Wearables are fun and cool, but aren’t always useful or usable
An exciting array of new smart wearable devices are available to consumers, but very few have proven to be useful enough to become a staple of our daily lives.
The wearables experience is very different from that of any other portable device. In the morning a smartwatch might vibrate to get your attention to look at it because you have a meeting in 10 minutes. The device might alert you that you have reached your target heart rate while exercising. The user might then swipe the screen a few times to change to a different song track.
Samsung Gear S2 used during a workout routine. Image courtesy of Samsung.
User experience teams have been able to collect lots of data about usage habits through diary studies and run usability tests to understand if users can use these devices. While informative, these methods are unable to capture the subtle, yet critical behavior of visual attentiveness.
Improving the user experience of wearables
Eye tracking can help researchers to better understand how users are viewing wearables and to identify usability issues that might not be detected by direct observation of participants in a usability test. At Key Lime Interactive, we have been working on new methods for analyzing eye tracking data that are most applicable for studying wearables.
Our goal is to establish benchmark metrics for a variety of wearable devices and apps so that we can help our clients understand how their products compare and to make suggestions for improving the user’s experience.
Visual attentiveness is key to understanding the UX of wearables
Visual attention is still the primary way for users to obtain information from and interact with wearable devices. Users stop, check the device display, interact easily and quickly, and then move on. They spend only seconds in an app at any given time, rather than minutes. By providing just the right information, at just the right time, users can get back to focusing on the real world more quickly.
A poorly designed app requires the user to spend significantly more time looking at the wearable device which then disrupts the user from their primary task and reduces the overall utility of wearing the device.
The user’s interest in engaging with the device can be measured by the frequency with which they look at it. A useful wearable device should be frequently glanced at for short amounts of time, providing bite-sized amounts of information, similar to quick glances at a regular analog watch.
The Apple Watch, released this past Spring, has caused companies to pay close attention to the quickly evolving wearable space. Consumers are looking to see if there is a tipping point for widespread adoption in the near future and they’re interested in staying ahead of it; preparing apps that are especially suited for Apple Store or Android Wear.
About a month ago I unpacked a lime green Apple Watch, paired it with my iPhone and wore it around town. In true researcher form, I found myself paying close attention to every new feature and announcing to my colleagues which features impressed me, and which failed me.
Last week I kicked-off a client project that required me to familiarize myself with the Samsung Gear Neo. I looked at my Apple Watch and silently said to myself: “It’s on.”
I should mention, I’m not an original member of the Apple Fanclub. I stuck to my Samsung Android mobile device for many years as the Apple products evolved. Eventually, I moved to Apple, mostly so that I could keep up on the current offering as much of my project work at KLI demands this. I looked at the Samsung Gear Neo with a wide open mind. I was excited to learn more.
The abridged version of my consumer journey is detailed here, including these typical phases of a consumer journey:
Last week I kicked-off a client project that required me to familiarize myself with the Samsung Gear Neo. I looked at my Apple Watch and silently said to myself: “It’s on.”
Consideration: Product Research & Purchase
+ 2 Feeling uplifted. The researcher / gadget geek in me likes that I have a fun new project to explore.
+ 1 I took a look on online, CNET.com, the Samsung website, confirmed that particular apps were available and I mapped out the nearest location where these are sold and I was on my way.
– 1 Travel to the store, beautiful outside but quite hot, I hopped on the subway, happy. I walked into the store and the AC wasn’t working, It was stuffy and uncomfortable, overall it sucked. Someone helped me out, got me what I wanted and I was done and on my way.
Back to the Office with a New Toy
+2 Excited to try it out! Excited to compare!
– 1 I open it up and the instructions are clunky. I struggled with the Tizen OS, the pairing options were not straight forward. After re-reading the instructions I recognized that I needed a specific URL to download a companion for blue tooth communication. When I arrived at the Samsung App store, an unfamiliar place for me, I felt I had to fend for myself. No one was waiting to welcome me and show me around, per se.
+ 2 Navigation: Typically, on the mobile experience, you swipe from left to right to move ahead in a variety of different scenarios. On the Samsung Gear, this is consistent. It was intuitive and clear. Utilitarian and gave me confidence in navigating through. The Apple Watch, by comparison, demands that you click to return to the home screen and access app icons in a rhombus shaped cloud, they’re tiny, and I feel clumsy. I liked what I was seeing on the Neo.
– 1 Utility: I first took a look at messaging as our first example. Apple executes this well. They have pre-canned text responses that seem to make sense and fit my standard vernacular. They were smart responses to the incoming message. Samsung had this too, but in my anecdotal experience the responses were basic and the associated logic to populate them felt more primitive. Further, I could only respond via precanned text.
– 1 A voice-to-text option was not readily available for me. I eventually found it, after going to my phone to set this up, check through T&C’s, and activating it for use on my watch.
+ 1 I was thankful for that. It was clunky, but it did the job.
-2 Then it got a bit weird. On my Apple Watch I was able to speak my text, review it, and push a button to send the message. On the Samsung I realized that once I was in a scenario where I was using voice-to-text, this was my only option. I’d speak my message, then the system would recognize that I would finish speaking my message and it would cycle through to a screen where I would be prompted to approve of the message. It verbally asks for my approval, and then responds and sends only when I verbally replied. I found it to be a bit uncomfortable that the watch was talking to me during instances when I didn’t expect that kind of two-way communication.
0 Other utility features, such as the acceptance of an incoming phone call, for example, seemed to be similar on each device.
+1 Wearing it for a longer period: Tethering to my phone: I will say that without running a full technical analysis, it seemed to me that the Samsung watch seemed to have better range, so that was a positive.
-1: However, the status notification that indicated that you were tethered or out of range was flawed. Samsung notified me that I was no longer connected, but after that point in time identified no icon or indicator that I was disconnected. If I missed the notification prompt I may not have known that I needed to reconnect or get closer until I actively attempted an activity. Apple has a standing icon.
-2: The Samsung Gear was released in spring 2014. Shortly after the Android Wear release was made for select hardware devices, not including the Neo, it continued to run on the Tizen OS. I think I need to return this product and opt for a choice that is more Google-Centric. I’d liked to have explored a more seamless experience, the “cue card”, full integration with my mail, and more.
I’m writing this piece because I want to share my experience and improve the product. Ultimately it was a letdown, but I haven’t given up on wearables and I’m still excited to try an Android Wear device. Hopeful ending. Optimistic. Wasn’t the greatest, but there’s something more ahead.
I received my Apple Watch this past Thursday. I chose the space grey Apple Watch sport with the black band, which was worth the wait. It’s fairly subtle, with one person (okay, a kid!) thinking it could be a real watch. Overall, I am impressed with its performance, especially for a v1 device with limited connectivity options. Powered by my iPhone 6, even on LTE instead of wireless, there is very little lag in most apps. However, the remote app has some issues connecting to iTunes libraries. It’s fantastic as a remote for the Apple TV, but very limited and challenging to sync with my computer’s iTunes library.
Performance at home is fantastic. I was able to leave my phone in my bedroom and wander all over my apartment with the watch. I made calls on it of durations between 30 and 40 minutes with no problems. I will say the speakers could be a bit stronger, though. It’s hard to hear people if they’re speaking quietly, or also on speakerphone. Messages and alerts come through in real-time, though. Pleasantly, if you’re interacting with an app on another device you do not receive an alert on the watch. While this makes sense, it isn’t true for the iPhone/iPad, so it was a great software addition that should come to more devices in the family.
I was deeply impressed with its performance in transit. Using Bluetooth, the watch is still connected to your phone so you can change music or get activity updates while underground with no cell service. Where there is cell service, it will push notifications to you. I was expecting the watch to be fairly useless while traveling, but that is certainly not the case.
It’s useful while at work. Again, the performance over LTE has few noticeable lags for any app, apart from maybe 5-10 seconds sometimes for NYT updates. The calendar alerts are fantastic. They pop up 10 minutes before your meeting and let you scroll through all of the meeting details. There’s even an option to email the meeting creator, which is the only email option I’ve seen on the watch so far. The dictation is good enough that I wish they allowed text responses to emails. It would be a really useful update. My biggest frustration while using it at work was when I went out of range for a meeting in a far conference room. I didn’t bring along my phone because the watch was a great substitute, but it didn’t alert me as I was exiting its range. Some sort of notification would be helpful, as it’s challenging to gauge distances, especially inside buildings.
The messages app is delightful to use. Being able to dictate messages makes it extremely functional. However, the feature could be improved by making it easier to edit these messages. I’ve definitely found myself canceling messages and re-dictating them due to one or two incorrect words in places that would make overall comprehension challenging. I would also like to be able to send the messages without having to touch the watch. There currently isn’t a verbal command that lets you send a message. Despite these usability challenges, I still found myself sending the majority of my text messages this weekend using the watch. It’s the easiest way to send text messages I’ve seen so far, though it would definitely be improved by easier (or any!) editing capabilities and a way to send without touching it.
Email is surprisingly functional on the watch. Initially, I assumed it would be just notifications, but you can scroll through the entire email. Not everything renders on the watch, especially graphics, but you can see the entirety of provided text, which is very useful. My biggest pain point when using the email feature was how difficult it was to delete emails. When I clicked on a notification, I had to scroll through the email to get to the delete option. In your mailbox you can swipe for a trash option, but as a notification that only gives you the option to clear notifications. Being able to delete from the notification without scrolling through the whole thing would be a useful addition.
My largest gripe centers around Apple Pay. Figuring out how to add a card to the watch was NOT intuitive. It kept directing me to my phone, but I assumed it was the regular Passbook section. I tried re-adding my card, but it didn’t let me. I had to Google how to do it to find out it was in the Apple Watch app on my phone. Even then, I had to re-verify my card for the watch by calling my credit card company. When I tried to use it at Whole Foods by tapping the button twice it kept telling me it was ready, but ultimately it was unable to make the payment. Obviously, this was pretty frustrating. I ended up using my phone. Seeing as the watch is likely one of Apple’s best chances at making Apple Pay catch on, it’s a shame this was the least intuitive watch experience I had all weekend. This experience should definitely be improved. The Apple Pay on-boarding would have been easier with a diagram clearly illustrating where to go on the phone. The BEST solution would be letting me choose on the watch whether to add the credit cards from my phone. I don’t see why I need to go through the phone. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work in stores, but that’s definitely a huge issue that needs to get fixed.
The native activity app is interesting. I’ve given it a small amount of information and it’s been making attempts to inspire me to greater efforts. I personally am not a super active person, but what I like about the activity app as it exists currently is that it works with you. It’s not being overly critical or alerting me too frequently, both of which would result in me turning it off. It’s sitting there in the background letting me know when I’ve hit a goal or reminding me when to stand up. I don’t listen to every stand reminder, but I’ve listened to more than I’ve ignored. I’m curious to see if it changes my behavior over time. It’s definitely a much better way to interact with this information than the Health app on the iPhone, which I’ve always found oddly buggy.
Of the 3rd party apps I’ve interacted with so far on the device, I’m most impressed with the New York Times app. They’ve done a wonderful job of creating a new kind of article specifically for the watch. Some articles feature just a headline, some have pictures, and some have 1-2 sentences. It’s a fun surprise to scroll through them a few times a day. I do hope in the future it’s possible to read full shorter articles on the device, but I understand their choice and think it makes a lot of sense for the watch that exists today. 95% of my interaction with the NYT iPhone app is through notifications, so NYT on the watch is an ideal match. Now I actually get more information with the brief articles and images. I prefer the tablet for actual reading, but again I would be interested in having a more email-like experience for the NYT.
While I was initially unimpressed with the battery life, it was fine over the weekend. It does drain my phone battery faster, BUT it means I’m spending significantly less time on my phone so that evens it out for the most part. Like all Apple devices, I would appreciate a longer battery life, but I will say it survives a 12-hour day much better than the iPhone. Having the two devices has made it possible to have weekend days without airplane mode or constant recharging. Speaking of charging, I wish it were possible to wear the watch while charging it. One of the best use cases for me so far has been using the watch to act as an Apple TV remote. I do most of my Apple TV watching at night, so it would be great to be able to plug it in and continue using it. I’m also curious about the watch’s potential as an alarm, given that the taptic feedback might be a more pleasant way to wake up.
At this stage, I would rate the Apple Watch as a ‘nice to have’. If you, like me, own the whole family of devices and upgrade pretty regularly, go for it. It’s an awesome addition to the family, and you’ll find a lot of unexpected uses for it. I think it needs to be able to stand alone, ideally by v2. However, it’s still challenging enough to use that I wouldn’t recommend it to my parents just yet. I do think it will get there, and I will definitely be keeping mine and not returning it. Its best uses for me are: messaging, Apple TV remote, email, and keeping me off my iPhone (supposedly the #1 secret purpose). Those are important enough things in my life that I find value in a device that improves my access to them.
Note to Apple: I would be happy to put a $5 data share plan on it so I could leave my phone behind while at conferences, meetings, bars, parties, etc.
Just as smartphones and tablets displaced the once-dominant PC, wearable technology has begun to take over the tech-scene. They have been projected to reach $4.5 billion in revenue this year and $53.2 billion in global retail revenue by 2019 (Juniper Research). These devices are popping up everywhere from smartwatches, fitness bracelets, and even smart-clothing and jewelry, but what if your wearable gadget could potentially save and/or prolong your life?
It is probably safe to say that we have all heard of, worn, or witnessed someone wearing an insulin pump, glucose monitor, hearing aids and/or prescription eye glasses, but we now live in a world where science fiction has turned reality. A world where contact lenses are embedded with microchips that monitor your health while improving your vision (Google and Novartis, “Smart Lens”). A vest that could save your life from sudden cardiac death (Zoll, “LifeVest”). A ‘build your own’ onesie that can detect your infant’s breathing and movement to help reduce SIDS (Mimo, “Smart Infant Monitor”). IBM, Apple, Medtronic, and Johnson & Johnson are even teaming up to develop the HIPAA-enabled “Watson Health Cloud” to collect the estimated million gigabytes of data per individual.
The age of wearable devices is upon us and a revolution in healthcare has emerged. Consumers, Physicians and the medical community, as well as investors, need to know that they can trust the data from the product, so accuracy and availability is essential! Since the risk of life or limb from a fitness bracelet is obviously not as high as the “LifeVest”, safety guidelines have already been drafted to regulate wearable tech devices, as well as the smartphone apps that accompany them. The FDA released its initial draft guidance for General Wellness: Policy for Low Risk Devices on January 20, 2015 and its draft guidance for Medical Device Data Systems, Medical Image Storage Devices, and Medical Image Communications Devices on February 9, 2015. This guidance identifies that they will not regulate “wellness” wearables that encourage a healthy lifestyle or reduce the risk of developing a chronic disease, but wearable Medical Devices that claim to treat, diagnose, or restore a structure or impaired function due to a disease, however, are regulated the same as all other medical devices and do require FDA approval. Basically, your Fitbit isn’t going to be regulated by the FDA as long as its claims are preventative and in a low-risk category. The FDA’s intention is to continue to focus their resources on technology products that pose a higher risk.
These devices offer numerous solutions to patients as well as to physicians and home healthcare professionals, equipping them with tools to track and manage the patients’ health information easily and effectively – ranging from medical and safety critical, to leisure and entertainment. In the case of medical and safety critical, this creates unique concerns and imposes new constraints that existing human factors theories may not fully support.
General Wellness: Policy for Low Risk Devices (Draft Guidance) (January 20, 2015)
Medical Device Accessories: Defining Accessories and Classification Pathway for New Accessory Types (Draft Guidance) (January 20, 2015)
Medical Device Data Systems, Medical Image Storage Devices, and Medical Image Communications Devices (Final Guidance) (February 9, 2015)
Mobile Medical Applications (Final Guidance) (February 9, 2015)