post will outline pros and cons of smart watches as assistive technology:


  • Keep track of assignments

  • Set timers

  • Keep track of activity and health

  • Use phone less – less distraction


  • Expensive and not essential

  • New technology, still developing features

  • Tied to a phone and platform

  • Battery life

Quick Conclusion

You should probably not buy a smart watch. But after over 20 years of not wearing a watch, I wore the Pebble for almost two years and after using an Android Wear watch for about a week, I think I will be wearing a watch for the foreseable future.

What is a smart watch?

Welcome to age of wearable technology. Say hello to the standard bearer of this new age, the Smart Watch.

What is it?

A smart watch is simply a watch that offers you much more than just the time and date. A proper smart watch is multifunctional and extensible. This means that old time calculator watches or various sports utility watches are not really in smart watches even if they offer more than time. Most smart watches get their functionality through their connection to the phone but they can also work on their own. This is what you can expect in any Smart Watch you buy today:

  • Display notifications and reminders from your phone

  • Measure daily activity (count steps, etc.)

  • Control some functions of the phone (dismiss notifications, respond to texts, play/pause audio)

  • Display more detailed information from the phone (maps/directions, to do lists, emails)

  • Run standalone watch apps (games, productivity apps, and more)

Many smart watches add additional sensors such as heart rate or light sensor and can replace a dedicated sports watch. Some are waterproof and make great swimming companions.

Why should you get a smart watch?

The short answer is that you probably should not get a smart watch. It is definitely a nice to have accessory. But if you really really want one, here are some reasons to justify the purchase.

  • You get a lot of notifications and constantly have to take out your phone

  • You often walk around with your hands full and wish you could take out your phone

  • You spend more time on your phone than you want to

  • You want to keep track of your health-related activities

What are some downsides of a smart watch?

Smart watches are still very new. So there must be some downsides.

  • Battery life is generally poor. You will have to recharge your watch every night or with the Pebble at least every week. Fine since you already charge your phone every night but if you travel, you have to carry a second charger with you.

  • Price: The cheapest option right now is £85 but generally smart watches cost around £200.

  • Dependence on a phone: If you don’t have your phone with you, as well. Your smart watch is a lot less useful.

  • Dependence on platform: Most smart watches are tied either to Android or iPhone. If you want to switch your phone type, you have to switch your smart watch (or get the Pebble).

  • Longevity: A good watch will last for many years. So will a smart watch. But if you’re the sort of person who buys a smart watch, you will probably be looking for an upgrade in less than two years.

A very brief history of the smart watch

People have always tried to add ‘smarts’ to a watch. Think about calculator watches! But the modern smart watch probably started with the Pebble. Introduced in the spring of 2012 as a crowd funded project, it raised 10 million US dollars and has since gone from strength to strength. In the autumn of 2013, Samsung introduced the Galaxy Gear which started to get some attention.

But the smart watch space only took off last year when in March 2014, Google announced Android Wear, a companion to its phone operating system. Many manufacturers including Samsung have since then released smart watches based on Android Wear. Of those, Moto 360 has probably been one of the most popular.

In the Autumn of last year, Apple announced the Apple Watch based on iOS which was released less than a month ago and still is not widely available in stores. Google has since updated Android Wear to match some of the Apple Watch features. It is safe to say that we can expect a lot of change and innovation in this space. In fact, today, Google is expected to announce a new version of Android Wear at their I/O developer conference.

Smart watch as Assistive Technology


A smart watch is not yet a must have assistive technology. But it can still help you organise and run your life more efficiently. It can also help you stay healthy. Here are some of the things a person with dyslexia may like about a smart watch.

  • A smart watch only shows the most important information on the screen

  • You can get gentle reminders to do things (in a more personal way than a ping on the phone)

  • You can give quick commands to your phone without getting distracted

  • It may be easier to get things done with a multi timer on your wrist

  • You can dismiss unimportant messages so when you open your phone it may be easier to focus

  • For somebody with some forms of dyspraxia, it may be easier to look at the watch than fumble with a phone

Next time: Smart watches reviewed

Next time we will look at reviews of three popular types of smart watches:

  • Pebble

  • Android Wear watch (Sony SmartWatch 3)

  • Apple Watch

Get involved

Let us know. Do you use a smart watch? Which one? How do you use it?

What should we cover next?

If you’d like to suggest what else this blog can cover, you can add your voice to the roadmap document.

Image credits

Image 1 by LGEPR shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Image 2 screen shot of

Image 3 by Janitors shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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