Designing for wearables

“Machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing the human to enter theirs will make using a computer as fresh as taking a walk in the woods.”
Mark Weiser

Designing the Apple WatchConnected Cameras and Wearables

When I designed the first sketches of the 10app for Apple Watch, I had no idea yet what the watch even looked like yet. It was early 2015 and there were rumors that an Apple wearable would arrive in a few months. We were excited by the idea of connecting and controlling a wearable camera with the Apple watch and it was actually a bit freeing to think about the design without any knowledge of the constraints.

However, when we were ushered into the tightly secured space that allowed developers and designers to test and play with the first Apple watch, our sky's the limit ideas were reined into some tight technical and design constraints. Even with these constraints, our team at BrightSky Labs were crazy excited about the possibilities and pretty confident that we could not only build something really cool - but something that would be extraordinarily useful.

On watch launch day, the 10app for the Apple watch debuted in the app store as the first watch app to help you to preview and record from a wearable camera, first using the GoPro camera. Instead of a snowboarder having to take their camera down from their helmet and futz with the controls, we created big record and preview buttons to simply tap your wrist and be off on your adventures, documenting your awesomeness on the way down. And at the end of your run, with another quick tap to your wrist, you could share that video automatically out to your favorite social network. All your friends could see your killer jump or snowy biff in seconds rather than waiting hours or even worse, leaving the footage stuck on the camera, never to be seen again.

Connecting to the Things Around Us

As we usher in the age of the internet of things, my watch sends signals and makes connections to the things around me. Yet both Android and iOS have some key performance factors that need to be ironed out in order to make these kinds of connections seamless. Currently, a user has to leave the watch, open their phone, open settings, go to wifi settings, change the wifi from the network that they are connected to, to their GoPro wifi. This was a key point of dropoff for our app and something that will need to be much more seamless as more and more IoT devices come online. This era being the early days of IoT, we guided our users step by step through the connection process and even chatted with them in real time to help them connect.

Knowing Who You Are

Time, place, and our heartrates are also unique inputs for our wearable devices. Knowing our patterns in a particular location at a particular time can have some key benefits. With the 10app we would help our users get to their desired result of an awesome video faster by finding the right filters for a users video based on location.

We also helped users tag moments that they thought were awesome with just a tap - A tap could mean - "I totally nailed that jump!" This helped our computer vision efforts in finding the best parts of their videos with an explicit signal from a user in the moment. We would then also compare against another explict signal of what the user chose to share against what we found as computational intelligence best parts and map these indicators.

One of the areas we explored in design for the watch was utilizing heartrate in the tagging of best parts. If your heartrate hit above a 160 BPM, we would put a preliminary tag marker in place to help you find that spot again quickly when reviewing and editing your video. We also believed that utilizing the heartrate signal as an additional indicator of best parts could help with mapping computational intelligence best parts for active in-the-moment video.

Gestural Control and Force Press

We learned a lot about gestural control in creating a wearable app you use in active moments. Making the interface dark and keeping the interface elements high contrast increased use by 152%. Making the button target interface elements larger than the GUI was also important. One of the things we didn't do that I would encourage for any designer is to make the start action easy and the stop action more difficult. We found that users will often hit the wrong button on accident and stop an important recording. "What you mean I didn't get my triple back flip??!" Several apps are beginning to use force press to stop a recording action and in the future I believe this is a better way to achieve optimal recording results and avoid missing key moments.

There are a few other areas that, although we didn't design for them, we definitely discussed and know they present an interesting opportunity:

Remembering Step by Step

While streets and roads have been mapped by Google maps, backcountry of mountains in the snow can get us hopelessly and often dangerously lost. Haptic navigation could help us find our way home again or help you find another family member on the slopes - even without a wifi signal. Yet, location navigation isn't the only place where step by step commands are useful - learning a jump step by step or remembering exactly how to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to someone in an emergency situation is highly effective just-in-time knowledge without needing extensive training (that we often forget in times of stress).

Motivation and Connection

I can still hear Jony Ive's voice echoing from the Watch commercial, "It's Apple's most intimate device yet." Push notifications and welcome messages are nothing new. Yet a couple of brands are taking these from mundane to magical brand experiences. Slack gives you a welcome message when you first log on that varies from log in to log in so it does not get boring. Messages like "You're back! Today is going to be awesome!" Under Armour's new Record app uses push notifications as motivation and brand engagement as well. They connect to IBM Watson and connect your habits and activities to thousands of other people like you utilizing hive behavior to help you achieve your goals. While we utilized push notifications, there are new and exciting gamelike patterns for wearable notifications that are truly useful for the user that are an exciting part about what is next in these devices.

More Wearable Questions for What's Next

When Susannah Fox at Pew says that “About 8 out of 10 health inquiries online start at a search engine," it makes me think - are we reacting to our health conditions after the fact? How is the design of wearable interaction going to fundamentally change behavior because of its insights?

A wearable device that can hear us, identify trigger words and can give us tips for navigating difficult circumstances isn't that far away from reality. Was that a conflict phrase that person said? Is there a better way to engage with them?