Smartwatches and other wrist wearables have been prominent at this year’s CES, the consumer electronics show which provides an early look at annual product trends.
Surely if everyone is announcing products in a new category, it must be on the cusp of mass market adoption, right? I disagree and think this is a classic case of engineering (the ‘can we?’ voice within a company) shouting louder than customer experience (the ‘should we?’ voice).
Try this simple test:
- Find a real person, i.e. someone who can’t tell you what version of Android they’re using.
- Ask them which of the smartwatches pictured below they would wear.
In my experience most declined any of them and, tellingly, didn’t even ask questions like “What does it do?” or “How much does it cost?” They fail on looks alone.
Even if we set aside the geeky aesthetics, none of these products is functionally ready for the mass market and all are beset with user experience problems.
The opportunity for new categories of wearable technology remains wide open for companies creative enough to think beyond putting digital chips in badly designed versions of existing form factors like watches. Long term, wearable technology is likely to be more effective as a source of information input (e.g. sensing body movement and environmental conditions) than a place for information output (e.g. small screens).
Some questions to consider if you’re working in this area:
- What statement will the user be making by visibly wearing the product? Image is everything, even to those who claim not to consciously style themselves. If there’s no need for it to be visible, focus instead on making it convenient to carry hidden.
- Does the product do something unique or better than existing products, even if they are in a different category? For instance, the ability of a smartwatch to alert users to an email is not unique simply because it is being delivered on the wrist rather than on their phone – most people have enough ways of knowing when new email has arrived already.
- Does the user gain any benefit from visual interactions with the product? Most wearable technology will have no need for a display of its own and will be better controlled by connecting to a device with a larger display.
- How easy is it to connect? If it relies on connecting to other products for any aspect of its functionality, it will live and die by the quality of this connection experience.
What do you think? Have you found any good user experiences with wearable devices? What principles should designers adhere to when working in this area? Please post a comment with your feedback.