Dec 2020

< Musings

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Thoughts on the smartwatch

Most recently I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of wearable tech, working for a watch manufacturer as lead User Experience design engineer in the R&D group. In my opinion, there is no greater UX challenge than developing a product that lives on a person's wrist, all day long, every day. The traditional analog watch is always a solid fashion choice, but when a consumer decides they want something different, (something with bluetooth, that tracks steps, has GPS, and an assortment of other features they did not realize they wanted or needed), I have found there are so, so, so, so, so many things to consider. After having launched Timex's most advanced GPS smartwatch in their long history (Timex Ironman R300), I have developed an intimate understanding of the complexities and obstacles involved in consumer wearable tech. The nuances and details do not go un-noticed by today's consumer, who want their technology purchases to complement their lifestyle and their buying choice.

The large tech companies (specifically Apple, Samsung, Google), have set the bar extremely high, packing a multitude of features into their products, similar to having the power of a cellphone on your wrist. Many smartwatches (Garmin and Fitbit) have been adopted by the masses and have contributed to the rise of the digital fitness industry.

Today's smartwatch is very much a personal device, similar in many ways to a mobile phone (maybe even more so considering the fashion perspective). The new consumer, armed with a voice (a review), will expose and point out any nuance, shortcut, or design decision that they don't like. But what makes the user experience really stand out? Is it the industrial design? Is it a set of watch features that far exceeds expectations? Is it the lack of a feature, or one that does not perform according to someone's vision, the user experience? Is it the user interaface, the display, the sounds and vibrations (haptics), or the technologies being used? Is it the way the companion mobile app functions or looks? Is it the community that is provided by the product/company? Is it the purchase experience, product setup or the customer service that is the problem? Is it the platform or ecosystem of the company providing the solution? The reality is that all of the above define the consumer's user experience.