What Is a Smartwatch and What Does It Do?

Over the past several decades, technological advancement has blurred many boundaries between various devices. Almost as if drawing on this, smartwatches combine multiple features of watches, phones, and computers.

As a result, there are many things smartwatches are good for, allowing you to choose general-purpose or specialty wearables. So let’s see what these gadgets are about and how you can use them.

What Is a Smartwatch: A Definition

A smartwatch is a touchscreen device you can wear on your wrist. It combines the features of a computer and a phone. Since smartwatches come with Bluetooth, you can use them as small-scale smartphones in situations when carrying a handset and answering calls proves to be inconvenient. And depending on the model, you can benefit from installing various apps on this wearable.

However, you have to be cautious when buying one since not every smartwatch will support just any app. There are various smartwatch functions for general and personalized use, and gadgets intended for specific purposes normally only come with apps that serve those purposes.

Smartwatches: A Short History

  1. In 1972, Hamilton Pulsar, the first digital watch, hit the market.
  2. In 1983, Seiko Data 2000, which could store two memos with 1,000 words each, debuted. Users could attach this watch to the keyboard that came with it.
  3. Many wearable computers featuring various data-storage capabilities were released during the 1990s.
  4. In 2004, Microsoft launched the first smartwatch that enabled viewing messages. This Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watch also received news, emails, and weather updates.
  5. The Pebble smartwatch debuted in 2013 and had over a million units sold, despite competition from Apple Inc., Sony, and Samsung, among others.
  6. At approximately the same time, dedicated smartwatches by Garmin and Suunto were released. These included specialty models for scuba-diving and back-country treks.
  7. From five million smartwatches sold in 2014 globally, the number of purchased units jumped to 75 million in 2017.

What Does a Smartwatch Do?

Generally, the functionality of a smartwatch depends on the actual model. For example, you usually don’t get an app informing you about diving parameters if your device is a healthcare wearable indicating the heart rate and body temperature.

Still, there are some features every smartwatch has, such as GPS locating and voice messaging, which means you’ll have some basic functions regardless of the type of smartwatch you choose.

Although specialty wearables may have the same standard functions as general-purpose smartwatches, these could be their improved versions. Now let’s quickly review some of the most common and popular ones.

Essential Smartwatch Functions

Some fundamental features every smartwatch has are:

Notifications Display

This is pretty self-explanatory. Yet, some devices may boast extras like a fall detector. If you fall while wearing the smartwatch and don’t move afterward, the device will send you several notifications. And if you don’t respond to those, the smartwatch will alert authorities.

Media Management

Pairing smartwatches with smartphones is among the most common smartwatch features. This enables you to listen to music playing on your smartphone or iPhone. Moreover, you can change the volume and tracks by using complementary equipment.

Fitness Tracking

Many smartwatches come with a pedometer allowing you to measure the distance you have covered. Also, this useful function may inform you how many calories you burned or state your heart rate.

GPS for Location Alerts and Details

GPS is another functionality many users take advantage of. And some smartwatch benefits GPS tracking offers are:

  • Getting alerts when your child or pet wanders off
  • Taking the shortest route to your destination while traveling
  • Keeping on track when hiking or exploring the great outdoors


Thanks to touchscreens, many smartwatches can be used for playing games, and even gaming models are available today.

Specialty Features for Specific Uses

To name a few, case-specific characteristics for dedicated smartwatches include:

Language Translation

Translating a foreign language is another thing a smartwatch can do for you. Imagine being abroad, unable to figure out what a traffic sign or a museum description means. With the right smartwatch, you are just a quick input away from finding out.

Compass Function

Advanced smartwatches may feature compass functionality, helping you figure out the cardinal directions if the environment (or time of day) makes it impossible.

Altitude Measurement

The altimeter is especially useful for outdoor enthusiasts enjoying outdoor mountainside activities. Say you go mountain hiking and aren’t sure how high you climbed. The smartwatch altimeter tells you just that.

Types of Smartwatches

As already mentioned, there are two common types of smartwatches: general-purpose and specialty wearables. There’s one subcategory, too.

Note that smartwatches for general use typically depend on smartphones. Accordingly, they act as a smartphone extension attached to your wrist. And while some smartwatches use the same operating system (OS) as smartphones, others don’t need the same OS to connect with a smartphone.

On the other hand, specialty smartwatches can act as stand-alone devices.

So, what is a smartwatch exactly? In case you are still wondering, remembering the available types will make it more straightforward for you.

General Purpose Models

  • Apple Watch, designed and sold by multinational technology company Apple Inc., must be connected to an iPhone to work. The wearable computing device is compatible with the iPhone 5 or later versions.
  • Tizen watches use the eponymous OS, compatible with the Samsung Galaxy line of smartwatches.
  • Wear smartwatches, made and sold by various manufacturers and vendors, feature Google’s Wear operating system. You’ll typically find them replacing classic wristwatches. These devices are fairly phone-dependent smartwatches.

Specialty Devices

  • Diving smartwatches update divers on depth, water temperature, and other vital indicators, such as time left before the oxygen runs out. Some models may even allow you to compare data from past diving expeditions.
  • Hiking models boast weather forecasts, basic vitals, and elevation indicators, among others. These smartwatches are usually robust and capable of withstanding dust, rain, and bumps.
  • Flying smartwatches are helpful for pilots. They come with weather tracking, a moving map powered by GPS, a logbook, and a pulse.

What Is a Hybrid Smartwatch?

Hybrid smartwatches are a mix of traditional watches and smartwatches, featuring the appearance of the former and the functionality of the latter. Generally, you can use hybrid smartwatches to send notifications, track fitness, and monitor your heart rate.

These devices don’t have a touchscreen but rather use the hour and minute hands to send alerts. Thus, when you assign contacts to specific numbers, the hands point to the number of the person trying to reach you.

Are Smartwatches Worth It?

Generally speaking, smartwatches are worth the expense, depending on what you need and what is on offer. Since many renowned brands manufacture these devices, you’re likely to find what you need if you have an adequate budget.

Depending on the particular model, you can use your smartwatch to:

  • Pay bills through its dedicated app that simulates a contactless credit card
  • Take a selfie, since most smartwatches have a camera on the same side as the screen
  • Play games, especially if your wearable features a more substantial memory, allowing for more games

Smartwatch Advantages and Disadvantages

Ultimately, everything may come down to benefits and drawbacks, so let’s mention some of them.

Some of the top advantages smartwatch owners enjoy are:

  • Ease of carrying, which makes smartwatches accessible.
  • Versatility, since they can use the device to monitor health, determine location, translate foreign languages, and more.
  • Keeping themselves entertained by listening to music, playing games, etc.

A few major downsides most smartwatches have are:

  • The size of the screen
  • The price tag (given that most smartwatches will require you to take belt-tightening measures)
  • Battery life (since most smartwatches can get you through no more than a 24-hour period)


Since we have seen how the smartwatch works, with most of them having to connect with a smartphone, we can conclude that smartwatches are:

  • Helpful gadgets capable of meeting various needs and demands, including entertainment, healthcare monitoring, and location updates
  • Convenient to carry and easy to access, unlike phones, whose extensions they are
  • Great everyday assistants, provided that you charge them regularly


Who invented the smartwatch?

Microsoft introduced the first smartwatch in 2004. Using technology developed in the 1970s, the company launched the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watch, capable of receiving messages and updates.

Is a smartwatch also a phone?

Most smartwatches are virtually smartphone extensions. They are support devices you can wear on your wrist.

Can a smartwatch work without a phone?

Some smartwatches can work on their own. Generally, these premium models need a micro-SIM to operate and communicate via a cellular network.

What is a smartwatch used for?

People use smartwatches for many purposes, depending on the actual type. Most common smartwatches can update you about weather and location changes, as well as let you know how much ground you have covered or how your heart beats. Specialty smartwatches can help you navigate a plane, dive, translate a foreign language, etc.

Milica Milenkovic
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