I was wrong about smartwatches...it’s not all about the apps

I'm not using the apps on my smartwatch and that's not a problem
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I hold my hands up and admit it. When I picked up my first ever Android Wear watch, (It was the LG G Watch if you really want to know) last year, I became a little too obsessed about how bad the app support was. That's pretty much continued with every other smartwatch I've used since then. It's up there with ugly designs and terrible battery life as my biggest smartwatch bugbears.

I now realise that frustration was misdirected. I was looking at my smartwatch with the same eyes as my first smartphone – but that's changed. I've started to finally realise that the longer I've owned a smartwatch the less I've turned to its apps.

Essential reading: How to buy the perfect smartwatch

Having that reason not to reach into your pocket every time you feel a vibrating buzz is arguably the greatest asset of the smartwatch and something companies building them should never forget. It's the one feature all smartwatches should be great at, but it's surprising how many make an absolute a mess of it.

I was wrong about smartwatches...it’s not all about the apps

The tide is turning though, at least based on my experience this year. I've looked down at my wrist to read a Google Hangouts message or a Facebook notification more when I've had the Pebble Time Steel or even the Garmin Forerunner 630 running watch around my wrist. The Fossil Q Reveler and its illuminating approach to delivering notifications deserves a special mention as well. I've spent less time with my face glued to my phone – and I'm conscious of that when I find myself without a smartwatch on my wrist.

No killer app...yet

So here's another revelation: I couldn't tell you of a single smartwatch app that I've really enjoyed using or that's blown me away, whether that's on an Apple Watch, an Android Wear watch or a Pebble.

But I can tell you that I regularly check in on my WhatsApp, Hangouts and emails without feeling the urge to touch my phone. It's the reason why I feel like smartwatches do have a future once the hardware issues that are holding them back finally catch up.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying apps have no future on smartwatches whatsoever. Having something that makes it easier to open your front door or board a plane quicker certainly has its place. I just hope the manufacturers and developers don't lose sight or shift the focus away from the staple smartwatch feature.

I was wrong about smartwatches...it’s not all about the apps

Looking ahead to 2016, there are a number of things about smartwatches I'd like to change. I still want more battery life, slimmer designs and no more ugly black tires under screens. It's wishful thinking to think they'll all get addressed in the next twelve months. On the software front, notifications should remain at the heart. Apple still has some work to do on this but the recently announced Proactive Assistant could give Google Now a run for its money. Pebble's approach to notifications still feels the most complete.

Buying guide: The best Android smartwatch

Speaking of Google, it's the evolution of Android Wear I look forward to the most, specifically those Google Now-inspired contextual notifications. With names like Fossil and Tag Heuer having a greater influence on making the Wear hardware more attractive, it's firmly in Google's hands to finally make notifications smarter and turn it into the killer feature it should already be.

Do you agree that apps are less important in the age of the smartwatch? Or is it that app makers just haven't got it right for smartwatches yet? Let us know in the comments below.

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Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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