Author(s): Peter Bryer
Most fidgety gadget users probably think that their best days are behind them — in the pre-touch-screen world, sliding and folding handsets offered highly satisfying clicks and snaps. Modern-day smartphones just don't provide the required mechanical movements to relieve stress. It's comforting, then, to see that a new class of devices is stepping up to deliver relief to restless nerves: smartwatches with handy dials and knobs, and real purpose.
At IFA 2015 in Berlin, a new generation of smartwatches is making the rounds, offering the looks and features of a product class that's growing up and addressing some very practical uses. Top brands like Asus, Motorola and Samsung each introduced at least one smartwatch this week, and several are stressing the devices' capabilities to act as a sort of super car key for some late-model connected automobiles.
Samsung, for example, introduced its Gear S2 and S2 Classic — a pair of round watches closely resembling traditional analogue models. They run Samsung's Tizen operating system, have satisfying rotating bezels to navigate through menus and apps and feature a series of sensors including a heart-rate monitor, barometer, accelerometer and gyrometer.
Volkswagen was among the company partners Samsung discussed during its stage presentation for the Gear S2. A remote control app from the car maker for the watch will provide owners of certain Volkswagen models with the ability to start, lock and unlock their cars via the watch, as well as enable access to the climate controls and even help to locate the car.
Lenovo's Motorola unit launched an update to its Moto 360 smartwatch. The new devices come in two sizes (intended as a men's and women's model), run Android Wear and have sensors to track heart rate and calorie burn.
Lenovo also showed a major automaker brand logo during its presentation — in this case Ford, which has developed an advanced remote-control key app for the Moto 360. It's similar to the Volkswagen app for the Gear 2, allowing the car owner to monitor and start the car via the watch. The Ford and Volkswagen apps also check the battery status of electric-powered cars, another trending requirement.
Earlier in 2015, BMW and Porsche introduced apps for the Apple Watch for selected models of their automotive brands. Most car manufacturers, including BMW and Porsche, already offer Android and iOS smartphone apps, but the practicality of control via wrist-worn devices is becoming a key driver for smartwatches. Symbiotic relationships are developing between the two industries.
These remote controls for autos are becoming killer apps for smartwatches, providing users with a constant connection to one of their most expensive assets. Apple's Tim Cook discussed earlier in 2015 that smartwatches appear to be on their way to replace the car key, a scenario that's appearing more plausible as wearables reach mass. If lifelogging isn't enough of a motive for consumers to start buying smartwatches, starting up their cars could be. On-stage mentions by major device brands provide auto makers with tech chic: some modern clout and an indication that an industrial industry is finding its place in the information age.