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PARA TECH: Wheelchair + Smartwatch = ???

Gal Jakic wants a new watch....sounds easy.

Recently, I have given up on pulling the phone out of my pocket when I wanted to check the time. So I decided to buy myself a treat - a watch. I felt getting the classic, single function device would just add to the insult of my current, watch-less state & working mostly with web designers, web developers and a blockchain based FinTech company, getting a dumb watch would almost look silly. So off I went & the goose chase for the best piece of tech began.

I love lists, so a list of must have features I have made. And on first glance, it wasn't even that hardcore:

  • "Can't remember when I last charged this watch" battery life (i.e. 4 days or more)

  • Vibration alarm clock

  • Phone connectivity, but not another smartphone (i.e. ability to control which notification actually come through to the watch)

  • 150-250€ budget

A day later, I have gone through a hundred websites & to the eternal satisfaction of all the manufacturers, half of my Facebook feed consisted mostly of smart watch advertisements (thank you Facebook Pixel). Yet as my PhD in the current state of smartwatch design progressed, no watch really gave me what I wanted. So I tweeted in frustration:

Personal preferences in shape (sorry Apple Watch, Fitbit,...) and budget restrictions aside (sorry Nixon Mission - we're always going to have the memories of me looking for your price tag to drop at least a little almost as obsessively as I track the cryptocurrency market), the progress of smartwatch market that is supposed to revolutionize how we understand time-space continuum, is a rather disappointing one. In other words, the market as such has made very little movement since my wife bought me the 1st generation of Pebble in 2013.

I will elaborate. The most important feature of the smartwatch - according to the marketing departments trying to sell you one - is to track your steps, calories & sleep patterns, optimize them according to the "watch science", rinse and repeat. All for the greater output of the human generation - preferably at work of course, you don't want to spend the optimal time of day with your family! Who does that?!

Yes, the vibration alarm still works the same. Yes, heart rate tracking and surprisingly enough, a recent introduction of even tracking features optimized for pregnancy. Which brings us to the question that concerns us the most: has anybody though that some people have no need or wish to track steps. Has any watch maker truly embraced the not so small section of the market for people with disabilities?

State of smartwatch design for people with disabilities, let alone adaptive athletes is - to be kind - poor. Yes, Android Wear, the version of Android that is implemented by lots of 3rd party manufacturers of smartwatches in its 5.1. Lollipop release, but those seem to be limited mostly to enable screen reading for visually impaired. Apple has designed some of the nice features inside their Apple Watch, that can replace tracking steps with tracking wheelchair movement. Other manufacturers are yet to jump on this train.

The sports technology has revolutionized Para Sport. From running blades to sitskis, it has vastly improved the lives of many adaptive athletes. Smartwatches are yet to follow.

Gal Jakic is a 3x Paralympian in Para Alpine Skiing, and applies the extreme dedication of professional sport to his web development career. Gal works for HIVE a blockchain based platform as Platform Delivery Lead.

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