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December 12, 2014

A Month with the Moto 360

Smartwatches mean different things to different people. For some, the new gadget category represents another unnecessary technological innovation, one that degrades social interaction and distracts people from the world around them. Others, myself included, have been more optimistic about the technology. As hype has been built over the past few years I’ve speculated on their use cases and functionality, hoping the tech would complement human interactions rather than detract from them. Eager to test my assumptions, I purchased the Moto 360 a month ago and have been wearing it daily ever since. 

One of the biggest benefits I’ve seen after using the device for 30+ days is my reduction in phone use. Like many people, I leave my mobile device on vibrate and sometimes don’t feel incoming alerts in my pocket. This leads to “notification anxiety”: I find myself constantly checking it throughout the day to see if there are any emails/texts I’ve missed. The Moto 360 alleviated those concerns, making it easier and faster to check incoming notifications. I’ve noticed I interact with my smartphone less and less, and find myself casually fidgeting with my watch instead.

These interactions tend to be shorter than the smartphone alternative, reducing the time I spend staring at a screen and allowing me get back to whatever I was doing. It may seem weird to some people that wearing a computer on your wrist can be less distracting than having one in your pocket, but that’s what’s happened. Smartwatches haven’t made us even more distracted by technology, they’ve simply moved existing computer interactions to a more natural and convenient interface.

Outside of notifications I discovered a select few applications that had really expanded the watch’s functionality. Google Maps works surprisingly well on the small display, and I found myself relying on it more and more for walking instructions. When I try and follow turn by turn directions on a smartphone, I’m stuck either staring at my phone for extended periods of time or constantly taking it out and putting it back in my pocket. With the 360, Maps will buzz my wrist periodically and briefly notify me that the next turn is approaching in a few hundred feet.

Despite these positives, the product category is still in its infancy. The biggest concern I had prior to my purchase was the battery life of the device. This ended up being less of an issue than I expected but was still annoying none the less. In prior posts I mentioned the watch barely achieved 24 hours of battery life. Fortunately, a software patch was released a few days prior to my Moto 360 delivery that dramatically increased longevity. The watch lasts on average a day and a half with moderate usage. The catch to this respectable longevity is that the ambient screen functionality must be turned off. This means any time you want to view the screen, the watch must be flicked or the screen must be tapped. Although it may not seem like a big deal, it feels awkward to have this additional step/pause.

On top of battery life concerns and screen limitations, the functionality offered by third party applications is lacking. Google has proven that the developer tools are there to build new immersive experiences, but right now the majority of applications send simple notifications to the watch that then direct the user to take out their phone for additional interaction. When you compare these basic interactions with the Google Hangout app, which can view new texts, scroll the entire messaging conversation in context, and even reply via voice or a small selection of quick response texts, it shows the watch’s full potential has yet to be realized.

Overall I am happy with my purchase and enjoy wearing my Moto 360. There’s a lot to be desired and the product category is sure to drastically change over the course of the next few years, but it’s off to a good start. After a month with the device I can safely say wearables are a welcome addition to my day to day life.