Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

01.5.2020 Fairfax Tech Talk Column 196


I walked in to a local sporting goods store many years ago to buy a sports watch. The typical sort of thing for the day. A chunky watch with a separate external armband to track GPS location and a chest band to monitor heart rate. I remember asking the salesperson if there were plans to incorporate, at the very least, the heart rate function into a watch on your wrist and possibly even GPS functionality.

The salesperson was quite confident that a watch would NEVER have the capabilities to monitor heart rate and a GPS was way too large to be incorporated into a watch.

I learnt a long time ago that using the word never in terms of technology is dangerous – and so it would be the case in this scenario.

If I could have jumped in my time machine (borrowed from Leonard and Sheldon) and brought back a watch from the future to show this particular salesperson, I can’t imagine the reaction when the features of a modern smartwatch were discussed.

The latest feature that caught my attention was the ability for a watch to measure blood pressure. Most people would be familiar with the process of measuring blood pressure. A sphygmomanometer is used with a cuff and stethoscope to measure the systolic and diastolic pressure.

How can that measurement process be delivered with just a watch? There is a small trick – an electronic cuff is used once every 4 weeks to calibrate the watch but, apart from those calibrations, a watch on a wrist is all that is needed.

I have been watching (sorry – couldn’t help it) the development of wrist technology with interest and, even involved in technology, I find it incredible what the humble wristwatch is capable of.

My Mum was absolutely gobsmacked the day I showed myself and my daughter making calls between our two watches. As kids we used to joke about having a watch like Dick Tracy but here we were actually using this technology that was first dreamt of in cartoons.

The combination of cellular capabilities and GPS and motion sensors delivers an incredible safety feature. Fall detection. Some modern watches will detect a fall and, if the watch detects no further motion for a minute, the watch will automatically call emergency services. If the watch detects movement after a large impact, it will still ask you to call emergency services but await your response.

There is a focus on health with many of the watches so there is no surprise that watches will detect heart rate; blood oxygen levels, sleep patterns and some can even allow you to take an ECG.

From a practical perspective, having the ability to use mapping capabilities on the phone itself makes it seem like a GPS in a car is so old-fashioned! The list of features continues with notifications from social media and other apps popping up on your watch in addition to other alerts that may be anywhere from an irregular heart rate to notice that someone is at your front door.

Listening to music with Bluetooth headphones has never been easier and I still see retail assistants give me a smile of childhood awe when I use my watch to pay for items. With all of these features, most smartwatches are capable of being underwater to a depth of 50 metres – which finally allows the metaphor to be tested when someone is said to be able to talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles.

Tell me the next killer feature you would like to see in your next smartwatch at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson