The why of wearables? | PDD

The why of wearables?


on July 15 2014

Catching up on LinkedIn newsfeed, there is a link to a video entitled, “Smartwatches could be a perfect home for augmented reality.” As there are few really good applications for AR, and even fewer for smartwatches, I thought I’d see how the designers envisioned combining two questionable technologies.

Zoom in on a woman sitting at her breakfast table, a smartphone lying beside her, a smartwatch on her wrist. After making a bowl of cereal (with a truly staggering amount of milk), she picks up the milk bottle, sets it on the table in front of her, carefully aims her wrist at the milk packaging and uses the other hand to operate the controls on the smartwatch. Hey presto, the watch “recognises” the object as milk, and she indicates the number of servings (she was totally underestimating as I’m sure there were at least 2 generous servings in that cereal bowl). Anyway, skip ahead a bit and she’s tilting her wrist at an awkward angle to scan an advertisement about a sofa. She gives up using the smartwatch and switches to the smartphone to see how the sofa (in different colours!) would look in her living room.

I can’t help thinking…why? Leaving aside the dubious value of AR in this scenario, what value does the smartwatch add beyond a smartphone?  The interaction with the watch is awkward ergonomically, plus the screen is tiny.

A question I ponder whenever I see a new wearable…how is it better than a smartphone? They might be better when they’re able to offer something a smartphone can’t in terms of fit (ergonomic), focus (simple & relevant) and fashion (fitting in).

Wearable tech designed to fit more naturally to the body through its shape, materials and weight, such as the hands free headset from Jawbone. Designed to be worn all day, it follows the natural contour of the ear and face to create a secure and comfortable fit.

Image credit: Adidas miCoach – Fit Smart activity tracker

Rather than trying to do a little bit of  everything, as many devices attempt to do; a wearable that focuses on collecting responses from and providing feedback to relevant parts of the body, such as the Fit Smart activity tracker from Adidas which displays  heart rate, calories, pace, distance and stride rate and guides people (through visual cues and vibration) to train at the right intensity for the best results.

Most wearables look like a sporty and robust bit of technology, which limits their appeal, especially for those of us who don’t want to look like we’re part cyborg. Wearables that don’t scream “techy” or that can be worn more discreetly, offer an alternative aesthetic, such the Ringly smart ring, which connects to a smartphone, sending customised notifications through light and vibration more discreetly than a smartphone.

Supershoes by Dhairya Dand. Image credit: MIT Media Lad

Embedded wearable
There are of course some wearables that do all three (fit, focus and fashion), like MIT Media Lab’s Supershoes concept. Aimed as a ‘heads-up’ device to get people out from behind their smartphone and rediscover their urban environment, sensors in the shoes work with an app, navigating people to a destination by ‘tickling’ their feet.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe it’s just the scenario that’s played out in that smartwatch video that’s not very persuasive. But before designing a wearable, we must provide a clear and convincing answer to the key question, “why not use a smartphone?”