Do smartwatches live up to the hype for travelers?

August 28, 2015 Mark Dauner

Dash-Mobile-Wearables-Apple-WatchI published a post back when Apple Watch was announced about smartwatches and their potential for business travelers. It’s been a few months now. Will the vision that I outlined become reality? The technology is here now, but does anyone care? It appears that some do. Engadget reports that Apple may have sold as many as 3.6 million units during the 2nd quarter of 2015, which would place them 2nd to only Fitbit in the wearables category. As we get into the fall, the holiday buying season should also help to bolster this new market.

Once people have a smartwatch, will they actually use it? Will it end up in the drawer alongside other gadgets and watches of yesteryear? Mine won’t. I’ve had my Apple Watch for two months now. I wear it every day and I really love it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you will. It may not be for everybody. As a reader named Adam remarked in the comments of my previously mentioned smartwatch post, “I really hope this isn’t a window into the future. Do I really need a watch to help guide me through how to get to my gate at an airport?”

Fair enough, Adam. I’m certain you’re not alone in that opinion.

There are several different companies making smartwatches. This post will talk about just a couple of them, but at this point in time I think you can apply it to all. Since I use Apple Watch, that will be what I talk about most. Here’s what I think about it so far:

Apple Watch is great at notifications. It’s also pretty good at activity tracking. If you use it primarily for those items like I do, then you and your new wrist friend will get along great. If you’re on foot and aren’t sure where you’re going, you can use the Apple Maps app to guide you to your destination. You don’t have to keep staring at your watch like a zombie – it’ll guide you with little buzzes to your left or right, telling you which direction to turn. It works pretty well. It’ll also measure your steps, your distance and your incline if you’re…inclined…to want that information. You’ll also get a slightly annoying reminder to stand up at 50 minutes past every hour. You can turn that off if you don’t want it.

“Like Apple executives are fond of saying,it just works. This time, it's really true.”

Apple Pay works great on the watch. Just touch your watch to the terminal at Panera, Trader Joe’s, Walgreen’s or any number of other retailers that support Apple Pay. Like Apple executives are fond of saying, it just works.This time, it’s really true. It’s also much more secure than swiping your card. See my overview of Apple Pay for more details on this technology.

Siri isn’t particularly impressive on the watch. It’s not particularly impressive in general, but I still hold out hope. You can raise your watch to your face and say “Hey Siri”. It won’t talk to you but it will listen and get you feedback. In my experience it works about half the time.

I haven’t traveled much since I’ve had the watch so I can’t share my personal experiences traveling with Apple Watch. I have had one occasion to summon an Uber with it. By the time I figured out which app in the big cluster of little icons was for Uber, I decided it was easier to just pull out my phone. That’s been the case with several of the 3rd party apps that I’ve used on the watch. Apps that are designed to provide information rather than do things, however, such as weather apps, news apps and travel apps (such as Travel and Transport’s eTTek Dash) are better because they’re able to give you bite-size information that you need, when you need it, with minimal interaction. A new version of Apple’s watchOS is expected soon that could change that. Currently, most of the heavy lifting in watch apps happens on your phone, but the new version should allow app designers the freedom to include more powerful functions on the watch itself.

Apple Watch isn’t necessarily intuitive. It’s not always clear to know when to push the “digital crown” or the screen or…that other button, whatever it’s called. They also introduced Force Touch, which allows you to press a little harder. The watch gives you a little “thud” as feedback to let you know you’re doing it right! Then something else happens. For example, if you have a bunch of notifications, you can do a force touch to clear them all. It took me a few weeks to figure that out! Force touch is expected to come to iPhone and iPad soon and it’s already being introduced into Macintosh. Hopefully as that technology grows it will get easier to figure out.

“Right now, there is absolutely nothing that my Apple Watch does that I couldn’t get or do by pulling my phone out.”

Now that I have it, could I live without it? Of course I could. Right now, there is absolutely nothing that my Apple Watch does that I couldn’t get or do by pulling my phone out of my pocket. With that said, I do enjoy being able to get a quick update on my flight, or breaking news, or the latest Kansas City Royals score without having to reach for my phone all the time.

eTTek-Dash-travel-app-apple-watch

I’m something of an Apple enthusiast. I’ll freely admit it. The Apple Store has a whole lot of my money and I’m sure they’ll get more from me when the new round of iPads are released (have you seen the new multitasking? Look for a post on that soon). What do some of my other, more sensible colleagues have to say? I asked some questions – not just about Apple Watch – but about smart watches in general and their real usefulness for travel.

Penny Watermeier, Vice President – Corporate Sales & Marketing: I used the Apple watch for 3 weeks as we prepared for GBTA 2015. I loved the eTTek Dash app and the Delta app specifically. The Delta watch app notified me when gate changes happened and when the flight was boarding. I even boarded with my boarding pass on my watch, which was super convenient.

Tim Arnold, Director – Technology Solutions: I have a Pebble Watch, which works with both Apple and Android devices. It has about a 10 day battery life, which I believe is the best of any smartwatch. The downside is that there are very limited apps avaialble for it right now. The only travel app I have used on it thus far is Uber.

Of the Travel and Transport employee-owners that I asked, I haven’t yet located an Android Wear smartwatch owner that has used it for travel. Android Wear has the distinct advantage over Apple of its robust Google Now system, which uses context to deliver you the right notification at the right time. “It’s time to leave for the airport,” for example. You can read more about my thoughts on Google Now here. Apple’s upcoming iOS 9 and watchOS 2 promise to deliver something similar to Google Now through Siri, but we won’t know for sure until it’s out. Until then, I think that Android Wear watches are a good choice if you have an Android phone. There are several different manufacturers making devices as well, which gives you more of a selection. You can get round ones or square ones!

Tell me what you think. Are smartwatches a fad? Will they really take off? Do you have a smartwatch already? What are your opinions? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TandTNews.

If you have an Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatch and you’re a Travel and Transport customer, get our eTTek Dash app today to get all of your travel on your wrist!

The post Do smartwatches live up to the hype for travelers? appeared first on Travel and Transport.

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