The top 5 uses (you hadn’t thought of) for your smartwatch

BY Steve Litchfield

Published 9 Sep 2014

Smartwatches, it seems, are all the rage. Heck, we’ve featured them numerous times recently on Android Beat. Partly because they’re tech and cool, but also because they work really well with Android smartphones. The OS is flexible enough that a connected smartwatch can, in principle, do almost anything. You’ll have gathered that you can (cough) tell the time(!), see email and messaging notifications, perhaps even get a basic weather forecast, but there are other benefits that only become apparent when you actually start to use a smartwatch.

In my case, a Pebble Steel, but much of what follows is equally applicable to the new, incoming breed of Android Wear-based smartwatches too. And, I’ll warrant that future lateral thinking and innovation will render even this brief list out of date and ‘quaint’.

1. There’s a call coming in!

Yes, yes, this is obvious – a phone call is coming in, so of course your smartwatch is going to tell you about it. But what’s not obvious is that, surprisingly often, the watch is the only way you’ll notice. Out and about, on a bus or when driving, or in a noisy shop, there’s often far too much vibration and sound to hear or feel that your Android smartphone is ‘going off’. But I absolutely guarantee that you will notice your smartwatch vibrating (and lighting up) on your wrist.

2. Turn left in 100m

Already written up at length here, for the Pebble, of course. But also applicable to Android Wear, which mirrors navigation instructions from Google Maps in real time. The idea is that, when on foot in a busy and often strange city, you’ll need navigation help and yet you don’t want to be holding your expensive smartphone in front of you all the time, ready for any opportunist mugger. Having smartwatch navigation up and running is a huge, huge boon.

Nav Me 1

Nav Me on the Pebble, driven by Android….

3. Podcast, stop, start, skip

Am I the only person who gets interrupted a lot? Whether it’s a kid needing something or a phone call on the landline or a knock at the door, my podcast and music listening requires numerous ‘pauses’ during the day. Now, sometimes your Android phone will be in your hand, so pausing playback is easy enough. Sometimes you’re out and about and wearing headphones, in which case there’s probably a button you can press on the headset. But most of the time, for me at least, it’ll be playing audibly – while I do chores – in a pocket or holster and it’s a pain to have to get it out, unlock the screen and then find your application, all to tap the screen one final time. Better is to press one button on your smartwatch to pause and then one more to resume.

Even better, some podcasts (naming no names) have lengthy adverts inside – the fwd/back buttons in your smartwatch interface should work happily (as they do here) to skip these adverts with just a few presses on your wrist. So much easier than getting your phone out every time!


Controlling audio playback from a smartwatch…

Actually setting up which application is controlled in this way depends on your set-up – I have my Pebble’s Music playback controls set to point to Pocket Casts on my Android phone and so my smartwatch becomes a super convenient audio controller on my wrist.

4. Take a photo!

Admittedly something of a ‘proof of concept’ at the moment, but in theory your Android smartphone could be on a tripod (or propped up against a pint of beer), perhaps pointing back at you and some friends, and you could use your smartwatch as the camera shutter button. I’ve been playing with PblCamera and though the on-watch preview is very low res (naturally), it works perfectly to snap smartphone photos.

5. Casual gaming

OK, I’m reaching rather a long way here, but smartwatch gaming will be a ‘thing’. Casual games, where it’s a one minute challenge while waiting in line at the supermarket – I ‘enjoy’ Tiny Bird on the Pebble, but I’m sure there’s far more to come here, especially on the colour screens of Android Wear devices.

Comments welcome – can you think of other innovative uses for this new, powerful little computer on your wrist, that complement the functions on the Android smartphone?