Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees
3 'smartwatch' designs that might work for patrol
New designs and advances in miniaturization technology are making it possible to carry many smartphone-type applications on a watch-size platform — would you wear one?
Long before anyone thought of cellular phones and when radios required a small truck for transport, Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio to keep in touch with headquarters. He later upgraded to a two-way wrist TV.
New designs and advances in miniaturization technology are making it possible to carry many smartphone-type applications on a watch-size platform.
The question is, would you wear one?
The Bluetooth Connection
Watches that do more than tell time have been a niche market. You could buy a calculator watch in the late 1970s, and a few years later Casio made a digital watch that could store and display (though not dial) 20 or 30 phone numbers with names.
In the 1990s I had a Timex watch that held phone numbers and appointments, and you programmed it by holding it up to a computer display while some lines danced around and flashed (really). Microsoft briefly sold a watch that received calendar alerts and other updates over the commercial radio network, but the system didn’t work outside of urban areas and never reached enough of a market share to be viable.
Current smartwatch models serve mostly as add-ons to a smartphone carried elsewhere on one’s person. They communicate via a Bluetooth connection, and alert the wearer to an incoming call with a vibration and a display of the caller’s number and/or name. They can also display appointments, text messages, snips of emails, and messages from Twitter and Facebook.
The smartwatches don’t require a lot of on-board processing power. They leave most of that to the smartphone the device is paired with. The companion device does the data communication and number crunching, and then sends the appropriate display to the watch face, sometimes augmented with a vibration or beep.
The size of the display is obviously a limitation. Even a large watch can support maybe one fourth of a typical smartphone display. The designers capitalize on the ability of these small displays, so there’s a very wide variety of “watch faces” available. You can have every conceivable design of analog watch face or have the time displayed digitally, alongside the current temperature and weather — or even in binary code.
In early July 2013, Apple registered the trademark “iWatch” in several countries, which has caused industry watchers — no pun intended — to speculate on what they have in mind. Superior industrial design has always been a hallmark of Apple products, so whatever they’re working on is probably worth waiting for if you’re an iOS user.
Emerging New Designs
The folks at Pebble Watch have some prototype models in circulation, mainly with journalists, but they’re supposed to start shipping the production models this summer. Pebble uses an e-paper display, the same type used by the monochrome models of the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook readers. E-paper has an advantage for devices where battery life is a factor, as the display requires power only when it is changing.
Once the crystals have aligned to produce the desired image, the display draws no power.
The Pebble will work with both iOS and Android devices. Users download apps onto the mated device, and the Pebble displays the output and permits some limited control with the watch’s four buttons. The watch has an onboard three-axis accelerometer, which allows some actions to be executed with gestures. If you wanted to page through text messages, you might be able to move to the next one by flicking your wrist, instead of pushing a button.
The Pebble Watch is available for pre-order directly from the manufacturer’s website for $150.00. Watches are shipping now, according to the site, and will continue to go out as inventory becomes available.
The Kreyos Meteor has most of the same features as the Pebble, with a few added. It mates with iPhones and Android devices, but also with Windows 8 phones and tablets. The watch includes an onboard speaker and microphone, so it can function similarly to a Bluetooth headset. A big selling point for athletic users is that the Meteor is waterproof, and detaches from its wristband so it can be worn around the neck or clipped onto clothing.
Kreyos started this summer with a “crowdfunding campaign” where donors will get the first batch of watches when they are delivered starting in January 2014. The company reached its funding goals and closed the campaign this month.
Pre-order prices start at $149 for the watch until November, when the price goes up to $169.95.
Not yet available — or even priced — is the Sony Smartwatch 2. The Smartwatch 2 uses Near Field Communications (NFC) and Bluetooth to pair with an Android device. Other operating systems are not supported. Sony says their selection of apps will be similar to those from other manufacturers.
Even though all these watches are designed for minimal power consumption, their onboard battery won’t last anywhere near as long as the one in your standard digital watch. Most require the battery to be charged from an adapter or USB port every five to seven days.