First look: MetaWatch smart watch pushes iPhone alerts to your wrist

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
The new Bluetooth-enabled MetaWatch will forever change how you use your iPhone, though in its current form the advanced wrist watch is not yet ready for the mass market.

MetaWatch


The idea of a "smart watch" is not new, but the concept has seen a resurgence in recent years as gadgets have continued to become impossibly small. There's been a particular interest in watches that use low-power displays and receive information from a connected smartphone via Bluetooth.

For the last year, an early version of the MetaWatch was available to developers and enthusiasts, and a decent-size community, particularly on the Android platform, has emerged.

MetaWatch


But with this year's debut of the iOS 6 mobile operating system for iPhone, Apple expanded Bluetooth functionality in a crucial way: text message alerts can be sent wirelessly to external devices. This paved the way for MetaWatch to make a big push to iPhone users, which it did with a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.

And this fall, MetaWatch orders have begun shipping to both Kickstarter backers and new purchasers alike. The MetaWatch is available in three different styles: the sporty "Strata" ($179), the more classic looking "Frame" ($199), and a $299 limited edition design by Susan Kare, a graphic designer who created many of the original Apple Macintosh's user interface elements in the 1980s. The device is compatible with iPhones that feature Bluetooth Low Energy support, which are the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5.

MetaWatch


For a few days now, we've been using the Frame version of the MetaWatch with an iPhone 5. The hardware is well designed, and any concerns we had about the watch face potentially being too big quickly faded away once we had the hardware.

The front of the device includes a large LCD display that can be illuminated with a front light, while the left and right sides of the watch each feature three hardware buttons. On the back are four pins that can be connected to a charging clip.

The charging clip is awkward to position onto the device and we frequently had trouble lining it up just right. However, this design decision does have a purpose: It allows the MetaWatch to be waterproof at a measurement of 3 ATM (10 meters) for the Frame, and 5 ATM (50 feet) for the Strata.

The MetaWatch Frame is low profile enough that it won't stand out in public as a geeky computer on your wrist. Despite what it offers it still looks like a watch. But the relatively large display, which is slightly low resolution at just 96 by 96 pixels, will inevitably draw inquiries about it. It's stylish, not gaudy.

MetaWatch


After only a few days of use, it quickly became clear that a smart watch would change how we use our smartphones. Almost immediately, the annoying habit of needing to incessantly pull the phone out of your pocket faded away. Granted, that ritual found itself instead replaced by looking at the watch. But a quick glance is faster and more socially acceptable than pulling out a phone at the dinner table.

It's very nice to be able to check your new message or incoming phone call without necessarily having to put your iPhone in your hand. At a live improv show, the iPhone stayed pocketed and a quick glance at the MetaWatch showed who was texting us. On the golf course, the iPhone stayed in the golf cart while call and text alerts buzzed on the MetaWatch. The built-in vibration on the MetaWatch is particularly welcome.

MetaWatch


The MetaWatch display is a mixed bag. We weren't particularly bothered by the low resolution, but the reflective properties of the glass cover did take some getting used to. That said, the watch can be easily read in sunlight, and while an included top light does not evenly illuminate the screen as a backlight would, it still makes it easy to read the MetaWatch in the dark. The screen is disappointing, but it's functional and does not detract from the usefulness of the device.

The front of the device also includes an ambient light sensor that is not currently used by the official software, though enthusiasts on Android have developed software that will automatically enable the backlight when an alert is received in the dark. We look forward to having this kind of advanced functionality come to the iPhone as the MetaWatch software and development community improves and grows.

Widgets on the MetaWatch screen are selected through an accompanying iPhone application, which is available as a free download from the App Store. At present the options are limited: Aside from the obvious clock, the MetaWatch also displays current local weather information, personal calendar entries, stock quotes, and the battery status of your iPhone.

MetaWatch app
Watch widgets are controlled through the official iOS MetaWatch app.


Setup between the MetaWatch and its application is easy, and activities such as changing widget sizes and locations through the iPhone app is a breeze. Current alerts that can buzz the watch include phone calls, text messages (including iMessages), calendar alerts, a low battery warning, and a notification when the iPhone has been fully charged. Support for Facebook, Twitter and e-mail notifications is advertised as coming soon.

One great feature of the MetaWatch is the option to have it buzz when the Bluetooth connection is lost between it and an iPhone. With this feature, if you accidentally leave your phone behind, you'll be alerted with a buzz on the wrist.

MetaWatch app
MetaWatch-compatible third-party apps will be possible once the watch's SDK is released.


By default the MetaWatch app hooks into applications such as the iOS 6 Clock, Stocks, Weather and more. Currently unavailable is its "Application Mode," which will allow third-party applications to work with the MetaWatch. An official SDK for developers is said to be coming in the very near future, and we hope developer support on the iPhone will be as enthusiastic as it has been over the last year for Android.

While daily use of the MetaWatch has been a pleasure, the platform is still too rough around the edges to recommend to most users. Right out of the box we needed to update the firmware ? a process that currently requires a Windows PC. MetaWatch has said that an updater compatible with Apple's Mac OS X will be available soon.

Update: The MetaWatch Mac updater is now available in pre-release form for OS X 10.7 Lion and up.

MetaWatch
The MetaWatch firmware update instructions.


We also experienced a handful of random disconnects from the iPhone, though these issues were easily fixed by launching the official MetaWatch application on our handset and simply reconnecting. We also experienced one hard crash with our MetaWatch which was resolved by resetting the device.

The most interesting aspect of the MetaWatch is its potential: Its value in making smartphone alerts viewable at a quick glance is immediately clear. Real-life use gives the belief that the smart watch industry could become a major accessory market.

There are other high-profile smart watches coming down the pike, most notably the $150 Pebble, which earned more than $10 million from Kickstarter. But the Pebble has also seen a number of delays and has not yet gone into mass production. The MetaWatch, meanwhile, is now available.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member
    Nice idea but boy is that watch ugly.
  • Reply 2 of 41
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    richl wrote: »
    Nice idea but boy is that watch ugly.

    Perhaps, but it's a nice idea for v 1.0 and will likely sell well - even at the price.
  • Reply 3 of 41
    larryalarrya Posts: 535member
    Add a microphone so I can tell Siri to reply to a text message, then it's perfect!
  • Reply 4 of 41
    Should have linked to the Pebble.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/597507018/pebble-e-paper-watch-for-iphone-and-android

    http://getpebble.com/

    They need to update their sites as iOS 6 allows text over Bluetooth but that should just be a software update. I've wanted one of these for a while. I wanted the iPod Nano to become this but they went and enlarged it this fall smh

    And same as LarryA. I want to talk to and get responses from Siri through it.
  • Reply 5 of 41
    Eww, I won't go so far as to call this watch "ugly" but rather say looks to me like something that was bought in a street fair in China. Very square and thick and the display is not very impressive.

    I just took delivery of the Bluetooth 4.0 equipped Casio G-Shock GB-6900AA today and am loving it so far. I can recommend it highly.
  • Reply 6 of 41


    Jeez... next thing my girlfriend* will want something that pushes iPhone alerts to her personal vibrator!

     


    * Thank goodness my wife would never want such a gadget.

  • Reply 7 of 41
    This is where the last generation of the iPod Nano should have been headed. All Apple needed was to add bluetooth and wi-fi to it, rather than making it bigger.
  • Reply 8 of 41
    Nice, but my preference would be for a more forward (or at least current) looking UI rather than this retro look.
  • Reply 9 of 41
    I received mine last week and enjoy the convenience of not pulling out my phone all the time.

    A few notes I would add is they did just release the ability to update through a MAC on Christmas Eve. Huge for me due to the fact I don't own a PC.

    The only issue I have noticed is when I use my camera on the iPhone it disconnects the phone from the watch. Making me have to go into the app and reconnect every time. Not a big deal just annoying. I'm sure this will be solved by another future update.

    Excited to see where this technology his headed and what updates are to come.
  • Reply 10 of 41


    It looks like it has a 1999 display with 2009 technology in the background. No Thanks.

  • Reply 11 of 41
    Apple can just twitch the design of Ipod Nano, add bluetooth and iphone5 support and a strip to it, and sell it as an iWatch! The screen will be much nicer!

    Better still, to differentiate iPhone, all future iphone models will come with a wrist watch sync with a specific iphone serial...
  • Reply 12 of 41
    adonissmuadonissmu Posts: 1,772member
    Its ugly why would anyone buy this?
  • Reply 13 of 41


    Originally Posted by Wisely View Post

    Better still, to differentiate iPhone, all future iphone models will come with a wrist watch sync with a specific iphone serial...


     


    Why would people ever want that? Bluetooth syncing is secure.

  • Reply 14 of 41
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,363member
    This is where the last generation of the iPod Nano should have been headed. All Apple needed was to add bluetooth and wi-fi to it, rather than making it bigger.
    EXACTLY!!

    Apple was even supplying watch straps for it.

    The Nano keeps bouncing back and forth between sizes, so perhaps it will bounce back again.

    But Apple's decision to drop the Nano form factor suggests that this thing won't do very well. Most people simply aren't interested in wearing watches anymore unless they are making a statement about fashion or status, which this simply won't do.

    Make it waterproof, and it could have an amazing life as a sports watch.

    Being able to relay calls from the iPhone, however, would make this thing pretty popular, I'd bet.
  • Reply 15 of 41
    "This is where the last generation of the iPod Nano should have been headed. All Apple needed was to add bluetooth and wi-fi to it, rather than making it bigger."

    I know right? Everyone I know who has seen me wearing my iPod nano watch has enthusiastically asked to inspect it more closely, and the first thing they want to know is if it will work with a smartphone. At which point I give a somber "no" as a response. The last thing they generally ask is "where can I get one?" to which I respond "well, sorry, they don't make them any more." Apple really had a bonafide hit on their hands with the sixth gen nano, along with a rare chance to dominate the smartwatch arena right from the beginning, but they totally dropped the ball on this one. God Steve, we miss you, the people running your company are bean counters and marketing folk and everyone who worked with you at NeXT is slowly getting purged from the system. They should bring in Woz to infuse some Apple spirit into this company before it becomes Microsoft.
  • Reply 16 of 41
    Battery life?
  • Reply 17 of 41

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mac_128 View Post



    Being able to relay calls from the iPhone, however, would make this thing pretty popular, I'd bet.


     


    I don't know...do you really want to have to look one place to decide if you are going to go to your phone? I'd think that in most situations (maybe not driving) it'd be easier to just look at the phone and be done with it. I answer 99% of my calls so seeing who is calling isn't important to me though.

  • Reply 18 of 41

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mac_128 View Post





    EXACTLY!!

    Apple was even supplying watch straps for it.

    The Nano keeps bouncing back and forth between sizes, so perhaps it will bounce back again.

    But Apple's decision to drop the Nano form factor suggests that this thing won't do very well. Most people simply aren't interested in wearing watches anymore unless they are making a statement about fashion or status, which this simply won't do.

    Make it waterproof, and it could have an amazing life as a sports watch.

    Being able to relay calls from the iPhone, however, would make this thing pretty popular, I'd bet.


    I was a little disappointed when AAPL decided to abandon the nano watch sized form. With some work it could have been a useful and cool device in a wristwatch form.


     


    This thing here though is butt ugly. The idea is fine - as others have commented Siri and other functionality is needed. The size needs to come down too. If someone could turn Jonny Ive loose on the project, they'd have something. The face needs to be very customizable in function and layout, something like the iTunes function for configuring iOS devices' pages.


     


    The low power BT should make the dongleware market a natural partner. Sports applications; perhaps even some medical devices. Wanna really kill it? Figure out a way to imbed a camera. Dunno how many snapshots I've missed reaching for the iPhone. No, I don;t mean "pictures"; just a fast snapshot.


     


    An intriguing idea. Not ready for prime time though.

  • Reply 19 of 41
    dougddougd Posts: 217member


    I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a dumb looking nerdy watch like that.  But I'm sure there plenty of roids who would

  • Reply 20 of 41
    This is where the last generation of the iPod Nano should have been headed. All Apple needed was to add bluetooth and wi-fi to it, rather than making it bigger.

    Could those be added without making it bigger whilst at the same time not losing battery life? Where would the plastic bit(s) be for the antennas?

    I personally think the all these devices are too large and clunky because the technology is not upon us. For this to be successful I think it needs to b more than a novelty gadget. I think it needs to be elegant and sophisticated as we've come to expect from watches. There is a market for large watches which could serve as the first choice for this but I think smaller watches would need to be made for this to really take off which means more evolutionary engineering to shrink more components.

    The first think I'd look to get away from is the square display. Nest has a round display. Well, it's a square one that only shows you output from a round area. But Nest has the room to cover the unused bits. You don't have that benefit in a watch. Could you trim the display so that it's pixel rows and columns are not equal?

    The next think I'd look for is something that uses low power and possibly color. Battery life is important in a watch. Pebble is eInk but it's black and white. It's also the older eInk with dark gray lettering on a light gray background. I'd at least want to see the tech used in Amazon's Paperwhite display. With the sizes needed being so small the display tech should come to a watch before it comes to larger devices.

    Bottom line; Virtually one needs a watch in the 21st century so in order to make a business of selling watches you need to make them desirable beyond their base utility.
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