With an App Store, WIMM’s Android Watch Gets a Little More Practical

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

Style considerations aside, owning a dedicated wristwatch is harder to justify when the smartphone in your pocket provides the same information and then some.

So now we have companies like WIMM, whose Android-powered WIMM One watch tries to do more than tell time. Flicking a finger across the watch’s 1.4-inch touch screen lets you glance at the weather, look up calendar appointments and set up alarms. When paired by Bluetooth to an Android phone, the WIMM One can alert you to incoming calls and text messages.

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Last month, WIMM took another step forward with the beta launch of the Micro App Store, a place to download more clock faces and apps made by third-party software makers. I’m not a watch person, but the arrival of the Micro App Store convinced me to take the WIMM One for a spin, after a PR rep offered me a unit for review.

WIMM bills its watch as a “Developer Preview,” but the company recently made a small batch available on Amazon for $199. The guts of the device are housed in a rectangular plastic module, which you pop into a larger plastic frame on a rubber wrist strap. It’s not the classiest-looking time piece, and it’s a bit thick on the wrist. I imagine your comfort wearing the WIMM One in public will depend on whether the folks around you are equally enamored with technology, regardless of geekitude.

But the WIMM One hardware is only means of delivery for the platform, which currently allows app developers to create software for the device, and will eventually allow hardware makers to sell WIMM’s modules alongside their own wrist straps, arm bands, pendants and belt clips. That’s where things are going to get interesting.

Like the WIMM hardware, WIMM’s Micro App Store is a work in progress. At the moment, eight additional watch faces and 21 third-party apps are available. Instead of installing them directly through the watch, you must visit WIMM’s website or use its Android companion app, and then sync the device with WIMM’s servers. The website also allows you to adjust watch settings, while the companion app lets you set up text message and voice call syncing on the watch. The remote setup process may seem clunky, but it makes sense given that the watch doesn’t give you much room to navigate, and relies on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth pairing to connect to the Internet anyway.

The apps themselves are at their best when the task isn’t better served by a smartphone. “Coffee Card” is one of the more clever examples, letting you load Starbucks gift cards onto the device, then pay at the register with a bar code without ever taking out your phone or wallet. “Remoter” can launch widgets on a paired Android phone, which is useful for silencing the phone while it’s still in your pocket or toggling phone settings such as Wi-Fi or GPS. “SportyPal” uses the WIMM One’s accelerometer to measure reps during exercise, then it syncs the data to its smartphone apps and to the web.

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Not all of the store’s apps are as useful. I can’t ever think of a situation where I’d want to play games, read news or look at photos on a watch when my smartphone provides a much better experience. In the future, WIMM may want to showcase apps that either provide a service where a phone wouldn’t be practical, such as exercise apps, or help the user decide whether it’s necessary to take the phone out, such as notifiers for messages. On that note, I’d love to see WIMM’s built-in notifications expanded to include Facebook, Twitter and IM services.

The hardware is pleasant to use. Its display is responsive to the touch, and after a few seconds of inactivity, the screen reverts to a grayscale mode with no backlighting, allowing the WIMM One to tell time without killing battery life or requiring any action by the user. With moderate use, you’ll have to charge the WIMM One every night, using a docking station that connects to the module’s back panel.

On the downside, the WIMM One doesn’t have a headphone jack, a microphone or an external speaker–save for a little bleep it makes for incoming calls–which means no music playback or Dick Tracy-style phone calls. I worry that these missing features may limit the types of apps third-party developers can come up with.

WIMM has plenty of competition. Sony’s SmartWatch has an OLED display and support for compatible apps through the Android Market. Another rival called I’m Watch is building a model with a built-in speaker, a microphone, a headphone jack and a higher-resolution display, plus an app store of its own. Although the iPod Nano isn’t a watch by design, some users have repurposed it using third-party straps.

The WIMM One is a better timekeeper than those other devices, simply because it lets users tell time without pushing a button or killing battery life. But WIMM’s got its work cut out if it wants to have the superior smart device.

My advice? Wait until the dust settles. May the watch with the best apps win.

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