Do I Really Need A Smart Watch?

This is the question many people will be asking themselves after Apple revealed their long awaited Apple Watch a few days ago in Cupertino.

Sony SmartWatch 2It’s also the question I asked a few months ago when I was given a Sony SmartWatch 2 for my birthday. I was very excited to receive it and was curious as to just how useful the device would be. I decided to wear it every day for two months to find out for sure. So here are my thoughts about my experience. I’m not focussing on the Sony model here but rather looking at the whole genre of wearable smart watches. And not only do I love my gadgets but I love my watches too. It will require something very special to stop me wearing my classic retro 80s Casio Databank I can tell you.

Let’s start with some of the negatives.

Charging – This was a biggie for me. It’s another device to have to charge. We are programmed by now to charge our phones daily but we’re going to have to develop new habits of charging our smart watches however regularly they need it (about every 3 days for the Sony model). This was a major issue for me as I often forget to charge my smart watch and then that left me without a watch to tell the time. Battery life was also something that wasn’t really covered by Apple in today’s Apple Watch presentation although they did show a rather cool wireless charging unit.

Privacy – The next biggest issue for me was that other people can read your text messages if you choose to have them appear on the watch. If you have a nosey person next to you, you need to be quick to turn your wrist or discard the message before they might be able to see it. And what if you fall asleep on public transport? The person next to you might be able to see all those personal messages from your partner as they appear. There are ways round some of these issues but it’s still something you have to be aware of.

Politeness – You need to keep looking at your watch whenever you get a notification. When you’re with other people this can appear rude and as if you’d rather be somewhere else. Again this probably can be bypassed with user habits and ‘smartwatchiquette’. Perhaps you should think about switching the notifications off when you’re with company.

Bluetooth – Currently most smart watches are tied to a paired phone. Obviously this means you always have to have the Bluetooth on your phone switched on, which will drain your battery life a bit more, but to be honest I didn’t notice this being too bad. The other problem with Bluetooth, however, is that you always need your phone on or near you for it to stay connected. If you leave your phone in the other room then you will just end up wearing a boring old ‘dumb watch’.

Aeroplanes – This might not be the case with all models but some smart watches are yet another device you have to remember to switch off on aeroplanes, so you can’t even have a watch to tell the time with during a flight.

Fashion – Some smart watches just don’t look very nice. This is changing, however. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is slightly bulky but I’m still very comfortable with wearing it out. The Apple Watch looks very nice too albeit still fairly rectangular and we are getting some very nice round models now as well such as the LG G Watch R.

Now onto the positives…

Control – In the past, every time we heard the beep or felt the vibration we had to check our phone which was often in our pocket, or across the room in our bag, and then the screen would have to be unlocked, only to find that it was a spam message or just some non-urgent text that could be looked at later. Smart watches put you back in the driving seat. I found myself in many, many situations where it was incredibly useful having the watch on to know whether or not the message I received was an important one that had to be replied to immediately or whether it could wait. I wasn’t left wondering what it was, itching to get my phone out of my pocket. I wasn’t wasting time getting the phone out before I could look. In a mindfulness zen like state I could just glance at my watch quickly and then carry on what I was doing. Situations like being in a meeting at work, sitting in a conference or lecture, driving a car, ironing, in a cinema, holding a baby, wearing a big long heavy coat when your phone is in your jeans pocket, on a cold night when you don’t want to have to take your gloves off to get your phone out. I’ve had my smart watch in all those situations and I’ve been really glad that I did.

Quantified Self – Health and fitness is huge with wearables. They are on your body and therefore they can measure your body. Heart rate, blood pressure, motion, sleep patterns etc. Many watches have some or all of these built into the watch and this is really where smart watches become not just a ‘nice to have’ or a ’too lazy to put my hand in my pocket’ but they actually add something to your life. This is a huge, new area that wearable tech is opening up and it is a game changer.

Adjustable faces – It sounds small but it’s really cool to adjust the watch face whenever you want. You can have a digital face for when you’re being active and then change it to an old fashioned analogue face for evening wear.

Apps – The convenience factor of having some of your favourite apps always attached to your body is a perfect combination of laziness and productivity. It removes the frustration of wondering where you left your phone and it gives you immediate access to the news or communication channel of your choice. It’s early days in terms of developers making apps work well with Android Wear or with the new WatchKit tools for the Apple Watch but I’m sure we will see some very slickly designed apps soon with great ‘wrist UX’.

Apple Watch - Image from

In summary, the main Pro point for me is the Control one. It alone has made me a wearable tech convert. It gives you more convenience, more choice, more freedom instead of being a slave to the vibrations in your pocket. Wearable tech is the future, there’s no question. Convenience + Added lifestyle and health benefits = Win.

So, to answer my own titular question. Yes, personally I think I do really need a smart watch.

(this blog post first appeared on the LEWIS 360 blog –

My automated life with NFC and IFTTT


If you’re either lazy, highly organised or interested in new technologies then this post is for you. I’m currently experimenting with three very cool technologies which work with my smartphone and other devices. The three areas I’m looking at are…

  • Wireless charging
  • NFC tags
  • IFTTT automation

Basically at the end of the process I should be able to do things like simply placing my phone on my bedside unit and it will do the following: charge wirelessly, set my alarm, reduce the volume of the phone, dim the screen, switch off Bluetooth and do pretty much anything else I want it to do. No wires or clicks required. If this sounds like witchcraft to you, read on.

Wireless charging
I recently read an article on Pocket-lint on wireless charging and there was a video by someone who had integrated a wireless charger into his bedside unit so that at bedtime he just had to place his mobile phone on the unit and it would start charging. No fumbling around for a cable. And to top it off, the beside unit he used is the exact same one that I have. I will have to buy a wireless charger but I’m up for getting one and trying it out.

NFC tags
NFC tags have been around for a while, in things like Oyster travel cards in London. They are now, however, really cheap and easy to use and can be used with more and more smartphones. A colleague of mine at LEWIS PR bought some from Amazon and I think they were only about £1 each. They came as a simple sticker and look quite cool (see image at the top of this post). They’re about the size of a 50p coin. I downloaded an app called NFC Task Launcher (no longer available at this link but I believe it is now called Trigger) which lets you make a Task. This can be anything such as switching WiFi or Bluetooth on, changing the volume, setting an alarm or checking into FourSquare. Anything you can do on your phone you can create a task for. You can also create multiple actions in a Task. When you then simply place your phone next to that NFC chip these tasks are performed automatically. For example if you had one in your car you could set it to automatically change your phone settings to increase the volume and switch on Bluetooth whenever you placed your phone on the dashboard or wherever. No wires or buttons. You just need to place your phone near the NFC tag.

IFTTT automation
IFTTT has been around for a few years. If This Then That. A simple programming concept to create chain tasks that automate when you do stuff online. For example when you favourite a picture on Instagram it can update your Facebook status and also save a copy of the photo to your DropBox. Or if someone mentions you on Twitter you can add it to a spreadsheet on Google Drive. You can mix and match actions to create your own ‘recipes’. But this month they have taken this to the next level and entered the physical world. You can buy real world devices which work with IFTTT such as switches and motion sensors. You can sync a weather website to automatically work out when the sun sets and this then switches on your lights at home. Or set an alarm to automatically switch on your main bedroom light at a certain time each morning. Or if someone walks into your child’s bedroom it could automatically send you a text. I could go on. And on.

The combinations of all the above are endless, and they aren’t just gimmicky. This is actual helpfulness to make our lives easier. You could combine the above to have a unit in the hall of your house that when you come home from work you place your phone on the unit and it starts charging, checks you in on FourSquare, switches on WiFi, turns your lights on in the house, sends your wife a text that you’re home and starts playing music on your Bluetooth speakers.

The possibilities are endless. If you can think of a mundane electronic task you have to do it can probably be automated in some way. The problem is that the time I save will probably be spent thinking of more cool ways to use this tech. Time well spent I reckon.

Got any other cool ideas for using this tech? Let me know in the comments.

My Nexus 4 Review

Nexus 4 phone

Just over a week ago I got my new Nexus 4. I thought I’d give it at least a week before I wrote a blog post about it so that I could really get to use it properly and get over the ‘new phone’ excitement. Well to be honest I’m still not quite over it. It’s easily the best phone I’ve had and there’s only a very few things I’m not totally happy with.

Good – First thing that hit me was the size of the screen. Much larger than my  previous Nexus S and my work iPhone. Great for watching videos but occasionally a menu button is a bit of a stretch away when holding it in one hand. I am, however, already totally used to it. In fact it’s really strange now to go back to a smaller phone. The weight and build of it is also very nice. Sturdy and classy. Nice glass most of the way round.
Bad – It looks slick and unfortunately it actually is a bit slick. Slippy, that is. The edges are a bit too smooth and it can be quite easy to drop if you’re not careful. It can also be quite hard to pick up from a desk actually when it’s lying flat. I didn’t want to have use a skin or case on this phone, as it’s so beautiful without one and I was going to put my faith in the Gorilla Glass, but I actually have bought a case for it now just to give me better grip on it. The biggest problem I have with the handset is that the main power button is very inset. It hardly sticks out at all. This can actually become a problem when, for example, it’s night time and you reach over and want to press the power button to wake it up and see what time it is or if you have any missed calls. It can actually be hard to feel which way round the phone is and where the button is.

Good – Everything is good with video. Any format of video played, especially with VLC or MX Player. Easy to transfer videos to your phone or to download them from the great Google Play library. Beautiful streaming on Netflix, TVCatchup, YouTube, TED, BBC iPlayer etc. All looking great on the 4″ screen. Maybe it’s not officially called a retina screen but its certainly good enough for me.
Bad – erm, it’s not 3D?

Good – Well this is the main draw of Android, and it doesn’t disappoint. So much control over your app organisation, your home page and your lock screen all as standard. Then you can also install third party menu ‘launchers’. And I’m not going to even get into the things you can do if you root the phone.
Bad – Doesn’t seem to have things like Do Not Disturb features or pre-written text replies but I’m still looking. I could be wrong. If not then I’m sure there are apps for that.

Good – Android apps really have come on in leaps and bounds in the last two years. In some cases they can be better than iOS apps it seems (Spotify I’m looking at you). Just smoother or more settings etc. Maybe there’s a technical reason for this. The apps just pop. So quick and smooth. Probably due to the quad-core Snapdragon processor. They never use to work so well on my previous Nexus S. All the main apps that you could name are all available on Android now of course and are all really well supported. Android is no longer just the immature wee brother of iOS. It’s all grown up and is fighting for the crown. And the Google Play store is awesome now. Way more intuitive than the latest version of the App Store in my opinion. Also, I am a pretty heavy Google user: Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Bookmarks, Google Reader. I use all these many times a day and Android obviously links in natively to these platforms and the apps all work seamlessly.
Bad – There are a few popular newer apps which are still iOS only (such as Vine) but there’s not too many and the number is coming down all the time.

gReader Pro
Google Drive
Google Calendar
Google Maps

And I need to give an honourable mention to all the retro gaming emulators out there. So much more choice on Android. Excellent ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, NES, SNES, Mega Drive and MAME emulators available.

All-in-all, pound for pound the best phone out there and the first iPhone beater in my opinion. Android finally done right.

This Gizmodo user review about the Nexus 4 helped me make my decision to get it and is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the phone.

iPad: first reaction

We were lucky enough to get our hands on an iPad in our London office today. And I can tell you it’s been hard to get our hands off it.  And yet some people are still saying it’s just a big iPhone. So what’s the fuss all about?

Is it just a big iPhone?
I don’t think so. For one thing you’re not able to make calls on it, and so you shouldn’t be. It’s not supposed to be a replacement for your phone. Replacement versions of things normally get smaller and more compact, not bigger. This is something else. It doesn’t replace anything.

So what is it?
The iPad is something new. It’s a portable viewer. It’s not going to replace your laptop and it’s not going to replace your TV. What it does do, however, is blur the lines between some of the functionality of both of those mainstay devices. You can do some laptop things on it. You can do some TV things on it. And you can do some book things on it too. And the key thing is that you can do these things whilst lounging back on the sofa. You can show your partner. You can pass it round your friends. It’s a portable, sociable, media viewer. It enhances the experience of things you already do and lets you do them in a different way and on one device.

Do we need that?
Maybe not, but how often do you have to call everyone round your laptop to show them something cool and they all complain about having to get up. Or your laptop rocks unsteadily on your knees on the sofa and when you pass it on to show your friend they have to sit upright in order to hold it correctly. And mice just don’t work on the sofa.

What can you do on it?
Here in the UK we can’t yet download apps from the AppStore. That comes later this month. But even the native apps on the iPad are gorgeous. Email. Calendar. Maps. Web. Notes. Mags. Video. Photos. The experience of using all of these apps is much better than using them on your iPhone or your laptop. I am particularly excited, however, about reading books, magazines and comics on it. That alone is 100 times better than a Kindle because it’s colour and has video. Other features it has are a pure bonus. Using StreetView together with a friend sitting next to you is just a joy and so intuitive.

What else could come in the future?
Board games, children’s learning apps, augmented reality apps. You name it.

Is it a game-changer?
Not really, because people don’t actually need it. It’s providing a great solution for a problem that wasn’t huge. But it’s pushing forward an area which definitely will be game-changing. It’s a kick-starter.

Is it essential?
No. It’s a luxury. But I still want one.

Don’t judge an eReader by its cover

When I ‘designed’ an eReader 14 years ago in my first year of Product Design Engineering at University it was part of a ‘blue sky products of the future’ project. I had no idea when something like that would actually become reality. Well, that time is now. The past 12 months have seen the launch of several products such as the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook and the industry-leading Amazon Kindle. The next 12 months is going to see an extensive range of new and improved eReaders, many of which were showcased at the recent CES.

New eReaders include the Que, the Edge, the Alex and the not-so-interestingly-named Asus DR-750.

This new range of eReaders will offer us a completely revolutionary reading experience.

  • colour screens
  • video
  • shatter proof screens
  • flexible screens
  • easily downloadable books, newspapers and magazines
  • interactive reading
  • sharing facilities
  • annotations
  • downloading attachments from smartphones
  • one-hand navigation
  • text-to-speech

What about Apple?
Good question. There have been rumours about the Apple Tablet or iSlate for about a year now and we should know what their plan is when they announce ‘something’ on Jan 27th. Many people are saying that the rumoured iSlate will be the killer eReader. I’m not so sure, as many people will just want a lightweight simple eReader to read their books on rather than a fully functional tablet computer. According to this latest Wall Street Journal article though, it looks like Apple is certainly going to be entering into the eBook battle as they have been in discussion with the publisher HarperCollins.

Pros and Cons of eReaders
Having so much information, books, magazines in the palm of your hand on one device will certainly save on storage costs, paper usage and travel weight. But what else? Will we all start carrying one of these devices in our bags everywhere we go? When you go to the dentist will they have a pile of eReaders for you to browse through? Will we swat flies with rolled up flexible eReaders? I think it will certainly change how newspapers and magazine deliver content. Already some eBook software apps like Blio and Copia are changing the way they present eBooks to utilise the functionality of these new eReaders. This will only continue until soon it will evolve naturally into something that we didn’t envisage. One area I am particularly excited about is the evolution of comic books and graphic novels as they make their way onto eReaders and tablets. This is set to become a huge market.

Will they replace books?
Personally, as a gadget lover, I am very excited about being able to have so many books and magazines on one device. I will, however, miss certain things about the physical objects they are trying to replace.

  • folding over a page that I like
  • bookmarks (yes that word actually used to mean something else before the web browser)
  • writing notes down the side of a page and then reading them years later
  • the smell of a new book (maybe they will synthesize that smell one day)
  • knowing at a glance who many pages you have left before the end of the chapter, or the satisfaction of seeing your progress as your bookmark is more than half way through the book
  • the collection of attractive spines growing along your bookshelf and showing them off when your friends come round and browse your library
  • being able to pick up and look at books in a book shop
  • browsing racks of magazines

And how will students make up mood boards for university projects now if they can’t cut up magazines? To be honest they will probably do eMoodboards using new smart screens in college or something like that. The reality is that I don’t think that eReaders will fully replace these forms of media. They are offering a slightly different experience and there will always be a need for physical books.

So what next?
This fantastic video below, which has been doing the rounds for a few weeks, highlights Bonnier’s concept for a possible future of digital magazines.

eReaders are no longer trying to reproduce books or magazines. They are becoming something new all of their own.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.