Seemingly every consumer technology company is developing computers that can sit on our faces or strap to our wrists instead of resting in our pockets or lounging on our desks. A new era is upon us — but it might not be as new as we think.
Companies like Nike, Jawbone, and Fitbit have been releasing devices that could pass as smartwatches for years. They simply haven’t been called that; they’ve been called fitness trackers, devices that we wear on our wrists and use to make monitoring our health as easy as checking the time. The only thing they couldn’t do is serve as an extension of our smartphones and become glorified notification systems like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear or the Pebble smartwatch.
That changes today with the Fitbit Force, the latest in Fitbit’s long line of fitness trackers. Like the company’s other devices, the Fitbit Force will count your steps, calculate the calories you’ve burned throughout the day, and monitor your sleep at night. Unlike those other devices, though, the Fitbit Force will also serve as an alarm clock and let you know when someone’s calling your smartphone. The blurry line between “fitness tracker” and “smartwatch” has become even blurrier.
Fitness tracking was already one of the smartwatch’s main selling points. The Galaxy Gear offers location tracking (which can determine how far you’ve walked, among other things) and launched with a number of fitness-focused apps; Apple is reportedly building similar features, as well as a heart rate monitor, into its long-rumored “iWatch.” It makes sense for a fitness tracking company to introduce one of the first devices to cross the boundaries between the two categories.
Consider the things a device worn on your wrist can do better than a device resting in your pocket. It can better track your steps, thanks to the swinging of your arms; it can better display information like the time or any of the numerous notifications you might receive at any moment, thanks to its easier access; and it can (theoretically) wake you up without requiring you to set an alarm that could wake the dead.
Fitness trackers have been serving two of those functions for years — now that they’re on the cusp of mastering notifications, too, we might as well start calling ’em all smartwatches.