Problems and Solutions for Wearable Tech
On Tuesday 23 September I attended Wearable Technology UX 2014 in London, an event organised by Smithers Apex. It featured presentations from a number of companies and people in the industry providing their views on current trends, challenges and the future of wearable technology.
The event highlighted two overriding themes that need to be addressed by companies in the wearables space:
– Security and privacy. Companies are collecting extremely personal information including the location, weight, activity level, heart rate and the overall health of their users. Individuals must be given full control over what happens to their data.
– Incentives to promote prolonged use. Many users report becoming bored of their wearable device once its novelty wears off. Stickiness can be achieved by reducing the interaction needed between the wearable and the user while providing meaningful information in exchange for their data.
At the event, I saw four speakers offer their views on these issues:
Morten Just, Google’s user experience designer, discussed the concept behind Android Wear. When you check your phone, you get distracted. Mr Just proposed short, glance-based interactions instead, and Android Wear’s interface aims to allow these. Hands-free interaction is also possible thanks to voice commands through Google Now. Giving voice commands is faster than typing, but context-based interaction can provide value and doesn’t require direct user involvement. Context can be achieved through awareness of location, the time, calendars, user identity (including preferences and behaviours), activities (like running or cycling), nearby devices, and information from sensors (such as heart rate monitors). Mr Just demonstrated the merits of Android Wear’s concept by comparing the actions needed when using a smartphone and a smartwatch.
Louise Taylor, senior counsel for Taylor Wessing, discussed privacy concerns about wearables. Many users are ready to hand over personal data for a perceived benefit, but Ms Taylor argued that there’s a conflict between wearables and current UK legislation. There’s uncertainty about whether data generated by wearables can kept indefinitely (and if it can be deleted completely), and concerns about data security, hacking and the potential scale and intrusiveness of security breaches involving wearables. It may not be clear to the user who their data will be shared with, and it’s difficult for users to keep track of and control their data.
Jokko Korhonen, user interaction designer for Microsoft’s devices group, outlined the characteristics of reliable wearable technology. He summarised that devices should be:
– The device should make a fashion statement, and interaction with it should involve minimal effort
– The wearable should be able to adapt effortlessly to different situations, should prioritise what a user wants to be notified about and provide the right app at the right time
– It should enable a wide range of connectivity, including Bluetooth, cellular and NFC
– The wearable should be cloud connected and it should be possible to initiate or continue activities across devices
– The device should have access to a flourishing app ecosystem
– The device should be reliable, safe to use, power efficient and resistant to the elements
– Its privacy terms should be transparent, and the wearable should allow the user to be in control of the data
Neil Cox, Intel’s director of wearables and the Internet of things, described the three aspects needed to make a wearable a must-have, must-keep device: intimacy, immediacy and persistence. Users must know what happens to their data and understand how it will be conveyed to them, with real-time data transfer and analysis that can be easily linked between devices. Factors like a longer battery life and water resistance should be used to help to promote continued use by lessening the number of times the wearable needs to be removed.
Mr Cox showcased the Edison system-on-chip (SoC) that will become available in October for about €50. Intel hopes that this tiny chip will kick-start a large maker movement for wearables and the Internet of things. Developers can start to prototype devices for less than €100 as software, analytics and cloud facilities will be included for free with the SoC.
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