Moto 360

When left unchecked, phones are horrible distraction machines. Every vibration or ding must be checked and addressed, either by dismissal or by response, as soon as it happens. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Email, and your three favorite games are desperately trying to grab your attention as frequently as possible because the people building those apps know you can't help but check your phone as soon as the notification comes in. We're even using notifications occasionally in the Android Central app now, because it works every single time.

Some of the people who knew how terrible notifications are tried to move those them and their corresponding apps to your wrist, but instead of creating a fix the problem got worse and more expensive. Now the popular opinion is smartwatches are dying because they were never really useful, but as much as watch software needs to be fixed, your horrible notification habits need to change as well.

Every time you stop and check your phone, everything around you stops. You can't help it.

Every time you halt and check your phone, everything around you stops. You can't help it. Most of the time you don't even realize you're doing it. A bunch of you are reading this right now thinking, "No way, not me," but yes, I absolutely am talking to you. I first noticed it when I started wearing Google Glass in public. I was terrified of disrupting a conversation by having a notification show up on the lens, so I would mute my phone and pay full attention to the conversations around me. I started noticing everyone around me, from my friends coming over for a movie to coffee out with my Mom, couldn't help themselves. Everyone checks their phone all the time, usually for nothing, and that phone check has become so common that we don't even notice how it interrupts the world around us.

Smartwatches were supposed to help this. Glancing down at your wrist is a faster, more casual interruption that keeps you in the moment, at least that's what Google said when announcing Android Wear. If you could quickly triage an email from your wrist, you didn't need to stop and unlock your phone to see the whole message and act right that second. It's a great theory, but it only works when you aren't getting notifications every couple of minutes and even then it's only when you aren't compelled to stop and reply to the message.

Google saw more people wanting to stop and reply to messages, and now instead of curbing the notification behavior there's a virtual keyboard in Android Wear. Google's vision for helping you curb notification behaviors now includes a way to stop in the middle of the sidewalk to more accurately type on a screen a quarter the size of the phone the watch is supposed to be stopping you from constantly checking. Things have clearly gone wrong.

But that doesn't mean smartwatches are dead, and it doesn't mean there's no way to fix what is happening right now with smartwatches. Some of this is on Google and their partners. Manufacturers need to decide if they are selling us notification dumpsters or fitness accessories, and realizing that both is probably a bad plan. Samsung has the right idea with the Gear Fit and the Gear S3, focused at entirely different kinds of users. We're already seeing prices for smartwatches come down thanks to the ASUS ZenWatch 3, and with more hardware coming later this year price is likely to continue being an important topic. Focusing on the watch parts and not the fitness parts is hopefully a great step forward.

Android Wear

Lots of interesting things happen when you aren't constantly badgered by notifications.

Some of this is on the users though, and that's important. Every app we install is set by default to blast notifications at us whenever the app creator sees fit, but there are tools to fix that. Google has offered notification controls for a while now, but the most important one came with Android Nougat.

Some apps should have notifications fully blocked if you aren't ever going to care, but there's an alternative. Show silently makes it possible for your notifications to hit your screen without a tone or vibration, and it makes a significant difference in how you use your phone. With this enabled, you can wake your phone and see all of your notifications, but it happens on your terms. Try setting your important notifications to buzz or sing at you, but silence everything else. It makes a huge difference over time.

Lots of interesting things happen when you aren't constantly badgered by notifications. Your batteries last longer, your focus improves, and having a smartwatch becomes a far less ridiculous experience because you're not inclined to tap your wrist every few minutes. I think this year could be great for smartwatches, but it's going to have a lot to with how we all think about what that wrist computer is for. Constant notifications shouldn't have ever been the answer in the first place.