Saturday, 3 March 2018

Why smartwatches are dumb

TLDR; Apple and Google showed that providing an open ecosystem for running code on phones could lead to market dominance. So why isn't it hppenning for wearables?
I was thinking to myself the other day that a combination of Google authenticator and a smartwatch was a match made in heaven. I'd been toying with the idea of jumping on the smartwatch bandwagon to get my geek on – but fitness trackers don't really light my fire. And, like email, I read my texts when I've got time to, not when they arrive. So I wasn't left with a lot of reasons for spending money on a watch with an irritatingly short battery life. 

Then I thought of 2FA. 

I use it for work with a ridiculously expensive RSA token. I recently had to get a new one after losing one somewhere. A TOTP generator on my phone is not a great idea – my work pays for a blackberry where they enforce a silly password policy. Do I really want to type a 12 character password into my phone in order to start an app to get a token so I can then log into something else? But dongles are just something else to carry. And I need something which is convenient to carry around....BING....light bulb moment.
A quick look round the internet revealed Gear 4 Android (not really clear if the watch itself runs android or if it just talks to an android phone) and Apple iWatches. But at a price starting around £150, it's rather a lot for pet project. Pebble watches have a really good SDK, but the original company went bankrupt and I don't know if the new owners of the technology really want to continue in the same market. And they're not much cheaper.

The first computer I ever bought cost me around £70 in 1981 and came with 1k RAM, no permanent storage built in, and hooked up to a TV to use as a display. But today I can buy an ARM based device with a lithium battery and a full colour screen for under a tenner. Sadly, the ZX81 was easier to program!  

People are actively hacking these U8 devices but we still seem to be a long way from being able to use them as general purpose computers.

There's no end of fitness bands available for under £20. They promise much longer battery life than the fullblown smartwatch and more than enough processing/memory/display capabilities to also support TOTP, but it seems that none of them are programmable. Even the ones which claim to come with anSDK (actually its an SDK to write code for Android/iOS to poll the ANT+/Google fit APIs) don't actually provide a development chain.

Yes, I know there's lots of people building cunning, but ugly devices out of arduino's and 3D printing cases. But that's a bit hardcore for me (and would end up costing me a lot more than a Pebble/Android watch). I could buy a ready-made one but its still so UGLY.

Googling for smartwatches, I eventually came across “metawatch” which claims to be an open-source smart watch – but currently unavailable on Amazon.

Hexiwear? UGLY

The inpulse and WIMM aren't ugly – but they are expensive.

Microsoft's smartwatch came and went so quickly nobody even saw it.

Why can't I get a watch for under £100 where I can run my own code?

Stop Press: I did just find this but do I really want to strap a full blown android phone to my wrist? And there are a growing number of MTK6737 Android watches appearing. But what about the battery life?


  1. Just found a Google Auth implementation fr Pebble:

  2. Found something else that would be ideal - the catchily named TI MSP-WDS430BT2000D - Sadly discontinued.

  3. Metawatch? Sunk without a trace.

  4. Tokymaker watch? Another Arduino dev kit with no bezel - but it is cheap (I wonder if I have to use scratch to program it)

  5. CulBox - failed kickstarter

  6. But I can still order Pebble watches from Ali Express?

  7. The Smartbond DAI4681 dev kit looks interesting. But @ £190, it fails on cost.

  8. Sony claim to big on open systems and their high end (short battery life) watches are programmable - but not the Smartband Talk :(