Nine things that would make Apple’s watch even smarter

An iWatch sleep analyzer could study the quality of your sleep—and wake you up for meetings.
An iWatch sleep analyzer could study the quality of your sleep—and wake you up for meetings.
Image: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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For the last few weeks, I’ve been refreshing the “Is Pebble Shipping” website at least once a day. I simply cannot wait to get my hands on the Pebble smart watch that most reviewers say they like, with a few flaws easily fixed through future software updates.

When Pebble first listed on the Kickstarter crowdfunding site, I invested almost immediately. A watch that alerted you to incoming phone calls? Here, take my money!

This is because while I always wear a wristwatch, I am terrible when it comes to mobile phone etiquette. As I am yet to find a single ringtone that doesn’t have me pulling out my hair within days, I leave my phone on vibrate. Sadly, my sensitivity to vibrations is worse than the Titanic’s sensitivity to sudden redirection.

I miss a lot of phone calls. And a lot of text messages. The Pebble, when it finally arrives, should solve that problem nicely.

Meanwhile, it was reported last month that Apple, too, was working on a smart watch device. Suddenly the smart watch in particular, and wearable technology in general, is all the rage. However, what would make an Apple smart watch really useful? What can such a device, from the vantage point of the wrist, do to improve our lives?

I have some ideas:

1. Movement alert

Office-goers, and anyone who spends time sitting, are often encouraged to get up and walk about for a few minutes every hour or so. Imagine if your watch used its motion sensor to figure out when you’d been sitting for too long and gently asked you to give those legs a stretch?

2. Audio recorder

As a journalist, the one device I wish I could wear at all times is an audio recorder. You simply never know when you’re going to meet someone interesting. What if I could just activate a recorder on the watch to record brief conversations, audio notes, ambient sounds or observations? How convenient! (Think about those times when someone on the phone is telling you a phone number or an address. And you don’t have notebook. Imagine how powerful that audio note feature would be.)

3. Airplane mode adjuster

Something I hate having to do all the time is switching my devices to airplane mode on a flight. I almost always realize it after I’ve taken off my shoes, settled in and prepared to fall asleep. How great would it be to simply toggle all my Bluetooth-connected devices to airplane mode on my watch? And then back on again afterwards.

4. Sleep analyzer and wake alarm

Devices like the FitBit One, and even some iPhone apps, study your movements as you sleep, analyze the quality of your sleep and then you wake you up by gently vibrating. Perfectly possible for a smart watch to achieve, and with greater sophistication if it is paired to a computer or phone.

5. Automatically adjust time zones based on phone time

Most mobile phones automatically adjust to local time when you connect to the local network. If your watch can pair to the phone, it can automatically do so too. This might seem like a trivial problem, but some watchmakers have produced complex self-setting timepieces.

6. Scan and display Wi-Fi networks

Don’t you just hate powering up your laptop or tablet to look for a Wi-Fi network, only to discover that the airport terminal, cafe or railway station simply has none? What if your watch could quickly scan and tell if any of your favorite networks are available in the vicinity? Hurrah!

7. Measure distances

Just when you’re about to leave out the front door to the nearest Ikea, you realize you have no idea how long your living room is. Stand at one end, click a button on the watch, walk to the other end, click. Et voila. Also great to have when you’re out on runs, walks or swims.

8. Display barcodes or QR codes

Why not get your phone or laptop to push a barcode or QR code to your watch? Why not, then, flash it at the train conductor’s machine? Why not feel uber cool afterwards? (Also works with loyalty cards.)

9. Dual power packs

Why not have a little removable powerpack that directly plugs into a USB port? When you pull that out, the watch could immediately switch to a regular cell or light-powered mode, in which it tells the time and does absolutely nothing else.

All this in a device that costs less than $100? I would like that very much indeed.