C. Scott Brown/Android Authority
I strongly believe in the value of smartwatches and fitness trackers. They helped me get in shape, and last week I was able to use plane boarding passes without always having to whip out hard 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 better for keeping me engaged with friends and family.
If there’s anything wearable believers and skeptics can agree on, it’s that the charging situation is a mess. Almost all devices have a proprietary cable, dock, or puck. This includes the Galaxy Watch 4, every Fossil smartwatch, every Apple Watch, and every Fitbit. Often chargers are not compatible with different models from the same company, let alone competitors, which is a far cry from the world of phones.
It’s high time for wearable makers to agree on a common standard for charging, and there are two main reasons for that.
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Losing a proprietary charger is a serious problem
Many, if not all of us, have had a time with our phone where we needed to charge, but we didn’t have our usual charging accessory handy. That’s usually not a big deal these days – for Android owners, USB-C cables are plentiful and the USB Power Delivery standard is ubiquitous, so the hardest part is finding a port or jack, that the latter requiring a corresponding AC adapter. People regularly share phone chargers with each other.
With portable devices, misplacing your charger can be a minor crisis. You can’t rely on accessories for other devices as a backup, so chances are you’ll be stuck watching your device drain to zero, despite relying on it for things like the work, travel, fitness or just telling the time.
In the portable world, misplacing your charger can be a minor crisis.
I’m in the gym for a few hours every time I go, and it’s tough every time I’m forced to lift without my workout playlist or some way to track performance. When traveling, I sometimes had to put my watch in low power mode because I didn’t know when I could plug in my charging puck.
You can, of course, buy extra or replacement chargers, but unless we’re talking about the Apple Watch, good luck finding them in stores. You’re more likely to have to buy them online, and possibly directly from the manufacturer, if not from a major retailer like Amazon. If you don’t plan ahead, a portable device may run out of juice before a replacement charger arrives.
See also: The best phone charging accessories
Proprietary Chargers Mean Planned Obsolescence
This brings us to the second problem, which is the limited lifespan imposed by proprietary chargers.
Inevitably, companies will stop making a given laptop as they move to newer and better ones. They will provide legacy support for a while, but for long enough they will stop selling you loadout hardware if it’s not compatible with recent hardware. So no matter how much you still love your Fenix 3, Garmin doesn’t have you covered, and even third-party accessory makers will eventually lose interest.
Over a long enough period, companies will stop selling you chargers if they are not compatible with recent hardware.
It’s actually planned obsolescence. It’s understandable ― companies don’t have infinite resources ― but it can put some products out of service before they stop being useful. That’s annoying considering people tend not to upgrade their watches or fitness trackers as often as they do their phones.
A corollary of this approach is that most portable devices lack niche accessories that make life easier, like keychain chargers or bedside table docking stations. Sure, Samsung sells wireless chargers that work with the Galaxy Watch, for example, but that’s an exception that proves the rule. The luckiest people are Apple Watch owners, but even they would likely have more options if Apple (in some small miracle) deigned to support a universal standard.
Related: The best Apple Watch chargers
What is the answer?
Jimmy Westenberg/Android Authority
From left to right: Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar, Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Assuming wearables makers try to go universal, the answer won’t be built-in USB-C ports. There just isn’t enough internal space in most products, given the need to cram processor, battery, storage and sensors into something the size of a wrist. Sometimes there isn’t enough outdoor space either, and there’s also the issue of keeping a device waterproof and dustproof.
Qi wireless would be ideal, but portable devices require smaller coils with less power than the chargers we use for devices like our phones. A phone-oriented Qi charger will struggle or fail to optimally power most portable devices, and vice versa. Trying to find a Qi-ready wearable is a challenge in itself, except for the Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro.
It is possible to build custom sized Qi chargers, but these only work effectively with specific products unless other manufacturers adopt similar sized receiver and transmitter coils. So the solution likely involves industry leaders like Fitbit, Fossil, Garmin, and Samsung getting together and deciding on a common Qi-based wearable form factor. You still won’t be able to use your phone charger with your watch, but you can at least wander into Best Buy or even a convenience store for a spare watch charger.
Has your smartwatch or fitness tracker ever run out of power because you didn’t have a charger handy?
What are the prospects for universal charging?
Jimmy Westenberg/Android Authority
There is no indication that the companies will soon agree on a standard. Portable form factors are constantly evolving, and proprietary chargers support this evolution because manufacturers don’t have to worry about a fixed design specification. In the case of chargers that are simply brand specific, they have the advantage (profit) of encouraging platform lock-in. If you have one of those Samsung wireless pads, for example, you’re probably going to stick with Galaxy Watches rather than buy a Fitbit.
There is no reason to change, in other words, unless there is some kind of pressure on profit margins. This could mean a negative consumer reaction or a sign that switching to universal technology would improve profits by reducing parts costs.
Industries sometimes adopt consumer-friendly standards in hopes of expanding the overall market. One of the best examples is Matter, an upcoming smart home protocol. Although only time will tell how well it solves compatibility and networking issues, it is known that a rising tide floats all boats. We can only hope the clothing industry takes notice.
Continue: The best fitness apps to get fit and stay there