Complementary Software for Health-focused Wearables (video)

Since the launch of Apple Watch health-focused wearables have largely been sidelined. This seems like a shame, because I believe health, among others, is so fundamental to anyone’s life that a product focused on it can topple multi-purpose ones. What’s needed is right product focus and UX design. Costly change of hardware and its software isn’t necessary. Changing only complementary software on smartphones can make health-focused wearables more attractive than multi-purpose ones. Here’s how.

First, let’s review some of the problems. (I had not looked at any existing products before coming up with the solution, although that’s the standard process; I was afraid of coming up with an unoriginal solution. What follows is what I analyzed afterward.)

The UX off the screen isn’t simple.

One unique aspect of a complementary software for a hardware is that depending on the hardware, it is rarely used. Sometimes the rarer the better, because it would mean users are getting all the values without having to stop, take out their smartphones, unlock them, open the software, go to the screen they want, and then see their stats or do what they need to do.

Right now most softwares that come with devices require users to access it continuously in order to get its full value.

The UX on the screen isn’t simple.

Getting essential jobs done — like solving problems, accessing relevant metric — takes more effort than is necessary. Worse yet, in some, I couldn’t figure out at all.

The values that many users can’t get are emphasized.

A product is not what it can do but how it’s used. Goals, challenges, and tracking won’t be used by many who know it’s good to exercise but find it simply too inconvenient regardless of the motivation from competing with friends and family. If a health-focused wearable is to beat Apple Watch, those people need to somehow come to use it despite their lackluster attitude toward exercise.

There are others, but I won’t go into them since I don’t want this post to be too long.

The value that don’t add to device sales is emphasized.

Exercise videos may help people, but they don’t make or break device sales. Many other companies provide them, some better ones.

If the goal is to beat Apple Watch, and if competing in hard technoogy against the likes of Apple is not a wise path, then they must compete in simple user experience for essential health tasks which Apple Watch surprisingly lacks and can’t easily match given its need for versatility. Right now the wearables and their softwares are not that simpler than Apple Watch.

All of these problems, in addition to making sales difficult, make forming better strategy for growth more difficult.

Solution: Think different.

The reason anyone buys a health-focused device is not to track their steps, calories, sleep, or exercises. It is to use those measurements as a means to a specific end: To know whether they are living their desired state of being or not.

A professional athlete’s desired state of being is different from an overweight person’s as it is from a healthy person’s. But everyone has one, and they all have to exert extra effort to achieve it. And this extra effort deters most from achieving it.

The end goal to achieve for a health-focused device, then, is to help users achieve their desired states of being naturally without their feeling that they are exerting extra effort. Effort, while effortful, should feel effortless. Assuming changing hardware is off the table, see the video below for how the software on smartphones can change to achieve this end. It is assumed that the device being discussed can track what exercise the user is doing and can remind the user when to do what. If you can also visualize and calculate how simpler and faster it is with this solution to get important jobs done and simply focus on living life, it’d help enormously as I wouldn’t have to explain it in detail. But I will explain a little bit.

At signup, let users choose “Lifestyle”: healthy, athletic, competitive. For additional motivation, celebrities’ regimen can be added, such as Roger Federer’s or some actress’s (which should be limited to healthy role models). Then let users enter their health data, like weight and how often they do what exercise. The system can then recommend a specific regimen for each user to maintain their chosen lifestyle. See the following video. The look and feel is not what I’d go with, but it is what I have now and it demonstrates the core well enough. Going full-screen makes viewing easier. Further explanations (some necessary) are below.

I designed this before looking at the existing solutions in order to make sure I was creating something original. Any similarity is a happy accident.

Making this requires having enough data and know-how on what type of people need what regimen to stay healthy, athletic, or competitive for their chosen sports. Such data would ideally have been accrued already.

Besides the recommended regimen users should also be able to choose custom option. With this they’d edit, add, or subtract exercises to suit their likings, and the system would automatically calculate how less or more of certain exercise to do to make up for the change. If I was recommended walking for 20 minutes and jogging for 10 but added swimming for 10 minutes, walking could decrease to 10 and jogging to 5, for example. This requires knowing the comparative intensities of all exercises.

Once a regimen is chosen, the app would transition to home screen, which shows progress the user is making toward all her exercises.

In the center-top is a large circle showing my progress in achieving my desired state. The circumference would partially fill when the user did one of the exercises in the regimen. Running, in the demo, would fill it because it’s one of the chosen exercises; boxing would not. When the user has done all the required exercises for the required lengths of time, the circle would become full and signify that the user is done for the day. From user’s perspective, there’s no more a horde of goals and metrics to keep track of. There’s only one, and achieving it means simply doing what her device reminds her to do; she doesn’t even have to access the software. Life is almost as simple as before deciding to exercise. More detailed metrics are also available below that circle especially for professional athletes who want to keep closer track. They can click on each to see even more detailed view. And heart rate is placed next to the circle, because it must be kept track of continuously but should not eclipse the most important metric. It can also be accessed from most health-focused wearables, but should users want to access it through their smartphones, it should be ready immediately.

That’s just for tracking. Despite the complexity of topic at hand — health — , the entire app is simple. There are only three tab buttons: progress, manage, and chat.

Manage is for editing everything — lifestyle, regimen, duration, reminder, profile, and app setting.

Chat is for solving problems. Losing weight, building muscles, buying a bike, and several other carefully-chosen topical real-time chat rooms can bring strangers together like no random-topic, post-and-comment platform can. In fact, community tech for such wearables is often used for non-value activities like sharing with strangers how many steps one walked — even a dedicated mother would find her beloved child sharing such metric every day a little much to take; whether the child did right amount of exercise for the day or not and if not, how far behind the child is so she can send a reminder, would more than suffice. Worse, these communities have at times (as I’ve found after creating the solution) harmful contents which no one and especially no adolescents should see. A chat room with only text capability and subtle pressure — and actual kick-out power by other users — to focus only on the given topic of need would work better.

From Chat screen users can click on menu icon to add friends or switch to chat rooms with friends. They can also click on compose icon to send a message to a friend, creating a chat room. The public chat rooms are set as default, because there may not be enough number of people who bought the device and want to connect with their friends through it — a feature which actually has great potential.

Motivation can’t be too much when it’s for health. Every week the user completes given regimen, she should get three points added to her “character.” If for 6 days, 2. If 5, 1. If less, 0. When enough points are accrued, she would level up. All users would be able to see each other’s level when they are in the chat rooms. This would then make some users’ advice worthier than the others’, and the deserved attention would generate additional sense of distinction. And since friends are likely to periodically check each other’s profile, this would motivate them further.

There are more screens to be designed, but I’ll stop here.


What I don’t discuss is how multi-purpose devices like Apple Watch can also be changed to dramatically increase adoption. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m rooting for one while wishing the others to get toppled; I genuinely think Apple Watch is great, with room for improvement (as anyone working on Apple Watch would, I’d think, agree).