Form Follows Function: 6 Guidelines to Engineering a Successful Wearable Product

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Gartner estimates that approximately 4.9 billion objects will be connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2015. Consumer applications will drive the number of connected devices, however enterprise will account for most of the revenue, according to the research firm. Fitness bands and smartwatches will account for some of the roughly 2.9 billion consumer IoT devices in 2015, predicts Gartner.

The hardware design of wearables sways buyers. In fact, an Accenture survey, found that 50% of wearables are purchased based on design and branding alone. Another 30% of buyers base their purchase decision based on features1. However, the adoption of wearables is an indicator that form factor alone will not make a successful wearable product. A compelling user experience and a viable wearable product must go beyond form. For example, a smart watch will need an appealing dial (“watch face”) that may resemble an analog watch, and yet have an easy way to receive, display and handle a social media notification like a facebook post.

A profound understanding of product and systems engineering strategy, design and implementation is needed for a good wearable solution.

Raising the game

The typical consumer isn’t interested in how the technology works, but simply that it does. For example, a simple fitness band would measure the steps that a person walks, but, in order to achieve that, the device needs sensors (like accelerometer), processing of that data to compute steps, transmission of that data over a communication channel like Bluetooth, visualization of that data on a companion mobile device. Understandably, the user would be quick to brush aside the complex technical details involved and expect seamless integration from the word get-go. It’s inevitable that consumers will hold the same expectations for wearables, no matter if they are standalone devices or companion devices. This puts the burden on engineers to give them the simple results they want — better user experience (UX), plug-and-play capacity, and security enhancements — with complex algorithms that will ultimately produce the desired effects.

In short, a developer needs to invest in a number of domains to ensure that the product not only works from day 1, but leaves the consumer hooked on the product:

  • Plan for low power consumption - As most devices are still operating on limited batteries, wearables need to implement energy-efficient modules to make the device long-lasting for users throughout the day — no juice is no customer satisfaction. Going with an example of the Smart Watch, the user may not want to charge his/her watch for a few days, even while being able to take calls, connect to social media, perform fitness measurements and computations etc. All this needs an aggressive power management strategy on the device, including low-power connectivity technology (like Bluetooth low energy).
  • Finding the value in data collection and sensors - A remarkable ability of wearables is how they can interact with their environment. The DAQRI Smart Helmet utilizes a sophisticated sensor package for precise location awareness. It utilizes inertial navigation, depth perception and 360 degree sensor designed for industrial applications. By integrating sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, temperature or pressure gauges, you are giving users invaluable tools to be able to experience and discover the world around them -- and even themselves (there’s a reason for the Fitbit craze).
  • Think connectivity, but also systems of systems - Who enjoys broken signals and ill-designed codecs? Nobody likes it when connectivity becomes unstable. Thus the connection protocol aspect of wearables is incredibly critical to give users that seamless, “always on and interacting” feel -- what’s the point of always having technology with you if it isn’t going to be always connected? Industrial firms and service providers, be they wind turbines, automotive or refineries, will be interested in working with the manufacturers or wearable devices and software developers to get the most out of the information on these devices.  It is therefore common to have multiple connectivity mechanisms, including BlueTooth, Wifi and Cellular on the Wearable device, with an ability to switchover between them.
  • Staying ahead of security threats   - As users become more reliant on smart devices and wearables, an increasing amount of sensitive data is being accessed through these devices and transferred among them. Wearable product engineers should look to strengthen the defenses by taking clues from the smart-phone industry. For example, Gartner forecasts that finger print scanning will be the primary biometric feature that will be used by most smartphone vendors.
  • Extending the capabilities of wearables through cloud storage, compute and applications – With applications saturating mobile and wearable devices, moving things into the cloud is an essential part of designing wearables, to ease hardware loading and make applications more intuitive and power-efficient. You can arrange all user profiles and settings to be stored on the cloud, and managed from there. To enhance user interaction with the cloud, features such as diverting all social media alerts to the wearable can also be incorporated.
  • Making the take fade into the background – According to Gartner by 2017, 30% of wearables will be inconspicuous to the eye.1  It’s not enough to simply make the apps accessible on the wearable -- you also need to provide an appealing look and feel, for both the apps and the device itself. How does each app appear on the device? How does the wearer interact with them? Is it a logical, manageable and enjoyable experience? Is the wearable an aesthetically intriguing accessory? With all the hard work you put in behind the scenes, the end product still needs to seem effortless. Wearables often operate best as companion devices, due to their limited screen and color displays; when users are used to seeing constantly improving color spectrums with LEDs and OLEDs on their smartphones, squinting at a small wearable display may decrease user experience. That’s why integrating the wearable with the customer’s other devices (cellphones, laptops, tablets, etc.) is a must for optimal user experience.

Accounting for and integrating all these features isn’t easy, and the sheer amount of considerations can seem daunting. But persevering with your concept can lead to big rewards -- if you’ve got a plan. A plan and a company like Aricent to help you enact and see that plan to fruition.

Finally, while for most the attention is on the consumer wearables opportunity, the other and potential bigger prize is in the industrial and enterprise sectors. Wearables can be of help to workers in factory, refinery, or warehouse. A consumer wearable is expected to work in-vehicle to improve performance of the driver and raise safety. In fact, Ford is thinking about well-ness outcomes as part of the driving experience by having Ford sync its in-vehicle multi-media system display blood glucose levels as they start to drop. 1 Wearable must be engineered as part of systems of systems.

Ticwatch

It’s safe to say that smartwatches are likely to circulate throughout the youth market, and that young people adapt to digital platforms with an almost instantaneous learning curve.

Frog Design, a business unit of Aricent, recently collaborated with the Chinese company Mobvoi to roll out Ticwatch, a smartwatch running on a customized Android Wear system using the Chinese language. The prototype includes popular applications like WeChat, Sogou Maps, Weibo (Twitter), and AutoNavi to increase its sales and popularity among youth. Ticwatch also offers a traditional analog design, so it matches well with formal wear.

Ticwatch is one example where targeting a more focused group with a one-of-a-kind design and popular applications sets it apart from existing competitors. Will the Ticwatch become the next generation’s future hand-me-downs? Only time will tell. But for now, as far as fashion and networking goes, you can expect the youth market to respond quite well.

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