Will Wearables Change UI as We Know It?
User Interface in 2014: Ecosystem Granularity Increases
A little less than a year ago, UX Magazine published my article about the ecosystem behind product/service. This article describes how granular and diverse the experience is, and how important it is to understand the value chain, track feedback and constantly improve, while keeping up with the environment changes.
At that time, the Internet of Things (IoT) was already a trending topic and everyone was trying to make predictions on how and when it would impact both product/service providers and consumers. It also was clearly reflected in my post on Five Key Trends for 2014 across multiple areas, such as Personalization, Alternate Input Methods, Multichannel Experience and Service Touch Points. Now that the ecosystem has gained an additional layer in form of more mature wearables, it seems like it’s time to focus on this topic a bit more.
Wearables Channel Overview
Why do I speak of “channel”? In service design, wearables can easily be qualified as one of the methods of user-service interaction and mapped on the experience map to reflect the larger picture of possible touch points throughout user workflow.
Today, when people talk about wearables, they typically mean either fitness trackers or smart watches. There are also smart glasses, gesture control devices and bunch of ingestible sensors (internal and external) but they are not as widely adopted yet as fitness trackers and smart watches. Even taking into account the fact that most of them overlap in functionality, the devices’ range amongst both groups is relatively small and allows us to see that division clearly. However, during the next few years, this line is most likely to fade away due to the development of new “in between” devices, which means both creation of entirely new “species” and upgrading existing ones with each other’s functionalities.
Why is that important? Because after we find out more about the kind of channel that is used as a layer in-between a system and a user, we need to know what users and we (as people who create products and design services) can do with it.
So the bottom line, at least for now, is that most wearables are basically sets of sensors to gather data passively (without users’ direct involvement) combined with the interaction part that allows data to go both ways. Context and personalization serve as a main platform that brings all that together and creates meaning and value.
Wearables in the Ecosystem
Wearable devices may be applied in entirely new ways in the future. I’m excited to see where the technology is going. At the same time, the whole concept of a small device (form factor) worn by a person (context) automatically defines their place in the ecosystem.
Let`s look at the devices we use to track time. Clocks have been used for a single task – tracking time – for about 5,000-6,000 years now, but when we compare the first sundial clocks from back then with the pendulum, quartz or atomic clocks of today, we’ll see a huge difference in functionality, precision and convenience of usage. Just as a wristwatch was essentially created in addition to a regular wall clock to tell time and date because the perception of time granularity changed, wearable devices perform basically the same tasks that mobile phones are also capable of, but in a more convenient way.
Impact on User Interface
In terms of UI, wearables usually have their own interface, but they also impact interfaces in their ecosystem. The interface on a wearable device has its certain advantages (e.g. it`s easier to reach out and check information or react to notifications) and limitations (e.g. it`s not comfortable to hold it for long periods of time, limited real estate, etc.). This helps us understand what part of the interaction we can add to the experience or transfer from desktop, tablet or mobile phone UI to smart watch UI. It may seem overly obvious, but a lot of designers forget about this.
One of the main benefits of using wearable devices is context sensitivity. This means a device can gather/present data and interact with a user only when and where it’s relevant, and provide just the right amount of information needed for decision-making. Thanks to predictive and prescriptive analytics, it will help users get more value as more data is gathered, but less data is shown.
All interfaces that exist in one ecosystem with wearable devices and depend on them will definitely benefit from better responsiveness based on more recent data. They will take all the heavy lifting and, when paired with wearables, will most likely get rid of constant notifications and the small contextual interaction touch points that may annoy users from time to time.
Ecosystem and service usage experiences will become even more granular with time. That means systems will have way more data to analyze. Wearable devices will gain more popularity as data gathering sensors, as well as context sensitive personalized assistants. Every ecosystem that will have this interaction layer will have to adapt all existing UIs for the holistic user experience.
Andrii Glushko is a UX Designer at SoftServe, Inc, and a regular blogger on the SoftServe United blog. He has created high quality user interfaces to ensure optimal user experience for numerous desktop,tablet, and mobile applications by defining effective information architecture, conducting usability assessments, and heuristic evaluations, applying best practices/guidelines for different platforms. His experience includes a high percentage of healthcare projects.