Education

Connected World magazine

 
IssueMarch/April 2012
DepartmentCover Story
AuthorLaurie Lamberth
 ARTICLE
 
A New World with Metawatch
I’ve believed since early 2008 that Android would have a significant impact on everything mobile. That year my friend Jesper Rhode Anderson, head of innovation, partnerships, and alliances for Ericsson Latin America (http://jesperrhode.blogspot.com), crystallized Android’s potential over sandwiches in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress. Jesper encouraged me to “understand and be prepared to make recommendations about how Android will affect the global mobile industry.” While I followed his other suggestions to my benefit, Jesper’s Android advice felt daunting since the mobile framework was in its earliest stages and I’m a marketer, not a coder. I decided to appreciate Android as an end user and leave it at that.
I’ve believed since early 2008 that Android would have a significant impact on everything mobile. That year my friend Jesper Rhode Anderson, head of innovation, partnerships, and alliances for Ericsson Latin America (http://jesperrhode.blogspot.com), crystallized Android’s potential over sandwiches in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress. Jesper encouraged me to “understand and be prepared to make recommendations about how Android will affect the global mobile industry.” While I followed his other suggestions to my benefit, Jesper’s Android advice felt daunting since the mobile framework was in its earliest stages and I’m a marketer, not a coder. I decided to appreciate Android as an end user and leave it at that.

Then I met the Metawatch—possibly the most revolutionary and disruptive device since the mobile phone—and fell in love. My first Metawatch sighting was on the wrist of Metawatch CEO Bill Geiser, who was not shy about showing off the watch’s many charms. What I didn’t know then was the Metawatch would lure me into the mysteries of Android.

What’s a Metawatch? Metawatch extends a mobile phone’s alert function to the wrist in the form of a handsome timepiece that provides at-a-glance awareness of what’s happening on the phone. Two versions are available through the Texas Instruments online store: an analog watch with two information windows above and below the center of the watch hands, and a digital model with a daylight-visible monochrome “dumb terminal” screen that is painted by the watch’s companion Android app, Metawatch Manager.

Why Metawatch? Ask yourself this: How many times a day do you check your mobile phone? If you’re an “average” smartphone user that number is 34, per a July 2010 study from Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. “Checking behavior,” which occurs as often as every 10 minutes, increases when “rewards” such as an email, text message, news alerts, or shopping offers, are waiting on the phone.

My smartphone generally lies on my desk during the day, so at least I don’t have to pull it out of my pocket every time I want to take a peek. But there are still a lot of steps: Wake with touch, unlock with swipe, view the notifications bar, swipe it open for more detail, and then tap to open a specific event. Even though I’ve personalized my phone to differentiate between events—beep for text, bonk for Facebook—I still need to tap, swipe, view, swipe, tap to see the details of an alert, an interruptive process that distracts from whatever else I’m doing at the time.

Enter the Metawatch. This device, promising “Hands Freedom,” eliminates the need to pull out the phone, hold it with one hand, and touch it with the other to find out what’s going on. Metawatch lets you decide with a glance whether to stop what you’re doing and pick up the phone. Proclaiming “Glance is the new touch” on its Website, Metawatch.org’s goal is to “simplify how we live within this connected world.”

Metawatch and Metawatch Manager provide tools to streamline the deluge of messages and alerts constantly vying for our attention and “increase the signal-to-noise ratio” within the din of incoming alerts, per Geiser. Metawatch Manager settings control how alerts for phone calls, emails, text messages, alarms, low battery, and apps are sent to the watch.

Moving notifications from a mobile phone’s primary screen to a secondary display isn’t new. Clamshell-style cellphones really took off in the mid-2000s when phone manufacturers put a secondary display on the front so we could check caller ID before flipping the phone open to take the call. Moving notifications from the pocket to the wrist isn’t new either: About 100 years ago, watches jumped to the wrist as time-synchronized work and social events became common in our newly industrialized societies.

In today’s world, most cellphone users want to screen incoming calls by caller ID, he continued: “Even people with a Bluetooth headset still check the phone in their pocket before answering.”

As important as Metawatch’s mobile functionality is the fact it also looks good. If people don’t feel good and look good wearing a device, then over time they simply won’t use it.

Metawatch is a prerelease product backed by Meta Watch Ltd., and a robust developer community that is building its open-source firmware and applications. But it’s not a commercial product. Yet.

Today’s Metawatch users need to engage with the Metawatch developer community to download firmware and app updates, report bugs, and test new versions of the software. Plus, since everything about Metawatch is in beta, it all could stop working or go haywire at any time. Or, as in my case, a new Metawatch user may discover that using a handset the developer community hasn’t worked with before can create complications.

My Droid X2 uses the “Motoblur” version of Android, which includes many proprietary features including Motorola versions of the Task Manager and Alarm/Timer. Motoblur is one of a growing set of one-off versions of Android: A phenomenon known as “Android fragmentation.” Before Metawatch, Android fragmentation was only a buzzword to me. Now it’s the reason the connectivity between my Metawatch and my mobile phone dropped from 85-0% a couple of weeks ago, and why the Alarm/Timer caused the Metawatch to buzz incessantly—even after I stopped the it, exited the app, rebooted my Droid, AND reset the Metawatch.

The Metawatch Developers’ Forum is extremely helpful; they’re pushing hard to build a commercial solution and stand ready to kill off unexpected bugs and expand what Metawatch can do. Forum members wrote new versions of Metawatch firmware and software to alleviate my problems and suggested topics for me to discuss with Motorola technical support. To that I say, thank you PurpleGuitar, benjymous, and Smithers! Several new versions later, connectivity between my Metawatch and Droid X2 is significantly better, but not back to 85% yet—which is still far short of the reliability needed for commercial release to consumers in general.

Geiser expects that the Metawatch is still a year or two away from commercial release. To the technology world that could seem like eons. But I am sure what will come out on the other end will be a watch that has little, if any, connectivity issues with the leading smartphone OS frameworks, and perhaps some even cooler features. How about a feature that gives me more time in the day? Now that would truly be one smart watch!
Laurie Lamberth loves playing with new connected gadgets, just to see what they can do. Follow her explorations, or learn more about her strategic marketing and strategy consultancy at www.laurielamberth.com
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