Exploring the potential of smartwatches

The introduction of the Apple Watch made wearables step out of the early adopters market into a more mainstream user group. 

The smartwatch is smaller, more intimate and more connected to our bodies than any other device so far. We believe wearables have a promising potential to offer powerful experiences that can have an impact on users’ daily lives. To explore this potential we created four prototypes of smartwatch experiences.


Size does matter

Smartphone design evolved from squeezing complete web interfaces into smartphone screens, to creating completely new interaction patterns. With even smaller screens, smart watch interface design has a head start by design patterns, which are provided by the main operating systems. However because we’re still in the early stages, we expect these patterns to change. The challenge is to discover how to craft interactions that fit the experiences inherent to the smartwatch, so that it can become the go-to device. 

Intimate relationship

The level in which smart watch experiences are intuitive is also determined by the data used. A smartwatch has more sensors than any other personal device and it’s literally strapped to your body. This allows the smart to create a very personal and unique user experience.

Exploring the boundaries

In order to design useful applications for the smartwatch, we want to understand in what way people will interact with their smartwatches and how the characteristics of a smartwatch can be used to its advantage. We performed a user test to learn how much complexity and effort a user is willing to make. We tested four different prototypes with a select group of smart watch users. The respondents tested the prototypes (Apple watch or Android Wear) in their preferred watch OS, minimizing the learning curve.

The flows
The flows are based on common processes that we envisioned could be supported by a smart watch.

• Flow 1: sharing a message on Facebook to enter a temporary competition 
low value, low effort, medium urgency

• Flow 2: increasing your cell phone’s data bundle before it’s depleted
medium value, medium effort, medium urgency

• Flow 3: indicating a timeslot for a delivery service to deliver your package 
low value, high effort, high urgency

• Flow 4: buying a book by your favorite writer with an exclusive limited time discount at bol.com
high value, high effort, high urgency

The results

Apple watch vs Android Wear

First off we saw few differences between Apple Watch and Android Wear users in their feedback on the prototypes tested. The Apple watch did seem to lend itself better for longer and more detailed messages, because it is more focused on offering scrollable pages on the watch. However, the content of the message and the usability of the flow were more important than the specific interaction styles used.

Personalized solutions

Information presented on a smartwatch should be personal and relevant and aid the user by offering predictive solutions.

Most participants indicated that the content of messages on their smartwatch had to be both relevant and urgent. Participants stressed this point. Because a smartwatch is close and personal, it is more than ever important for the interaction to be beneficial for me and offer personal solutions. Instead of offering many options, participants wanted the watch to predict the best options specifically for them. For example, participants did not want to have to choose between various types of books (hardcover vs. paperback) but would have preferred their watch to make this choice for them.

Short-term benefits

Make sure any choices in the interaction have a low impact on the user and allow for fast decision-making.

Participants indicated that they felt most comfortable performing actions on their smartwatch when the action only had a low impact. Actions that have long-term consequences would generally be transferred to and performed on other devices. For example, when increasing their data bundle, all participants choose the ‘one-time increase’ option. This felt safe and easy enough to perform on a smartwatch. Nobody chose the ‘monthly increase’ option because they felt they needed more information to decide on this long-term contract change.

No cumbersome steps

Interactions on a smartwatch consist of steps that are easy to interpret and perform without much cognitive effort.

Participants’ reactions showed that they liked having few choices that were easy to interpret and react to. They wanted to be able to quickly do the thing that was important to them, but stopped when they encountered irrelevant and troublesome steps or required additional data. Examples of this were the small buttons when logging in to their bank account that were too cumbersome, or when participants had to actively remember their calendar to choose a correct timeslot for the postman. Participants wanted the device to reduce effort by pre-filling personal information and offer only short and to-the-point steps.

Take aways

Smart watches offer exciting new possibilities to create smart, personal and new experiences that can delight their users. New versions of both devices and their operating systems will play an important role in unlocking their potential. Companies will need to keep experimenting to find meaningful ways it can deliver value (for its users). We see prototyping as a powerful tool to learn a lot, very fast, early on, helping to focus your efforts on the most promising ideas.

When you start your smart watch or wearable design process, check out our wearable design guidelines:

Think relevant

Information presented on a smart watch needs to be:
• Relevant 
• At the right time
• Easy to interpret

Think simple

Interactions are usable and enhance user experience when they:
• Are quick and easy to perform
• With little (physical) effort
• Ideally without requiring full attention

Think eco-system

Wearables are part of a larger ecosystem of devices and services:
• Consider that data flows seamlessly between services
• Create eco-systems in which separate services leverage their potential
• Use potential of specific services to perform actions

Think predictive

With more context available than ever, this is the opportunity to design experiences that anticipate your next steps using artificial intelligence API’s.
• Replace actions with suggestions
• Ask actionable questions instead of open questions
• Minimize the amount of decisions a user has to make, instead make them for them.
• Focus on tasks completion speed

Want to more about how innovation can help your organization to be ahead in a digital world? Contact Edgard (Head Mirabeau Labs) via ebeckand@mirabeau.nl or Marigo Heijboer via mheijboer@mirabeau.nl.