Amid the Moto 360 details that leaked out over the weekend thanks to Best Buy’s misstep, one intriguing tidbit went largely unremarked. If the spec sheet is both correct and authentic, the Motorola gizmo could be one of the first major smartwatches that can connect directly to the Internet via Wi-Fi.
That’s something that neither the Moto 360’s Android Wear brethren nor its non-Android competitor Pebble support. As for Apple’s long-rumored iWatch—well, we’ll see once Apple announces it. [Update: Some do include the hardware for it, though. See below.]
The detail is right there in Best Buy’s Moto 360 spec sheet (now defunct, though you can see our screencapped version here) with this line: “Wireless compatibility: Wireless-N.” Again, assuming that page was correct to begin with, it strongly suggests the Moto 360 comes with its own Wi-Fi radio. (We’ve contacted Motorola for comment.)
That’s no small matter. Support for Wi-Fi means the Moto 360 might not have to be wirelessly tethered to a smartphone in order to check your messages or to collect baseball scores for you. Though of course it will still work with companion smartphone apps as well, since that’s one of the main selling points of Android Wear to begin with.
What’s not yet remotely clear is just how the Moto 360 will exploit its additional wireless freedom.
Best of Both Worlds
The smartwatch community seems to be divided into two camps. Some want their watches to work with their smartphones; others want independent, standalone devices.
Smartphone tethering offers several advantages. When the smartwatch mostly just displays notifications from a phone there’s no duplication of data or accounts. Wristworn gadgets can also take advantage of a phone or tablet’s heftier processing power. That beats trying to stuff those components into a wee little casing and feed them from a shrunken battery.
By contrast, a standalone smartwatch doesn’t turn into a hunk of glass on your wrist if you happen to leave your phone at home.
Among major smartwatch contenders, Pebble, Samsung Gear Live and LG G use Bluetooth pairing to phones exclusively. Sony’s upcoming Smartwatch 3, by contrast, is expected to launch with Wi-Fi, although we don’t know much more about how it will make use of it than we do with the Moto 360.
Wi-Fi To Go, Hold The Recharge
So what uses might the Moto 360 do with Wi-Fi? To start with the most prosaic possibilities, there’s routine maintenance. It’s not too difficult to imagine a watch that can download system updates or new apps automatically, whether it’s within Bluetooth range of a phone or not.
It’s also sort of hard to get excited about that possibility.
Support for basic messaging—texts and email, for instance—would be a next obvious choice. And Wi-Fi would give a standalone watch some crude location-finding capability as well, although it would be limited because the Moto 360 doesn’t have GPS.
Perhaps it makes more sense to think of Wi-Fi as yet another way to sync data from the smartwatch to the cloud. We already know the Moto 360 comes with a built-in optical heart-rate monitor, so it’s entirely possible that it may sync up fitness data via phone or Wi-Fi, whichever channel is available.
This seems particularly likely since Motorola introduced a fitness tracker it called the Motoactv a few years ago. That particular gadget included Wi-Fi for … you guessed it, syncing fitness data to Motorola’s own cloud service.
All that connectivity could come at a cost, however. The Best Buy spec sheet didn’t include any details on the Moto 360’s battery capacity, but it’s not hard to imagine the Wi-Fi connection draining watch-sized power cells dry when you’re out and about. Not an attractive scenario, especially if you’re out there without your phone.
Hopefully some of this will be addressed at the official press announcement on September 4. Stay tuned for details.
Lead photo courtesy of Motorola
Update: According to an iFixit teardown, the Samsung Gear Live includes a radio capable of Wi-Fi connectivity.