Introduction – it has ceased to be
Another Braille watch died on me recently. Based on the responses to my revealing of this fact on Twitter, there seems widespread dissatisfaction with the build quality and appearance of many of today’s Braille watch options.
Some distributors of Braille watches now refer to them as tactile watches. While I’m a passionate advocate for Braille, I understand why they do this. You don’t need to know a dot of Braille to benefit from the type of watches we’ve traditionally referred to as Braille watches, and it would be a pity if people avoided them because they were under the false impression that they needed to know Braille to use one.
Nevertheless, whether we call them Braille or tactile watches, this doesn’t change the fact that the one I purchased only three-and-a-half years ago has ceased to be. I replaced it’s battery, but that didn’t revive it. I could have sent it to a jeweller for repair, but the reality is that it’s cheaper to buy a new one. And that, I’m afraid, says a lot about the quality of what’s out there.
I’ve grown tired of the cheap Braille watch products flooding the market. The watch that my recently demised Braille watch replaced had its glass implode in quite spectacular fashion when I was walking through a hotel corridor, sending tiny slithers of glass everywhere.
Tactile Watches in the Smart Watch Era
The generally poor quality of Braille watches prompted me to think seriously about whether I really needed another tactile watch. I bought an Apple Watch a few months ago, and I’ve made peace with it to the point that I would miss it if I didn’t have it. Using it for quick messages, controlling my Apple TV, and having quick access to my next appointment are handy. But the killer features are the health and fitness capabilities. I’m definitely more active because of them. I also appreciate the heart rate data. Over the last week, I’ve been stuck in bed with a dreadful respiratory bug that sent me off to the doctor. He was concerned about my elevated heart rate, but I was able to assure him that it was a result of the bug. I could tell him exactly what my typical heart rate tended to be, and could even produce plenty of data from the Health app of my iPhone to substantiate what I was saying.
And when it’s appropriate, the Apple Watch speaks the time right down to the second.
I’d never be comfortable having my watch speak the time in a meeting situation, drawing attention to the fact that I’m checking the time, but I figured that I often work with a Braille display or some sort of note taking device with headphones connected, so I could probably get by.
But the one thing I couldn’t find an alternative solution for was waking up in the night. Once again, this comes back to my needs as someone who wears hearing aids. I’ve become good at waking up just enough to check the Braille watch on my wrist, and going back to sleep if I feel like it, and don’t need to be awake yet. Checking the time in some auditory way would involve putting my hearing aids in first, and the process of doing that would wake me up enough that I’d be less likely to get back to sleep. Even if I were to wear the Apple Watch at night and charge it at some other time, I can’t always hear it reliably when it’s at full volume without my hearing aids. In the end then, I decided I still wanted something tactile on my wrist.
Considering the Bradley
My friend Gordon Luke, who has made other technological recommendations that have worked out well for me, is most effusive in his praise of the Bradley Time Piece from Eone Time. It was a product I had originally dismissed as a solution looking for a problem. In my years in product management in the assistive technology field, I’d often be approached by people who were certain they had invented the next revolutionary product for the blind. Their intentions were always good, but often, such products were developed without truly understanding how blind people live our lives, or the benefits of the solutions they were seeking to replace.
When I first read about the Bradley, I wondered what problem they were trying to solve. The literature about the product seemed to imply that blind people couldn’t tell the time by touch independently before. And indeed there are some remnants of this language that remain in the instructions distributed with the product now, which I think is unfortunate. The reality is that blind people have been wearing tactile watches for many decades.
But as people started to receive their products after a successful crowd funding campaign, it was impossible to ignore the positive social network chatter about the Bradley. Clearly, Eone Time has met a need that previous tactile solutions had not. I’m not saying there isn’t a person who has bought a Bradley and not liked it, but I have yet to encounter one. Anecdotal evidence gathered via social media suggests that satisfaction with the Bradley is high.
The Bradley is nowhere near as cheap as many of the traditional Braille watches out there, but my hope is that buying a quality product will mean I have a watch that will last me for many years, thus saving me money in the long run.
And on that basis, I decided to take the plunge and buy a Bradley Time Piece, sight unseen as it were.
Telling the Time
The Bradley differs from a traditional Braille watch in two key respects. First, there’s no watch face to open and close. It’s the ultimate in discrete tactile time telling, because you can quickly check the time without even lifting any special hinged watch face.
Second, say goodbye to the concept of watch hands. Traditional tactile watches facilitate time telling through the use of a large minute hand, and a smaller hour hand, both on the face of the watch. With the Bradley, you tell the time by checking the location of two tiny ball-bearings about the size of a pea. The two ball bearings never intersect, because you look for hour and minute information in separate places.
Determining the minute is similar to checking a traditional tactile watch. On the watch face of the Bradley, tactile markings denote five minute intervals. These also serve as the hour symbols. A tactually distinctive downward-pointing triangle denotes 12 o’clock, and slightly larger symbols are located at each quarter.
However, to check what hour it is, one looks for a ball bearing located in a groove running around the side of the watch, not on the watch face. This groove gives the Bradley a feeling like two identical pieces of metal stacked on top of one another. Actually, it rather reminds me of a cookie we have in New Zealand, where two identical cookies are stacked on one another, with jam in the middle.
This time telling approach has its advantages. Depending on one’s dexterity and the size of their conventional tactile watch, some people have had difficulty telling time when the hands are close to intersecting. That’s not a problem you’ll experience with the Bradley, because the ball bearings denoting hour and minute are on completely separate tracks.
Speaking of dexterity, you need a feather-light touch with the Bradley. It’s easy to knock the bearings off the correct time, and send them spinning around the watch. Actually, spinning the bearings around the watch can be a handy form of stress relief. It’s easy to return the Bradley to the correct time though. Give your wrist a gentle shake, and the ball bearings return to where they should be for the current time.
Most people will adapt. I soon developed a technique to look for the bearings in a way that doesn’t shift them.
The watch face is spacious, and after a few days, I found it easy to tell time right down to the minute, something I was able to confirm by checking with my Apple Watch. But in the scenario that prompted the purchase in the first place, waking up in the night and needing to know what time it is, I find that just checking the side of the watch for the hour information is sufficient. The ball bearing gradually moves as the hour proceeds.
Presentation is important to me, and the Bradley Time Piece is a beautiful thing. It’s a fashion watch, yet it’s not out of place if you’re dressed casually. It’s made of titanium, so it feels like a quality, solid product. It’s the kind of watch people will remark upon, because it just looks so good. And the way the product looks has resulted in it being embraced by some fashion-conscious sighted people, who want a great-looking time piece that’s unique. That’s good news, because the larger the market, the more likely it is that the Bradley will remain viable.
Inside, Swiss components have been used for accurate time keeping. It’s powered by a a Renata 371 button cell watch battery, which Eone Time says should last about two years. Any jeweller or battery replacement store will be able to take care of it.
I bought the silver mesh option, which has a strap that’s similar in texture to the Milanese loop for Apple Watch. It’s easy to fit and adjust, yet it’s secure on the wrist.
Unboxing the Bradley was a pleasantly surprising experience. The box included an outer sleeve with the product’s name in Braille and print. The instruction booklet in the attractive, hinged box is Braille and print. The instructions provided me with sufficient information for me to work out how to tell the time, even though I’d never seen a Bradley before.
If you do a bit of Googling on the Bradley, you may be under the impression that it’s highly water resistant, and that you can submerge it in up to 50 meters of water. And indeed, if you got the early batch, you are fortunate enough to have such a beast. However, models being shipped today are only splash resistant, due to difficulties with the manufacturing process.
I was able to confirm this by dropping Eone Time an email, which was answered promptly and courteously. That gave me confidence that if I ever run into a problem with the Bradley, I’m going to be looked after.
Smart watches do so much more than a conventional watch. But in terms of time pieces, this is by far the best I have owned. I am delighted with my purchase. The Bradley is a beautiful, functional device that lets me tell the time discretely and accurately. I feel proud to be seen wearing it. It’s clear that great care has been taken in its manufacture, and I feel like I’ve made a solid investment. I expect to be getting good use out of it for many years to come.
My only caution would be for those who don’t have a light touch, perhaps due to diabetes having affected their fingertips or because they’re not used to working with products requiring a feather-light touch. For everyone else, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Do you own a Bradley? How is yours working out for you? Let us know in the comments.