If you’re buying a smartwatch, fitness tracker or any wearable device, you’re about to enter a new world of epic jargon. Wearables suffer from more tricky tech terms and future slang than your average gadget – and it’s easy to be baffled.
This A-Z is designed to be a seriously helpful (but not always serious) resource for anyone new to wearable tech whether it’s buying your first fitness tracker or taking baby steps into VR.
We’ll continue to keep our wearable tech dictionary updated – just tweet us @Wareable with your term (and definition if you like) to get it added to the list. Because one small group of fantastically good-looking and frightfully on it editors can’t cover everything.
accelerometer n. A device that measures acceleration/g-force, used in pedometers, phones and fitness trackers to more accurately count your steps. Some trackers then add fancy algorithms using your height/weight/age to estimate calories burned from accelerometer and GPS data.
altimeter n. Even better for hikers, or anyone who works on the 22nd floor, an altimeter measures your altitude above a fixed point. Proper pals with the accelerometer, the elevation-tracking altimeter knows that not all steps are equal.
ambient computing n. Sounds crazy but actually you already know about it already. Think Siri and Alexa. Tech all around you, going about its business
AMOLED n. Stands for Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diodes. It’s a super bright display type found on smartwatches.
Android Wear n. The former name of Google’s smartwatch operating system. Now called Wear OS. Unlike Apple’s, which only runs on the Apple Watch, Android Wear runs across smartwatches made from a host of brands, from Huawei and LG to Hugo Boss and Fossil. It offers notifications, Google Assistant, and access to the Google Play store.
atrial fibrillation n. Also known as aFib, this is a condition that means you have a quivering or irregular heartbeat. Erratic signals impact your heart’s natural heartbeat, which can lead to a build up of blood in the upper chambers of the heart, which can lead to blood clots and, in turn, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
augmented reality n. It’s augmented reality when you can still see your living room through whatever is displayed on the smartglasses. If you’re bumping into tables, it’s virtual. AR has really hit the headlines with Pokemon Go, but as tech matures, there will be far more useful applications than that.
bioimpedance n. Usually followed by ‘sensor’. Essentially refers to the measurement of body composition and water content by passing an electrical current through the body. It’s real science – smart scales use bioimpedance to measure muscle mass vs fat – but the technique has also been used to make wilder, unproven claims such as measuring glucose levels.
bionic adj. The way we use it, the merging of biology (that’s us) and electronics (that’s the fun stuff) to give amputees robotic limbs and the rest of us, one day, superpowers.
Bluetooth n. Wireless tech using radio waves to move info about over short distances and, for now at least, what makes the wearable world go round. If it connects to your phone, chances are it uses Bluetooth. If you think you’ve never used it, find Bluetooth right there in settings usually under Wi-Fi.
bpm n. Beats per minute, of your heart that is. Useful to see how hard you’re working during gym training or running and measured by more and more wearables. See heart rate training zones.
cadence n. Steps per minute while running, determined by height, weight, stride length and ability. The magic number for pros is 180, yours will probably be 160 – 170. In cycling, it’s your pedalling rate.
calorie denial n. Someone who lies to MyFitnessPal or ‘forgets’ to act honestly towards any food tracking app is in denial of their calories. They have no respect for themselves. Or others.
crowdfund v. Historic usage: to throw cash at vapourware made by companies you’ve never heard of that you have a 9% chance of actually owning using sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Current usage: to throw cash at devices made by companies you’ve never heard of that you have a pretty good chance of wearing in 6-12 months time using sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Alternative usage: to throw cash at a mystery e-paper watch made by a company you’ve never heard of only to find out it’s made by Sony.
data n. How most health and fitness wearable tech makes itself useful – collecting data about your body or its performance. Aggregated and (sometimes) explained and analysed in device companion apps and all-in-one apps such as Apple Health, Google Health and Samsung Health. A problem with big potential.
Dick Tracy n. This guy. He solved comic strip crimes from the 1930s to the 1970s and beyond with help from his Two-Way Wrist Radio. Thanks to cellular smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 4 – which include a walkie talkie feature – we can now do this.
early adopter n. The only person patient enough to buy, wear and use most wearable tech before late 2014. Owned a smartwatch in the mid 90s. Still has it somewhere if you’re interested.
E Ink/e-paper n. OK, here goes – e-paper refers to any display tech that aims to look like paper: high contrast, easily visible in sunlight, low power, usually black and white. E Ink is one specific company making very good e-paper displays for the Amazon Kindle and others. Phew, that was easier than we thought.
ECG n. Built into newer wearable devices like the Apple Watch Series 4 and Withings Move ECG, an electrocardiogram is used to detect cardiac abnormalities. It does this by using electrodes on the skin to measure electrical activity produced by the heart.
FOV n. Field of view i.e the extent of the first person VR game you can see on screen at any time. The more degrees, the more immersive or so the theory goes.
foveatedrendering n. This uses eye tracking to adjust the graphics of VR. The places you’re looking at uses high-resolution graphics, while the places you aren’t looking at are essentially degraded, focusing processor power on only the places you’re looking at.
galvanic skin response n. Sweat much? This is the change in the amount of moisture on your skin and therefore how much it conducts electricity. Also known as skin conductance, it can tell clever wearable sensors how stressed or nervous you are. Like taking a constant lie detector test for fun.
glucose monitoring adj. The next frontier in wellness, there are now sensors that can read glucose levels, which has huge applications for health devices. The Apple Watch can support glucose monitors directly.
GPS n. A device that has a Global Positioning System chip means it can determine its location on the earth’s surface down to a couple of feet. Primarily this is used by running watches for accurate outdoor run-tracking, which remains the only true way to get reliable distances.
hypoallergenic adj. Shouldn’t make your skin itch or get irritated but still might. Unregulated term, proceed with some caution.
hybrid smartwatch n. A watch which appears to be a standard analogue watch with hands, yet has hidden technology in the case. This is generally step tracking tech that syncs with your smartphone, but increasingly moving to notifications, expressed by vibrations and moving the watch’s hands.
heart rate monitoring n. See optical heart rate.
IFTTT n. If This Then That. An app and web platform that lets you hook up two or more devices, apps or services to set up automatic actions.
Do say: IF I walk in my front door wearing my Apple Watch THEN my Philips Hue bulbs should throw me a light party to distract me from my crushing loneliness
inside-out tracking n. A tracking system for VR and AR. This uses cameras and sensors on the headset to track where the headset is in relation to the rest of the room. Headsets like the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive Cosmos use this system.
IPXX n. An official way of testing how water resistant, waterproof or dustproof a wearable is. The first number is dust, the second is water. Higher is better. X5 will do for casual use, X8 for swimmers.
(smart) jewellery n. Wearable devices that take the form of earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets and brooches and connect to your self or smartphone in some way. Some buzz, some blink, some track. Girls, handy if your dress doesn’t have pockets.
killer app n. A wildly popular and/or useful application. What most tech pundits claim smartwatches such as the Apple Watch need to succeed. Remind us again, tech pundits, what was the killer app for the much-bought, much-loved iPad?
latency n. A Big Deal for anyone building a Virtual Reality (see virtual reality) headset. Latency is the time delay between the gamer hitting a controller or moving their head and the action being rendered on screen. Lower is better and well, we wouldn’t say no to zero. Because lag is the enemy of fun and the bed fellow of nausea.
LTE n. The technology that enables wearable devices to have their own high-speed cellular connectivity, LTE is the same as 4G. Primarily seen on smartwatches that can operate untethered from a smartphone. This has seen a boost since the Apple Watch Series 3 added it, but not many Wear OS devices have jumped on.
Micro LED n. A superior type of display that’s rumoured to be hitting smartwatches, but has still to debut. It’s superior to AMOLED because it has higher brightness and demands less power.
MPU n. A low powered alternative processor which enables wearables to go about their sensing business without draining the battery of its juice before you’ve made it to the bus stop. The iPhone uses a motion co-processor (basically an MPU) to do it’s Health gubbins on the sly.
natural language processing n. The tech that will mean you’ll be able to have a conversation with Siri/Google Assistant/Alexa without wanting to bash your smartwatch or smartphone’s brains in. Essentially, what’s needed for a personal, voice-activated assistant to understand and respond in natural, conversational language instead of stilted keywords. It’s coming. And yes it will be a bit like Her when it does.
Don’t say: OK Google, what is the next appointment on my agenda?
NFC n. Near Field Communication. This tech has been around for ages but has finally taken off thanks to services like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Once it’s switched on, a simple tap is required to pair devices or transfer info.
notifications n. An alert from your smartphone that’s delivered to your wearable device. Smartwatches are all about delivering notifications of texts, messages and calls, and many fitness trackers ape the functionality.
Do say: I’ve got an Oculus killer killer. It’s called Oculus Quest.
open source adj. The geek way of saying “everyone come in, take what you want and build something cool because we can’t, won’t or are simply too awesome to care otherwise”. Usually refers to software.
optical heart rate monitoring n. A way of measuring your pulse using LEDs to highlight the speed of blood flow through your capillaries. No chest strap required (though one of these is still more accurate, especially at higher bpms).
outside-in tracking n. A tracking system for VR and AR that uses sensors placed around your room to track where the headset is in relation to the rest of the room. This is used by most of the current high-end VR systems, like Rift and Vive.
power management n. A feature on some devices that means they will power off or switch to a low power mode when it makes sense to do so. The dream.
PPI n. The amount of pixels per inch that make up your device’s screen. The more pixels packed into the screen, the crisper the picture will be.
Qi n. If your gadget or wearable supports wireless charging, chances are it uses this standard. See ‘W’.
quantified self n. The big trend of tracking ourselves – from the food we eat to the exercise we do to how happy we are. Also an honest-to-goodness movement, popular in the US.
Don’t say: I can’t bear to look at my quantified self in the mirror.
RFID n. Tiny wireless radio tags that can transmit info from, for instance, wearables. Also fan favourite for implanting in brave human bodies.
SDK n. A bunch of software development tools made available so that devs can build apps for your smartwatch etc. Anyone who is anyone in wearables has just released an SDK and is really excited about it.
SpO2 n. An optical heart rate sensor that can detect the amount of oxygen in your blood – increasingly found on Fitbit and Garmin devices. Generally used at night, dripping or highly variable blood oxygen levels can point to conditions such as sleep apnea.
SWOLF n. Scoring system, used by swimmers and featured on some Garmin watches. Add your lap time to the number of strokes taken to get your SWOLF score. Lower is, of course, better. And yes, the word is swim + golf.
tech neck n. slang Wrinkles that appear on the necks of smartphone addicts who spend too much time looking down. Creams actually exist for this condition but posture trackers, smart jewellery and smartglasses will also help keep our eyes and chins up.
Tizen n. The operating system developed and used by Samsung on its range of smartwatches. It’s comparable to watchOS and Wear OS in terms of functionality, but suffers from a more limited app store.
UI n. Stands for user interface and refers to the controls and graphics that you see and use to interact with the wearable tech OS usually via a touchscreen. Need to be big, bold and intuitive to stand a chance.
virtual assistant n. See ambient computing
virtual reality n. A simulated environment, often 3D modelled, that makes you feel as though you are present in either a fictional world or a different part of this one. It does this using high def displays in headsets like the Oculus Rift as well as head tracking, 3D audio, haptics and hand tracking to make you feel like you’re really there. Lots of fun. The final nail in the coffin of hardcore gamers’ social skills.
VO2 max n. A way to boast how fit you are. VO2 max measures the volume of oxygen you consume when exercising at your maximum capacity. As you get fitter, the amount of oxygen your body transfer will go up – making it the true barometer of your fitness.
watchOS n. Apple’s smartwatch OS found on the Apple Watch. watchOS 5 is the latest version.
wearable n./ adj. Finally! The meaning of life (if your life really IS wearable tech). We define a wearable as tech that connects to you in some way, not just something you can wear like these non-wearable wearables. Think of it this way – if there’s no reason to wear it, it probably shouldn’t be worn. We wouldn’t buy, say, a solar charging jacket that takes all day to recharge our phone, we’d just pick up a cheap powerpack and stick it in our pocket for 20 minutes.
Wear OS n. Google’s smartwatch operating system. Named Wear OS to better separate it from the Android brand, making it clear that its smartwatches work with both iPhones and Android phones.
wireless charging n. Uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy from a mat or dock to a smartwatch or smartphone. The future. Though, for now, wired charging tends to still be quicker.
(heart rate training) zones n. Based on your bpm. Use a running watch, tracker or strap to make sure you are in the right one of zones when training for either recovery, fat burning or cardiovascular benefits. Athletic? Get your full rundown here. Total beginner? Get your heart rate zones for dummies here.