Scott Brown / Android Authority
I am a firm believer in the value of smartwatches and fitness trackers. They helped me get fit and only last week I was able to use my boarding passes without always having to pull out paper copies or my phone. In everyday life, being able to check notifications or pause podcasts from my wrist is a time saver, not to mention best for keeping me in touch with friends and family.
If there’s one thing that both wearable believers and skeptics can agree on, it’s that charging mode is a mess. Almost every device has a proprietary cable, dock, or disk. This includes the Galaxy Watch 4, every Fossil smartwatch, every Apple Watch, and every Fitbit watch. Often chargers are not compatible with different models of the same company, not to mention competitors, which is a far cry from the world of phones.
It’s time for wearable makers to settle on a common charging standard, and there are two main reasons for that.
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Losing your charger is a serious problem
Many, if not all of us have had a moment with our phones where we needed to recharge them, but didn’t have the usual charging accessory on hand. It’s not a big deal these days — for Android owners, USB-C cables are in abundance and the USB Power Delivery standard is everywhere, so the hardest part is finding a port or port, the latter of which requires a matching AC adapter. People regularly share phone chargers with each other.
With wearables, misplacing a charger can be a simple crunch. You can’t rely on other hardware accessories as a backup, so there’s a real chance you’ll still be stuck watching your device go down to zero, despite the fact that you rely on it for things like work, travel, fitness, or just telling the time.
In the world of wearables, misplacing a charger can be a minor crunch.
I’m in the gym for a few hours every time I go, and it’s tough when I’m forced to lift without a workout playlist or way to track performance. On trips, I sometimes had to put my watch in low power mode because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to plug in my charging tablet.
You can, of course, buy additional or replacement chargers, but unless we’re talking about the Apple Watch, good luck finding them in stores. You will most likely have to buy it online, possibly directly from the manufacturer if not from a big retailer like Amazon. If you don’t plan ahead, your wearable may run out of juice before a replacement charger arrives.
See also: Best phone charging accessories
Proprietary chargers mean planned obsolescence
This brings us to the second issue, which is the limited lifespan that proprietary chargers charge.
Inevitably, companies will stop making wearables as they move to newer and better. They’ll offer legacy support for a while, but on a long enough schedule, they’ll stop selling charging equipment if it’s not compatible with modern hardware. So, no matter how much you love the Fenix 3, Garmin doesn’t have you covered, and even third-party accessory makers will eventually lose interest.
On a long enough schedule, companies will stop selling chargers if they are not compatible with modern devices.
Effectively it is a planned obsolescence. It’s understandable – companies don’t have unlimited resources – but they can take some products out of commission before they stop being useful. This is annoying considering that people don’t tend to upgrade watches or fitness trackers as often as they do phones.
A corollary of this approach is that most wearables lack specialized accessories that make life easier, such as keyfob chargers or nightstand docks. Sure, Samsung for example sells wireless charging pads that work with the Galaxy Watch, but this is an exception that proves the rule. The luckiest people are Apple Watch owners, but they would probably benefit from more options if Apple (by a little miracle) designed it to support a global standard.
Related: Best Apple Watch Chargers
what is the answer?
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Left to right: Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Assuming wearable makers try to go global, the answer won’t be built-in USB-C ports. There is not enough internal space on most products, due to the need to cram the processor, battery, storage and sensors into something the size of a wrist. Sometimes there is not enough external space either, and there is also the issue of keeping the device water and dust resistant.
Wireless Qi would be ideal, but wearables require smaller coils with less power than the chargers we use for devices like our phones. A Qi charger directed toward a phone will struggle or fail to provide optimal power for most wearables, and vice versa. Trying to find a Qi-ready wearable is a challenge in itself, with the exception of the Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro.
It is possible to build custom size Qi chargers, but those devices only work efficiently with certain products unless other manufacturers adopt the same size receiver and transmitter coils. The solution will likely involve industry leaders such as Fitbit, Fossil, Garmin, and Samsung together and decide on a Qi-based wearable format. You still can’t use your phone charger with your watch, but you’ll at least be able to walk around Best Buy or even a convenience store to buy a spare watch charger.
Did your smartwatch or fitness tracker run out of power because you didn’t have a charger handy?
What are the prospects for mass shipping?
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
There is no indication that companies will settle on a benchmark any time soon. Wearable form factors are constantly evolving, and proprietary chargers support this evolution, as you don’t have to worry about static design specifications. In the case of chargers of a particular brand, it has the (profit) advantage of encouraging platform locking. If you have one of Samsung’s wireless pads for example, chances are you’ll stick with Galaxy watches instead of buying a Fitbit.
In other words, there is no reason to change unless there is some kind of pressure on profit margins. It could mean a backlash from consumers or an indication that switching to global technology would improve profits by lowering parts costs.
Industries sometimes adopt consumer-friendly standards in hopes of expanding the market as a whole. One of the best examples of this is Matter, the upcoming smart home protocol. While only time will tell how well it solves compatibility and networking issues, it’s an acknowledgment that high tide floats on all boats. We can only hope that the wearable industry takes note.
Complete: The best fitness apps to get in shape and stay there