Apple and Samsung need better smartwatch controls to win over athletes

Earlier this week, Samsung announced the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. This is Samsung’s most durable smartwatch to date and at Unpacked it was clear that the company wanted the watch to appeal to outdoor athletes. Apple also revealed at WWDC that watchOS 9 will feature a ton of new running metrics, adding fuel to rumors that a rugged Apple Watch could be on the way. It’s clear that both companies are looking to appeal to users in the Garmin and Polar crowd – but aside from battery life and durability, there’s another hurdle that could derail those efforts. Touch screens.

For better or worse, Apple and Samsung have relied on touchscreen navigation on their smartwatches. It’s fine for occasional exercise or for the average person who doesn’t traverse all kinds of terrain with extreme temperatures. That won’t be enough for the outdoor enthusiasts that both companies are targeting with these “Pro” watches.

I tested the standard 40mm Galaxy Watch 5, and while it’s not exactly the same, the Pro is essentially a bigger, beefier version of the Watch 5. As far as UI goes , they share the same design DNA. That worries me. On the few runs I’ve done with the Watch 5 so far, it’s been difficult to cycle through screens halfway. That’s because it’s August and as the famous Santana song says, man, it’s hot. I have sweaty fingers and sometimes I need to press pause so I can rehydrate. To do this, I have to stop and wipe my hands just so I can swipe right and hit the pause button. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not easy when the humidity is thick enough to feel like swimming in soup.

New running metrics suggest a rugged Apple Watch is coming…but it’s unclear if Apple will drastically change the design.
Photo by Victoria Song/The Verge

I had the same issue while testing watchOS 9 on my Series 7. You have to swipe up or scroll the digital crown to see all the new running metrics. Many times I had to stop to successfully cycle through multiple menus just to view one of the new stats. I was hoping scrolling through the digital crown would be easier, but it’s not.

It’s not just a summer problem either. If you’re a triathlete, it’s also a swimming problem. If you train all year round, it’s an even bigger problem in the winter when you have to wear gloves. I’ve had plenty of “touchscreen compatible” gloves before, but they’ve never been reliable on my phone let alone on my tiny smartwatch screen.

This is not a problem when using a Polar or Garmin sports watch. That’s because the physical buttons aren’t thwarted by moisture or gloves. Once you get used to it, you can browse menus without having to look down until you absolutely need to. Some even use a touch suit and control buttons – which is great because you can always use the most convenient method for a given situation.

Garmin Forerunner 255S on a woman's wrist

The screen might not be as nice on the Garmin Forerunner 255S, but the buttons ensure I don’t have to worry about sweaty fingers.
Photo by Victoria Song/The Verge

It’s clear that both Apple and Samsung are aware that athletes value battery life, in-depth metrics, and durability. But it’s less clear whether either company has really given much thought to why so many outdoor enthusiasts and triathletes would rather ditch a fancy touchscreen than physical controls.

We still don’t know much about Apple’s rugged watch. The details surrounding it have been kept secret. But the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is no longer a secret. It’s worldwide, and no matter what it has, it lacks the physical controls that so many triathletes have grown accustomed to. Given that, it’s somewhat perplexing that Samsung avoided the rotating bezel for the Pro. (It may have been a compromise to ensure greater durability.) I need to do more testing, and of course there are several reasons why you might opt ​​for a more advanced flagship smartwatch over a GPS watch. dedicated multisport. But these days, whenever I try to slip on the Watch 5 or Series 7 with my sweaty digits, I often wish I had been wearing my Garmin instead.


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