Hot Take: Smartwatches Won’t Sell Until They Get Social

Justin Lehmann
February 18, 2016

I’ll admit when I first bought my fitness monitoring smartwatch, I was a little more than disappointed. It didn’t track the time I spent on the erg, instead only seeing when I would run and hop on my bike. Not the stationary bike, though. Nope. I needed to be moving for it to really read anything.

“I just paid $400 for a backlight,” I sighed to myself.

This isn’t an Apple Watch-bashing blog. I went another route and bought a Basis Peak. Though I could write a novel on the amount of times I have to explain to everyone from bar patrons to baristas that no, this isn’t an Apple Watch.

However, as the weeks went on and the watch started to become a part of my daily routine, I saw the benefits starting to pile up. I finally had an accurate measure of my sleeping schedule. I started to set goals for myself, rode my bike more, started running, just to see my “activity” chart fill itself out.

But it always felt a little too solitary. Too lonesome.

Even though I loathe the updates from friends about how far they ran, or how many miles they biked, or how much weight they threw down at the gym, there was nothing more to my smartwatch than seeing my personal data points start to accumulate.

Heart rate. Perspiration. Calories burned. Steps taken. Hours of REM sleep. Tosses and turns. Blah blah blah. But what did any of that even mean? How am I supposed to know if any of these numbers are good or bad?

Obviously you can take this data to your doctor and he can tell you. But that was too old-world for me. I bought a smartwatch to take a leap into the future, not give my doctor a data dump. However, there have been some pretty amazing stories of people using this raw data to diagnose an ailment that could have killed them had they not bought the watch. Like the high schooler whose apple watch diagnosed his rare heart condition that likely would have killed him. So there’s that, I guess.

But that got me thinking: What good are these watches and data points beyond healthcare? Sure, the Apple Watch lets you share your heartbeat with a friend or loved one, but what if I wanted to share that with everyone?

That might sound crazy to some, but it piqued my interests back in January when a Fitbit captured the exact moment a guy’s partner broke his heart. “Is this actually what heartbreak looks like?” I thought. “Is this what my heart looked like when I realized George R.R. Martin wouldn’t finish Game of Thrones in time to catch up to HBO?” I nerdily pondered.

Then Super Bowl Weekend rolled around, and I got a rather interesting email.

Now we’re talking! Raw data into the movements and physiological feedback from potentially thousands of Americans who are watching the same television programming at the same exact time.

When the data came out, it was a bit underwhelming I’ll admit. But I believe this is the beginning of a trend where we as smartwatch users look to share our raw data with the rest of the world.

I could see social networks, just like Twitter, who let you track your friends raw data as it happens while watching TV, attending a sporting event, or even working out. Why not take virtual runs with your friends from around the world at the same time with constant feedback about how everyone is performing?

Maybe selfies will start to include biometric data like geotagged photos. Will the next generation be Snapping each other their heartbeat?

You could have entire apps where anyone with health issues could upload their raw data and compare it with others with similar symptoms. Or a dating app where you could see a potential hookup’s heart flutter at a witty quip?

Imagine how much more engaged you’d be to a yoga session or a spin class if you could hear the collective heart beats of the entire class? Well, maybe that could be a little deafening, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out. I think the possibilities are endless.

The current “social media on your smartwatch” trend revolves around notifications, which quickly become annoying. When your laptop, pocket, and wrist start buzzing from the same stupid Facebook message you quickly learn to turn notifications off. And while some companies explore options to send local deals to your smartwatch as you pass by a store that can quickly go the way of the dodo if the UX is off even a little.

The only way smartwatches become anything other than a costly gimmick is allowing users apply their own creativity to the health data being captured. Remember the girl who made music using her own brain waves? Imagine doing the same with your heartbeat. Or a running app that selects music based off your biometric feedback. (BTW, I’ll accept shares of any of these apps once they’re made. Thanks in advance.)

As we connect to more of our social networks through virtual reality, voice recognition, fingerprint scanning, and other biometrics, it only makes sense that raw health data will shimmy its way into the mix.