C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
I firmly believe in the value of smartwatches and fitness trackers. They helped me get fit, and last week I was able to use an airplane boarding pass without always having a paper copy or my phone out. In everyday life, being able to check notifications from my wrist or pause podcasts is a time-saver, not to mention better to keep me engaged with friends and family.
If some believers and wearable skeptics can both agree, though, that the charging situation is a mess. Almost every device has a proprietary cable, dock or twist. These include the Galaxy Watch 4, each Fossil Smartwatch, each Apple Watch and each Fitbit. Often the chargers are not compatible with different models of the same company, leaving the competitors far away from the world of phones.
It is almost time that wearable manufacturers set a general standard for charging, and there are several main reasons for this.
Our choice: The best fitness tracker
Losing a proprietary charger is a serious problem
Many if we had a moment with our phone where we needed to top up, but our normal charging accessory was not at hand. This isn’t a big deal these days – for Android owners, USB-C cables are plentiful and USB power delivery standards are ubiquitous, so the hardest part is finding a port or outlet, the latter requiring a matching AC adapter. People regularly share phone chargers with each other.
With wearables, misplacement of your charger can be a minor hassle. You can’t rely on accessories for other devices as a backup, so for things like work, travel, fitness, even if you rely on it, there’s a real chance that your device will get stuck in the air.
In the wearable world, improper placement of your charger can be a minor hassle.
I stay in the gym for a few hours whenever I go, and whenever I am forced to pick up my workout without the means of playlist or tracking performance it is rough. On the go, I occasionally had to put my watch in low-power mode because I wasn’t sure when I would be able to plug my charging wrap.
You can, of course, buy extra or replacement chargers, but if we don’t talk about the Apple Watch, you’re lucky to find them in stores. You probably have to buy them online and not directly from a big retailer like Amazon but probably from a manufacturer. If you don’t plan ahead, a wearable replacement charger may run out of juice before it arrives.
See also: The best phone charging accessories
Ownership charger means planned obsolescence
This brings us to the second problem, which is to impose a limited lifetime proprietary charger.
Inevitably, companies will stop making new and better wearables as well. They will provide legacy support for a while, but in the long run, if not compatible with the latest hardware, they will stop selling you charging gear. So no matter how much you still love your Fenix 3, Garmin has not covered you, and even third-party accessory makers will eventually lose interest.
In a long timeline, companies will stop selling your charger if it is not compatible with the latest hardware.
Effectively it is planned obsolete. It is understandable – the business does not have infinite resources – but it can drop some commissions before they stop being useful. It’s annoying that people don’t upgrade their watch or fitness tracker every time they call.
One consequence of this approach is that most wearables do not have special accessories that make life easier, such as keyfob chargers or nightstand docks. Of course, Samsung, for example, sells wireless charging pads that work with the Galaxy Watch, but this is an exception that proves the rule. The lucky ones are the owners of the Apple Watch, but they may even benefit from more options if Apple (a small miracle) is chosen to support a universal standard.
Related: The best Apple Watch charger
What is the answer?
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
From left to right: Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar, Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Assuming wearable manufacturers try to be universal, the answer is USB-C ports will not be integrated. Most products do not have enough internal space due to the need to cram processors, batteries, storage, and sensors into something wrist-sized. Sometimes there is not enough outdoor space and there is also the issue of keeping a device water- and dust-proof.
Qi Wireless would be ideal, but wearable coils require smaller coils of less power than the chargers we use for devices like our phones. A phone-based Qi charger will struggle or fail to give the most wearable things the best power and vice versa. Trying to find a Qi-ready wearable is a challenge in its own right, with the exception of the Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro.
Custom-sized Qi chargers can be made, but they only work efficiently with certain products unless other manufacturers accept receivers and transmitter coils of the same size. Then, the solution probably involves bringing together industry leaders like Fitbit, Fossil, Garmin and Samsung and deciding on a common Kiwi-based wearable layout. You will still not be able to use your phone charger with your watch, but you will at least be able to visit a convenience store for Best Buy or an additional watch charger.
Has your smartwatch or fitness tracker ever run out of power because you don’t have a charger?
What are the possibilities for universal charging?
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
There is no indication that companies will soon stick to a standard anytime soon. Wearable form factors are constantly evolving, and proprietary chargers support this evolution, since manufacturers do not have to worry about the features of a particular design. Chargers that are brand-specific only have the advantage of encouraging (profit) platform lock-in. For example, if you got one of those Samsung wireless pads, you’d probably stick with a Galaxy watch instead of buying a Fitbit.
In other words, there is no reason to change unless there is some kind of pressure on profit margins. This could mean consumer feedback or a sign that will improve profits by reducing the cost of parts switched to universal technology.
Industries sometimes adopt consumer-friendly standards in the hope of overall market expansion. One of the best examples of this is Matter, an upcoming Smart Home Protocol 7 Although only time will tell how well it solves compatibility and networking problems, it is a recognition that a rising tide is sweeping all boats. We can only hope that the wearable industry is taking notes.
Continue: The best fitness app to get in shape and stay there