Wednesday 6 May 2015

Calling Dick Tracys everywhere

you've probably seen quite a lot of coverage of the 60th  anniversary of VE Day, and by coincidence I recently been reading through my late father's diary which he started writing at that time. He was working as a junior newspaper reporter in East Sussex at the time, and was only 16 at the time he started writing them, which you would never have worked out from reading them because as an orphan and a refugee he had to grow up pretty fast. After hours of immersion in the pages of his diary I began to get a real sense of what life was like at that time.

In those days before the Internet, and even television, entertainment came in the form of whist drives or trips to the cinema, and I can understand his captivation with Dick Tracy's iconic wrist radio, but while that was only a dream for his generation for ours it's fast becoming a reality. In fact I've recently taken to talking to my watch in much the same way as Dick Tracy did.

I have to say that mine is a little slimmer than Dick’s, and comes in the form of the Microsoft Band. I've wanted one of these since they were first launched in limited numbers in the US six months ago, so as soon as they were made available for pre-launch in the UK I signed up for one. Its arrival was a moment of great excitement in the office, and after a month of using it I'm convinced that the days of dumb watches are numbered.

I'm almost ashamed at the speed with which my trusty old watch, which has served me well for almost 20 years, was cast aside in favour of the shiny new usurper. At least watches don't have feelings, at least not just yet.

Let's get the negatives out of the way; while it's comfortable to wear the form factor is bulky and it catches on my shirt cuffs. The rectangular screen is designed to be worn on the inside of the wrist, which I was surprised to find I got used to quite quickly. It is however a flat screen on a curved wrist which makes it cumbersome, and although the screen comes with a screen protector I know from other users' experiences that it's prone to scratching, and compared to my old analogue watch it’s pathetically fragile, so don't even think of using it as a knuckle duster, Mr. Bond.

And that's about it. As far as I'm concerned all the rest is positive.

The other great contender for the space my wrist was of course the Apple watch which I finally got to play with at the weekend. As I expected its far prettier than the Microsoft Band, and I had fully expected it to match or exceed its specifications, but in this respect the Band stood head and shoulders above the Apple watch. The biggest omission in my opinion is that Apple have decided not to include GPS with their watch, which means that most of its functions depend upon it being paired with an iPhone via Bluetooth. Break that connection and a lot of the smart in smart watch falls away.

The biggest opportunity that Apple are missing here is for using the watch is a sports tracker, and one of my main reasons for buying the band was that it allows me to go running without carrying my phone. As soon as I finish my run and get back to my phone it synchronises my run data (including the GPS data of course) so that I can immediately look at my splits or check out the route I took on a map.

The other huge difference is in battery life; Apple are quoting 18 hours, which in practice may mean substantially less. I still don't know how long my battery lasts at its never run out, but if I wear it at night (of course I do, it tracks my sleep patterns) and then charge it for half an hour while I'm in the bathroom it's good for the rest of the day.

Having said that I have absolutely no doubt that when it launches the Apple watch the far outsell Microsoft band, and what they both do very well as provide notifications that you can glance at without having to get your phone out of your pocket. If I was to say that this has changed my life I might be exaggerating a little, but it has certainly changed my behaviour. Now whenever I get an email a quick glance at my wrist tells me whether it's urgent or not and this is changing the way I manage my email, which marks a fundamental shift in the way I manage my workflow.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad; whereas before I would check my mail every few minutes or hours now I'm constantly screening them, and on one hand it might make me more efficient, but on the other hand my work-life is now constantly intruding into my personal life in a way that it didn't before. At the moment that's fine, but when I head off on holiday this summer I'm going to be interested to see whether this behaviour has become a habit that I can't leave behind.

Who knows? After spending most of my life wanting to be like Dick Tracy, maybe what I'm really going to be reminiscing about in the future is my good old analogue watch.