Sunday, September 19, 2021

Digital Display Wrist Watches: An identity crisis?

December 17, 2008 by · 17 Comments 

watch obsession
Image by late night movie via Flickr

Ever since I can remember, I have been into watches. I have had just about all the cool ones you can have as a kid (calculator watch, radio watch, original G-shock, etc) as well as some of the cool ones you can have as an adult (the Swiss variety). However, I am increasingly feeling like the need for a watch is becoming more and more blurred. Whereas up until around 1996 I needed a watch to make sure I was someplace in time, or to take a call (I didn’t have a mobile back then) these days, I have too many devices that will gladly tell me the time. So time telling is no longer what it is about for me.

Around 1997, I started really liking the mechanical nature of the more ‘complicated’ watches out there (non-quartz), and started appreciating those watches as works of art and mechanical engineering. To this day, I still very much enjoy these kinds of watches as works of art, but not much more since the ‘complications’ are usually the kind of thing that digital watches mastered a long time ago (alarms, stopwatches, perpetual dates, etc). However, whilst I still look fondly upon mechanical watches and well designed analog quartz watches , I have had an almost complete lack of interest in digital display watches since mobile phones have been able to run applications.

With my iPhone being able to tell me the weather, my location, my trajectory, my distance travelled, my stocks, my altitude, etc… what I once considered cool, like a Suunto Vector, almost seems dull in comparison to my smartphone. I tried out a couple of the most cutting edge watches out there, and found that unless there was some way for it to communicate with something, it was just a redundant piece of gadgetry in an already electronically cluttered lifestyle. I will admit that for some, the ‘tech look’ of an inverted contrast display digital watch is synonimous with their night life and style, but I’m just arguing digital watches as capable mini computers vs. just pieces of jewelry. I personally expect more out of a digital watch than just for it to tell time in Binary via LEDs.

This brings me to where the digital watch is today. Whereas I feel the multifunction watch, such as Casio’s Pathfinder, would have intrigued me 9 years ago, I feel less excited about those kinds of features now. However, there are features that only a digital watch can do, that do interest me more today than 9 years ago, and make me feel excited about digital display watches again. In particular two types of watches… the health watch, and the location watch.

The health watch, such as the Polar series, the Suunto Series, or the Garmin Series have now moved into being able to not just report your heart rate, but also, albeit crudely, help you train your body in a way that was previously relegated to a coach. Polar, via their OwnIndex and Fitness Test, and Suunto with their Training Effect/Coach feature, can help you assess where you are in your training, if you need or can train more or less, and how you are progressing. And whereas you could do this on a smartphone with a bluetooth heart strap or (something like that) a wrist watch is so much more convenient for the types of activities you do. Therefore, even if these features are still nascent in their reliability they are far better guides than was available back in the day, and far more useful than having a digital compass on my watch.

Talking about digital compasses, ironically, the other feature that I think I really dig these days on a watch is some sort of geo-awareness. My brother in law owns a Garmin 405 watch with GPS (I have the 705 cyclocomputer), and I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had his watch to geotag a location that I was in (and where my phone didn’t work) for future reference. The Garmin 405 is a slick looking watch to boot, but the best part is how it allows you to capture your life’s experience (travel) in a convenient way and without having to carry a phone or other gadgets if you’re on the move.

So, whereas I am less enthusiastic about standalone digital display watches that just tell the time and have a stop watch and a couple of alarms, I am more enthusiastic about those that allow me to take with me those more personal attributes of my digital life… my health and my whereabouts.

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