Smart watches: a solution to a problem that wasn’t there?

Smart watches: a solution to a problem that wasn’t there?

Smart watches have become an increasingly popular item in consumer electronics over the past few years, exploding on to the scene back in 2012 when the original Pebble watch was posted on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.

Pebble creators started out with a modest fundraising target of $100,000, and within two hours of going live, the project had surpassed their goal. Within six days, the project had become the most funded project in the history of Kickstarter and by the end of the 30-day campaign fund collection closed at $10,266,844. This was an incredible indication of the interest in smart watches at the consumer level. The people had spoken (with their wallets); there was clearly great interest in this technology.

This may have been the first big breakthrough on a consumer level, however, the idea of a smart watch has been something that has been floating around for ages, manifesting itself in many popular TV shows and movies. Who hasn’t seen a James Bond movie and loved the idea of a “spy watch” – a portable, sleek, covert watch that had hidden, amazing functions?

Given the hype surrounding Pebble, as well as my own personal excitement from a lifetime of consuming spy movies, I was quite excited to try out a variety of the new smart watches arriving on the market recently. However, with each purchase (and return), I was increasingly disappointed with this technology. Why? On further analysis, I realized that I wasn’t actually expecting a Spy Watch that could shoot lasers and make me invisible. What I was expecting, however, was what the spies always had – a watch that had functions that were unique, useful, and relevant to my life. And that’s where the disappointment lies. There’s no compelling reason to look at the watch when you have a nice, big, high-resolution screen in your hand. Smart watch designers have failed to focus on use cases where a watch can uniquely enhance our day-to-day lives.

In contrast, when ground breaking products like the iPhone were released, the value was immediately apparent – and Apple made sure to exhibit this in one of their earliest iPhone commercials: “If you wanna check snow conditions on a mountain… there’s an app for that. If you wanna check how many calories are in your lunch… there’s an app for that. And if you wanna check where exactly you parked your car… there’s an app for that.” I loved that commercial because it focused on real world use cases where the iPhone could provide value to the user in a way that never existed before. I believe this is what’s lacking in current smart watch software – there’s nothing you can now do with a smart watch that you couldn’t do before. Unless we can find compelling use cases that provide real value to the end user, smart watches are destined to fail. The focus needs to shift to designing software that solves unique problems, and the execution needs to be flawless.

Throughout my time of evaluating smart watches and their accompanying applications, I tried to identify some design principles that we could follow to ensure that we are creating compelling smart watch applications. To find out a little more about what I learned, take a look at my list of 7 design heuristics for smart watches.

There’s no doubt that smart watches are a captivating technology. Remember though, whether you’re designing for 007 or the average Joe, they’re only going to want to use your product if it’s applicable to them! Understanding users and their needs through objective research, and supporting those needs through proper design principles, is the key to success – not only for smart watches & their applications, but for all products in general.

Seneca Brandi is an Experience Architect at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi, member research, or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com or email contact@akendi.com.

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