Something I learned early on about building sustainable user experiences is that any product, app, or otherwise should be an extension of one’s self, a tool that provides functionality and value without overwhelming the person that uses it. With the release of the Apple Watch, some wearables on the market are striving to do the opposite, through opportunities to flaunt gimmicky apps that customers could otherwise be using on already ubiquitous phones and desktop computers.
With the rise of social apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, connectivity commands the attention of the customer and glues their eyes to every screen. The more we see IoT technology grow into the precedents set by the Apple Watch and other screened wearables, the larger the contrasting market grows, craving products that allow people to disconnect rather than stay constantly plugged in.
Some studies show that success from wearables with screens may be due to customer loyalty rather than innovation. Notoriously known for promoting a strong loyalty to the brand, Apple’s customers are looking to complete a cohesive experience across all of their products. That being said, 30% of Apple Watch users came to own the product without ever previously wearing anything on their wrists, according to a panel given at the Glance conference in San Francisco. Regardless of predicted declining sales after the first few months, the Apple Watch still crushed competitor sales in the wearable market, including the sales for products by Garmin, Fitbit, and Samsung. While it’s clear that Apple is dominant in the wearable market, the data may not necessarily speak for the value and design of the product.
Some of the most mundane wearable technology keeps a closed door on sensory overload. Fitbit just completed shipping out 1 million Alta models in the first month of availability. Designed as a more fashionable upgrade to the base model, Alta delivers health and fitness data along with text and call notifications to your wrist, all without going past the confines of the fitbit application on your phone. Though there is a small screen, it serves minimal functionality, only to review small pieces of data like number of steps tracked.
Ringly, a crowdfunding project that has been turning fashionable, screen-less rings into beautifully designed tech, has recently raised $5.1 million to expand its own product line out from rings, and is now taking pre-orders for a similar bracelet. To keep the products simple, they beam light in different colors on your finger or wrist to retain the subtlety of a new notification received.
Soon, customers will start to see more types of smart clothing come out of the woodwork and into fruition. From shirts, to shoes, to baby monitors like Owlet, so many emerging technologies are centered around the market for wearables, and serve to extend their value as a tool to connect people to the outside world.
Sure, we have seen how successful software can be on a phone or a computer. It seems like an easy sell to just move the functionality from one larger screen to one slightly smaller screen and tweak the gestures so that the wearable can do what your phone does already. But does that add more value to the lives of those customers who already have a phone or computer? If a well-designed product implies that form should follow function, shouldn’t function also follow form? When designing for wearables, consider whether the intended use is finite and valuable enough for simplicity, and try to blend that technology as seamlessly with the intended customers’ lives as possible. Only then will you be able to enlighten and delight your customers without contributing to the hype of distracting functionality-heavy technology.