Smartphone zombies are wreaking havoc around the world. They stare down at their screens completely oblivious to traffic, potholes, lamp posts and other hurdles. And now smartwatches are coming onto the scene. So who do we have to look out for now?

Meet “WatchDawg”:

He's on a mission – and his smartwatch is guiding the way.

So how do you avoid WatchDawg user experiences? Read on for some general tips. I’ll dig into smartwatch UI design and smartwatch prototyping in a later article.

What are smartwatches good for? What are typical smartwatch use cases?

UK researchers found that smartphone users estimate spending around 3 hours per day performing 200 tasks using their device.

It takes me around two seconds to pick up my iPhone lying in front of my keyboard and unlock it via Touch ID. And sometimes I need to pull it out of my pocket or bag, which might add a couple more seconds. Typing in a passcode or drawing a pattern to unlock my phone takes a second or two. Added up, that’s several minutes per day that I spend just getting ready to use my smartphone.

Smartwatches are supposed to save you some of that time and keep you focussed on what you’re doing. So you can just raise your wrist to see who emailed you, whether it’s worth pulling out your phone to take a call, or if you’re meeting your goal of 2000 steps per day.

Smartwatches are intended to provide spot-on information tidbits and let users perform micro-tasks.

What are smartwatches capable of technically?

Think of smartwatches as remote controls for your smartphone. They extend it’s powerful computing capability with sensors, such as an accelerometer or heart rate sensor, that are in immediate contact with your body.

Smartwatches are still in their early generations, so it’s best to keep your eye on comparison charts, such as one from gizmag.

  • Accelerometer A smartwatch’s accelerometer lets you collect data on its wearer’s movements – whether gentle (such as while sleeping), repetitive (such as while typing) or more intense (walking, running, or doing jumping jacks).

  • Hear Rate Sensor Collecting data on a user’s heart rate is great measuring her level of fitness and health. The Apple Watch will let you even share your heart beat with a friend by vibrating their Watch at the same rate.

  • Wi-Fi As of the time of writing, only the Samsung Gear S has standalone wireless internet, letting you leave your Samsung smartphone at home if your hungry for data on the go.

  • GPS The Sony Smartwatch 3 and fitness watches from makers like Garmin have built-in GPS, which is great for getting a wearer’s positioning and tracking distance travelled. Other smartwatches, including Apple Watch, are reliant upon the tethered smartphone for that sort of data.

  • Bluetooth Smartwatches transfer data back and forth to tethered smartphones via Bluetooth. Environmental factors such as walls or bulky bouncers can cut down that range. But if you’re out on the golf course, for example, you can generally count on your smartwatch being able to communicate with your phone lying in the golf cart around 10 meters (33 feet) away.

  • Operating System Compatibility The Apple Watch is designed to work only with your iPhone (iOS). Android Wear smartphones work, fittingly, with your Android smartphone. The Samsung Gear S is going out on a limb, offering compatibility with Samsung smartphones only. The Pebble watch plays nicely with your iPhone or Android smartphone.

  • Contactless Payment The Apple Watch will let Apple Pay users pay with a double click of the Contacts button. PayPal is working on bringing Google Wallet to Android Wear.

  • Good Vibrations Most smartwatches can buzz you if you get a notification.

What to keep in mind when designing a smartwatch app?

Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for Apple Watch and Android Wear’s Design Principles show you how those manufacturers intended their devices to be experienced. Those guidelines can be summarized as:

  1. Beware of WatchDawgs! Don’t create apps that forces users to keep their wrists up for long periods of time. It just makes them look stupid. Google recommends keeping smartwatch tasks down to 5 seconds or less.
  2. Design for fat fingers. Smartwatch screens are damn small. Make sure tappable elements — about four of them on a screen at at time, maximum – are large enough to be tapped.
  3. Info. Tid. Bits. You can read novels fairly comfortably on a smartphone. But for smartwatch copy, think in minimal phrases or single words.
  4. Glanceability. Information should be consumable at a glance. Apple even calls specific UI patterns “Glances”.
  5. Be a Buzz Kill. Make sure your smartwatch app doesn’t send out too many notifications that may buzz a user to death. Otherwise he might just throw his watch at a brick wall.
  6. Context is King Now, Sucka. Information is useless to a user if it’s not presented in a useful way. You wouldn’t want to be awaken with silly advertisements, would you?

Of course, rules are made to be broken. Designers and developers will surely test the limits of smartwatches and customize as much as possible. Still, keep in mind that standard UI patterns and elements are generally considered “safe” and “usable”, since users are most familiar with the standard apps that come out of the box.

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Brian Louis Ramirez

User Experience Designer @ grandcentrix. Mashes a chunk of client requirements, a heap of user needs, a pinch of playfulness, layers with teamwork, heats to the 3rd degree, and serves to enjoy.



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