No More Screens

Thoughts on Smartwatches & Android Wear

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it was a completely new type of product that users had not experienced before. It brought together your map, calendars, photos, camera, books, email, internet browsing and, almost inconsequentially, a phone. It helped create the market for the iPad, Android devices, and wearable technology in general. Unfortunately, since the premiere of the iPhone, companies are obsessed with putting screens on every surface possible.

Yesterday, Google premiered the Android Wear platform with a beautiful introductory video and plenty of buzz. (There is even a Dribbble template to create your own Android Wear interface). Many people are excited about the convenience of Google Now features on their wrists, but I am disappointed in the product as a whole. I cannot imagine a time or place where pulling my phone out of my pocket is so much of a strain that I must have another screen on me at all times.

With Pebble, Samsung Galaxy Gear, and now Android Wear, wearable tech is still rooted in the world of the touchable screens. It may be a different form factor, but the device is still a series of visual interfaces feeding me the same information. In order to become ubiquitous, wearable devices need to find a way to complement smartphones instead of attempting to compete or replace them.

Weights & Measures

In an effort to get in shape, I purchased a Fitbit Flex and scale last year and used them daily for a number of months. While the products are extremely simple (a pedometer and a scale), I think that they are a step in the right direction for smart technology and were successful for me. The Flex doesn’t have a screen on it to tell me the all details of my day, but instead relies on connecting to the iPhone to feed me information. While I wish the Flex went deeper into the type of data that it provides, I do appreciate that it was a fairly-seamless integration into my life by being lightweight, waterproof and mostly unnoticeable.

No More Screens

Smartwatches can be amazing devices when placed on the wrist of the user, on top of a noticeable heartbeat, on a swinging arm, and on skin with many nerve endings. But most wearable technology currently ignores the fact that it is a computer in constant contact with a person all day long. Instead of focusing on screens and interfaces to feed data to the user, it should focus primarily on processing data from the user and providing digestible and timely feedback.

Instead of focusing on screens and interfaces to feed data to the user, it should focus primarily on processing data from the user…

Creating a Truly Smart Watch

The ideal smartwatch will be able to monitor, notify and guide the user all with just an analogue-watch display or no display at all.

As the user wears the watch, it will monitor steps, heartbeat, moisture and location (via the phone’s GPS) to understand the activity of the user. During a run, the watch measures the cadence of steps, the rise in heartbeat, moisture of the skin, and path of the runner to create a sustainable workout. It will understand the difference in movement and heartbeat between relaxing and sleeping to effectively monitor sleeping habits. Finally, the watch understands when the user has been inactive for long periods of time (instead of just not wearing the watch) to encourage exercise and other healthy living habits.

Digital watches have had alarm notifications built in since 1975 and the ideal smartwatch builds on this construct. Along with the standard wake-up alarms and contact notifications, the watch sends all sorts of alerts with a slight vibration on the wrist. Instead of constantly looking at a phone for walking or biking directions, the watch will send left and right directions via single or double vibrations. As a user is exploring a new city, it will vibrate when she is near a point of interest and bring up pertinent information on the phone. This will be the most open and customizable part of the watch—allowing users to select what type of notifications they want to receive and allowing developers to create new notifications to connect with the watch.

Finally, screens and GPS are the main drains on phone batteries. If you eliminate these features from a smartwatch, the entire device is constantly charged from the simple motion of the user’s arm just like many mechanical watches are today.

Going Forward

As developers start to build applications for Google Glass, Pebble, Galaxy Gear, and Android Wear, we have to decide if we really need to see all of the same content on a new device. We already have an immensely powerful computer and content-consuming device in our pockets every day. It is time to look beyond the screens and discover a truly new product.

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