Latest research found that one in four Australians will own a piece of wearable technology by the end of 2016.
The high numbers of fitness bands, smart watches and AR devices has deep-rooted the concept of wearable technology in the public consciousness has led gadget and tech experts to predict the ‘dawning age of wearable gadgets’.
Wearable device fans praise the personalised, real-time services that can enhance individuals’ connectivity, productivity, efficiency, and health and well-being. Still, despite the obvious technical advances, others remain wary of wearable gadgets. Some argue that current users of these devices are unable to deliver experiences significantly different to those offered by current generation smart phones. Most of them complain about the practicality issues, like short battery life and ineffective use of data, while others raise aesthetic concerns.
In order to continue to captivate the consumer appetite and demand, technology brands exploring the wearable technology trend will have to respond to a myriad of challenges in order to secure the positioning of wearable technology in our digital lives. Specifically, designers and marketers have a major role to play in delivering solutions and translating mass awareness into mass adoption. In considering their role in the future of wearable devices, the following should be considered:
1. Balance public and personal
Wearable devices pose a unique challenge to branding teams. They are worn publically to express a sense of fashion and style, but at times display extremely personal data. With these new devices, consumers may find themselves ‘wearing’ personal conversations, relationships, and even health data. Unlike smartphones which can be concealed in the privacy of pockets, wearable devices offer a striking paradox as the most intimate and public devices yet. When designing for this paradox, its essential that the precarious tipping point between public and personal is identified and managed appropriately.
Design teams can cater for the direction the device is facing and display content accordingly. They can also work to the natural environment and maximise the concealing effects of sunlight. As a further rule, devices should vibrate first and display second. Overall, users should still have the final say to control and alter default programming.
2. Leverage human-centered design
Screen real estate (if the device even has a screen) is extremely limited in wearable devices. To make up for small screen size and visual-based interactions, many wearable devices offer new and different ways to input and receive information. The key is exposing users to the smallest amount of data possible to help them achieve their goals. In most scenarios, this means that services should show one piece of information at a time. Designs overloaded with detailed information will require too much attention, may distract users or compete with their social context.
The design and innovation consultancy, Fjord, coined the term ‘Zero UI’ to describe tools such as gesture recognition, voice control, tapping patterns, and vibrational communication that will enable the future of screen-less interactions. ‘Zero UI’ is essentially concerned with leveraging natural interactions with devices to create a more fluid experience. Although user interfaces will always exist, ‘Zero UI’ thinking paves the way towards a human-centered design focus.
3. Learn to weave through the “Big Data”
Wearable technology offer unprecedented access to customer data. Prioritising and organising this information is an essential technique to avoid drowning in the Big Data. Similar to the design considerations, wearable devices brands must consider the delivery of data, focusing on delivering only the most important information, at the right time in order to create experiences that support rather than overwhelm. The goal is to create a system that elegantly stays in the background of peoples’ lives while making specific life tasks simpler and more meaningful.
This is particularly relevant in the health arena. Wearable devices have the potential to offer a personalised workout plan, adjusted according to consumers’ previous workouts, hydration levels and heart rate. Moreover, physicians and their patients can benefit from continuous monitoring and interpretation of movement. Once data is appropriately organised and interpreted, wearers of wearable devices can be provided with a better plan on how to improve, recover and progress.
4. Mind the gaps
Wearable devices are the newest addition to Australians’ digital lives and like any digital product or service, connectivity problems are an inevitable frustration. A key connectivity gap is the integration of wearable technology with existing devices, specifically legacy data systems which face challenges accepting voice and touch input. Take the world’s most well-known wearable; the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch requires connection with recent iPhone models and has yet to be incorporated with built-in GPS and Wi-Fi.
Branding teams should strive to provide frictionless transitions between the wealth of devices typically owned by Australians. Importantly, the core functionality of any device should always be available in offline mode.
5. Look within your brand
To overcome the challenges outlined above, brands should start to look within their own organisations for the fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of a wearable technology project. Many large organisations across a range of sectors have already taken steps to introduce wearable technologies into a number of their business processes. The case for wearable devices in enterprise rests on a smaller more defined set of user personas and scenarios. Clearly defined audiences and processes within your organisation lend themselves to the experimentation and transformation of wearable technology. What’s more, should an initiative prove unsuccessful, workforces are more accepting of failure than consumers.
Despite the rapid growth in the Australian market for wearable devices, widespread and long-term consumer adoption is yet to be secured. While some technological shortcomings are due to device capabilities, the future of wearable experiences also rests on the pivotal role played by branding teams. Success requires a careful balance between public and personal, a human-centered design focus, mitigation of the Big Data, closing-in on connectivity gaps and experimenting within large organisations.