The Apple Watch is upon us, and with it comes more mainstream attention on the wearable device market than ever before.
Of course, other companies struck this iron first, such as Pebble and Google. Several of our developers have been wearing Android watches for months now that went largely unnoticed outside of our own technical circles. Until Apple announced its version; then suddenly they couldn’t go anywhere without someone asking “Is that the Apple Watch?”
Apple still has the ability to capture the mainstream consumer’s attention like no other, and their entry into the wearables market is a sign that the war for your wrist is heating up.
Less Revolution Than Evolution
The fact that all of these major technology players are taking the leap into wearables is a sign of the times. Interaction paradigms are changing. The ready availability of data and notifications will give rise to new ways of accessing our information without us being buried in our phones.
It’s a subtle shift, much more of an evolution than the sweeping smartphone revolution. And as such, it’s been met with considerably more cynicism and incredulity. Perhaps nowhere else is this more readily apparent than with the much-maligned Google Glass, which has gone back to the drawing board after its initial public beta program.
I found the Glass program revelatory, but not so much from the point of view of the technology itself as much as what we learned from people’s reaction to it:
- There’s a “weirdness” factor to overcome with wearable technology that isn’t present with other device categories.
- The further you get from a familiar interaction paradigm, the more uncomfortable consumers get.
- The more obvious the wearable is, the more uncomfortable consumers get.
One of the reasons why smartwatches are so well primed to enter the market is because we’ve reached a place where they meet all of the above criteria.
The “weird” factor is fairly low; practically everyone wears or has worn a watch and the natural behavior with a watch is to glance at it for information. (While a lot of people already wear glasses too, there’s not much in the way of interaction with them, which is part of why smart glasses came off as so strange.) And beyond that, wrist-bound devices such as Fitbits and other fitness trackers have become fairly commonplace.
The interaction paradigm is familiar, both in terms of using a watch but also based on the fact that all smartwatches are basically tiny touch screens. And touch screens have become all but ubiquitous in recent years.
And smartwatches are not particularly obvious, especially if you’re not actively looking for them. Depending on the screen color, material and watchband, you might mistake one at a glance for a normal watch, and that ultimately has to be the goal of wearable design. They should be somewhat indistinguishable from their analog counterparts, while still being flashy enough to satisfy those looking to wear them as a fashion statement or nerd-cred badge of honor.
If Google Glass had been released in a form factor that was identical to a normal pair of glasses but still offered all of its benefits, it would’ve been gobbled up. Instead, it’s back to the drawing board, even though there are still potential enterprise and industrial applications (you don’t have to deal with the social mores of “not looking weird” at a job site.)
Designing for the Wrist
As we build out software for these new experiences, it’s a drastically different ballgame than ever before. This is plainly evidenced by the offerings at hand: you can get everything from a smart business calendar to a literal pizza compass.
The trick is brevity. How do we design for and provide information that’s important enough that you need near-instant access to it but not make it so in-depth that the limitations of the platform reveal themselves?
We’ve taken our stab with iMeet Agenday, and have thankfully been rewarded for our efforts. Simple calendar notifications, information-rich and yet still aesthetically pleasing watchfaces and voice-activated access to common meeting features (i.e. sending “I’m running late!” messages) are all a start.
And yet most developers, ourselves included, have just begun to scratch the surface. And we’re also still very early in these devices’ existence; the hardware, features and APIs will continue to evolve, allowing us to craft experiences we can’t even picture yet.
No matter where your opinion stands on them, one thing is for sure: the wearables are coming. I for one am looking forward to the show.
Already a smartwatch owner? Download iMeet Agenday today, which recently won the first ever Appy Award for wearables!