At Polymorph we enjoy working on innovative projects and new technology. We have been fortunate to work with clients and partners that are some of the most innovative technology companies around. We’ve built up valuable experience in building apps for technologies such as Health and Fitness Wearables, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and medical devices. Due to the successful partnerships with current and past clients in the Wearables space, we decided to further explore possibilities in the Wearables space by attending Wearables TechCon in Silicon Valley near San Francisco during March. Polymorph was part of a list of distinguished exhibitors at the conference that included Sony, IBM and Epson and that had more than 1000 visitors over the 3 days.
We also had the opportunity to attend some very interesting talks, and below are some of my own observations and opinions from what I learned at WearablesTechCon.
- The wearables space is still in its infancy. The explosion is still coming.
Wearable technology is the future of personal electronics. At this stage it’s still very early days, and the form factors and applications will evolve significantly in the future. New and innovative solutions to problems made possible by wearable technology will be found. Our experience in working with wearable technology gives Polymorph a great advantage going forward in a rapidly expanding field. Early movers have the opportunity to capture a large portion of this rapidly growing market, if they can get it right.
- Most products are still looking for the Killer App or Use Case.
Apple announced the retail availability of the Apple Watch on the first day of the conference. The general feeling I picked up amongst attendees at the conference was a feeling of slight indifference; a feeling that they expected more. The current crop of smart watches (Apple Watch, Android Wearable devices and even the Pebble range) all seem like a solution looking for a problem. They definitely have the attention of early adopters, but there seems to be no compelling reason yet to get one, no killer app or must have solution to a real problem. The number one most useful feature quoted by Pebble users, is being able to get notifications on your wrist. That’s definitely useful, in that you don’t have to take out your phone every time to check notifications. But I’m not convinced that is enough of a value proposition yet to move smart watches from early adopters to mass market. Fitness devices (Fitbit, etc) have done well in the mass market, but they need to get much more accurate and give more useful information to users than they do now. Currently users of these devices lose interest after a short while, and they end up in a drawer.
- Specialised products solving a specific market problem will be more successful than general wearables looking for a compelling problem to solve (Smart watches).
Personally I found the wearable products that focus on solving specific problems for a specific market to be the most interesting. Some examples:
A wearable device that measures and reports on emotional stress levels. Very useful for helping people with Alzheimers and Autism manage the anxiety brought on by their conditions.
Smart glasses that overlay information about a complex system like a complex machine over what the wearer is seeing. Maintenance personnel can use this to troubleshoot a malfunctioning system, and access specialised instructions for repairs.
- Wearables require a dramatic rethink of UX. Regular touch screen interaction doesn’t work (swipe, typing vs tap, voice input)
Just like touch screens on smartphones changed the way we interact with information (swipes and taps rather than a full size keyboard and mouse), wearable devices require a new way of interacting. Swipes don’t work as well on a small screen displaying a small subset of information; too many swipes are required most of the time. Taps and voice input will probably become more important. The smartphone will stay an important interface to wearable devices, with devices reporting data to the smartphone, an interface users are already familiar with.
Wearable devices can generate a lot of data, and if they have their own displays, they’re very small. Displaying only the most relevant information to the user, and therefore knowing what is relevant at that time, becomes very important, both because of screen size and to prevent a user drowning in a mass of data. Relevant context is everything.
What’s next with Wearables?
Currently wearables manufacturers focus mostly on the following markets : Sport and Fitness, Health and Smart Glasses. As form factors change and killer solutions to real problems are built, wearables will expand to more markets. Polymorph is in the good position of having the experience and skills to help our clients and partners build the apps their wearable technology needs. That way our partners can focus on developing their technology and still have the apps their product deserves.
Other fun we had
Test Driving a Tesla Model S
Trial run in a Redwood Forest