The history of Pebble

I started Pebble with some friends from the University of Waterloo in 2008. We were the first company to work on smartwatches. Pebble defined what a smartwatch was meant to do — vibrate and display incoming calls and messages, control music without taking out your phone, track your exercise and sleep, and be customizable by downloading fun watchfaces… More here.

Arguably the first working smartwatch and it deserves recognition for being so. However, all of the rose-tinted specs in the world cannot hide the fact that it wasn’t very good.

Garmin Epix (gen 2) and a bunch of phantom steps

I thought this problem had gone away with the older Fitbit devices, but it appear to not be the case.

My wife and I were driving back from Norfolk today and I noticed something strange happening. When we left I only had 550 steps according to the Epix, but then I noticed a big change, an extra 441 steps.

I kept an eye on things and the following happened-

In the space of 42 minutes the Epix added 154 steps and so I ended up doing almost 500 steps without moving during the 2.5 hour journey, and I wasn’t even driving.

It is hard to understand how an £800 fitness watch cannot fix this- the GPS alone shows that I am travelling at 70 miles per hour, I am obviously not running, and so I would expect software to be able to solve this.

This has been going on for some time (see this Reddit thread from a year ago) and so I suspect that Garmin cannot fix the problem easily.

It may not be a big deal for many people, but what it does do is knock confidence in an expensive system. It should not be happening and I should not have to turn off activity tracking on the Epix every time I drive because the product is not clever enough to work this out.

Detection of Covid 19 using a wearable device

We developed an algorithm to identify COVID-19 onset using data collected by a commercially available wearable device. The resultant algorithm had high sensitivity (82%), with moderate specificity (63%). In developing this algorithm, we placed greater emphasis on sensitivity than on specificity, as our goal was to develop an algorithm that could effectively identify individuals who should obtain laboratory-based diagnostic testing. In this context, lower sensitivity would result in fewer people with potential COVID-19 receiving diagnostic testing, which poses a more serious problem in most screening settings than lower specificity, which would result in more people without COVID-19 receiving diagnostic testing.

You need to be very interested in the subject to read all of this, but it is fascinating how various metrics can be used in place of a focussed test to ascertain likely infection.

1.7m Fitbit Ionics recalled (don’t wear them from now)

The fitness-tracking device maker Fitbit is recalling 1.7m of its Ionic smartwatches after reports of the battery overheating and burning some users.

The company, which was acquired by Google in 2021, had sold about 1m of the model in the US and nearly 700,000 internationally.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall, warning that the watch’s lithium-ion battery can overheat, causing a “burn hazard”.

The watch was recalled after Fitbit received 174 reports of its battery overheating, including cases of 118 people being burned. Many users wear the devices in bed to monitor them while sleeping… More here.

Wondering why it needed 118 people to get burned before the recall was announced? To be fair I suspect not so many people will be wearing the Ionic today because the design aged very quickly, but it was an OK watch at the time.

I need to make the Garmin epix (Gen 2) too big for me

After one whole day with the Garmin epix (Gen 2) I am left with some very short initial impressions-

The display is superb and easily the best I have seen on any smartwatch.

The strap pins are effectively fixed in place which means that you have to use QuickFit bands to change the look or comfort level. The suspicion is that this is because this type of watch is often used for vigorous activities and that the pins are a potential area of weakness, but my suspicion is that this is a way to sell more QuickFit bands by Garmin.

It is incredibly easy to use and the customisation options included are immense. From choosing sleep times for each single day to selecting when buttons and touch input will be available, you can literally change every aspect of how the watch works.

It is a big watch and the sense of size is enhanced by the relatively small bezel compared to a fenix. The size of the screen is of course an advantage, but this is a hard watch to ignore despite it being very light. With so many fitness features onboard and brilliant tracking all round my goal now is to make the epix feel too big for me as I undertake a hard fitness schedule over the next 2 months. If I can make it unwearable it will have done its job and I will benefit greatly from the experience.

The world’s most popular watch brand is…

Have you ever wondered what the most popular watch brand is? Maybe you’re an ardent Rolex fan boy trying to argue your case in the pub, or maybe you think it’s Omega because of its connection with James Bond and space travel. I know I’ve always wondered what the most popular brand is — well now we have the answer… More here.

It’s Apple followed by Samsung and then the ‘traditional’ watch brands.

Gentler Streak: lose the Apple Watch rings!

Gentler Streak is a personal fitness habit tracker offering a fresh, more compassionate approach. Making rest days part of a streak challenges the unrealistic mainstream mindset of always pushing harder — and it changes streaks as we know them… More here.

This looks very impressive indeed. The Apple ring system has never really grabbed me for long periods of time and if anything I find the whole system annoying. I shall pick up my Apple Watch again and try it for a few days to see how good this solution is.

Smartwatch health tracking will be more important than fitness

According to Mark Gurman’s “Power On” newsletter, the Apple Watch Series 8 is unlikely to have a body temperature sensor, as a report earlier this month stated. As per the Australian nursing student, the Apple Watch’s heart rate notifications can identify thyroid issues early. Another recent TikTok video suggests that the Apple Watch has been demonstrated to identify early changes in Thyroid disease months before it is diagnosed… More here.

The Withings Scanwatch (reviewed here) demonstrated to me that health tracking could be more important than fitness tracking for most people, especially as they get older. If you are wearing a smartwatch that quietly checks the important stuff in the background that would be reassuring and potentially life-saving. Hitting 10,000 steps a day and being reminded every hour(!) to stand up doesn’t feel quite so fundamental.

(Almost) Anti-Smartwatch

Dive watches are no longer the primary timing tool for professional divers. Most pilots aren’t required to wear mechanical watches as a backup for flight instruments. Duly noted. But divers (and the rest of us) do still wear dive watches. Pilots still love a decent chronograph (don’t we all?). As technology continues to disrupt the established ways we do things, there are some artifacts — such as watches — we have a hard time letting go of. Nostalgia might drive the sentiment, but newer technologies don’t always do a better job than the things they replace (I do miss a good QWERTY keyboard on my phone). There are scenarios in which watches are still the best tool. Furthermore, the very relationships we have with watches have their own momentum, maintaining practicality in certain realms for as long as we collectively agree to wear them… More here.

Horses for courses, but I do find myself leaning back towards real watches with only 1 or 2 functions done very well.

The TAG Heuer Connected Calibre E4

The new TAG Heuer Connected introduces a range of health and wellness updates, highlighted by a guided workout functionality for on-the-go exercise that does not require a nearby smartphone. Other updates worth noting include a high-resolution screen that TAG Heuer promises will offer a strong contrast ratio for clear visibility when outside, the addition of an altimeter, and Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity that improves the connection between the watch and a smartphone. The battery has been updated on the 45mm edition to last up to 30 percent longer, while the 42mm model maintains a full day of running autonomy before it needs to be charged. The charging system itself has been renovated, as well – the Connected Watch now comes with a magnetic charger that also works as a display stand, positioning the watch on its side and allowing the screen to remain fully visible while charging… More here.

It looks decent in terms of design, but ‘luxury’ smartwatches are a hard sale. Then again, any TAG is a hard sale to lots of people in terms of value.