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Apple and Samsung smartwatches need more buttons should they want more athletes

Earlier this week, Samsung announced the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. Its Samsungs most durable smartwatch ever and at Unpacked it had been clear that the business intends the watch to interest outdoor athletes. Apple also revealed at WWDC that watchOS 9 will include a ton of new running metrics, adding fuel to rumors that a rugged Apple Watch could be along the way. Its clear that both companies want to lure in users from the Garmin and Polar crowd but apart from battery life and durability, theres another obstacle which could derail these efforts. Touchscreens.

For better or worse, Apple and Samsung have relied on touchscreen navigation on the smartwatches. Thats fine for casual exercise, or for the average indivdual who isnt traversing a variety of terrain with extreme temperatures. Its not likely to cut it for the outdoor enthusiast both companies are aiming at with one of these Pro watches.

Ive been testing the standard 40mm Galaxy Watch 5, even though its not the very same, the Pro is actually a more impressive, hardier version of the Watch 5. With regards to UI, they share exactly the same design DNA. That concerns me. On the few runs Ive gone on with the Watch 5 so far, its been challenging to swipe through screens mid-stride. Thats because its August so when the famous Santana song goes, man, its a hot one. Ive got sweaty fingers and sometimes I have to hit pause in order that I could rehydrate. To achieve that, I must stop and wipe off my hands just therefore i can swipe right and tap the pause button. Sounds not difficult, but its challenging once the humidity is thick enough that it feels as though youre swimming in soup.

The Race Route workout displayed on a Apple Watch Series 7
New running metrics hint a rugged Apple Watch is coming… but its unclear whether Apple will dramatically change the look.
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

Ive had exactly the same issue when testing watchOS 9 on my Series 7. You need to swipe up or scroll via the digital crown to see all of the new running metrics. Often, Ive had to avoid to successfully swipe through multiple menus merely to view among the new stats. Id hoped scrolling via the digital crown will be easier, but its not.

This isnt only a summer problem, either. If youre a triathlete, its a swimming problem too. In the event that you workout year-round, its a straight bigger issue in the wintertime when you yourself have to wear gloves. Ive had a lot of touchscreen-compatible gloves before, but theyve never been reliable on my phone aside from on my smaller smartwatch screen.

It is a non-issue by using a Polar or Garmin sports watch. Thats because physical buttons arent thwarted by moisture or gloves. As soon as you get accustomed to them, it is possible to flip through menus without needing to look down and soon you need to. Some use a variety of touch and button controls that is ideal as you can always utilize probably the most convenient way for confirmed situation.

Garmin Forerunner 255S on a woman’s wrist
The screen is probably not as nice on the Garmin Forerunner 255S, however the buttons make sure that I dont need to be worried about sweaty fingers.
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

Its clear that Apple and Samsung are both aware that athletes prize battery life, in-depth metrics, and durability. But its less clear if either company has really considered why so many outdoors enthusiasts and triathletes would prefer to quit a fancy touchscreen than physical controls.

We still dont know quite a bit about Apples rugged watch. The facts surrounding which have been kept under fairly tight wraps. However the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro isnt a secret anymore. Its out on the planet, and whatever it can have, its lacking the physical controls so many triathletes have become accustomed to. Considering that, its somewhat perplexing that Samsung eschewed the rotating bezel for the Pro. (That could have already been a tradeoff to make sure greater durability.) I must run more tests, not to mention, there are many reasons why you may decide on a more complex flagship smartwatch over a separate multisport GPS watch. But nowadays, whenever I make an effort to swipe on the Watch 5 or Series 7 with my sweaty digits, I often wish Id worn my Garmin instead.

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