Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp

Why smartwatches failed, and how to fix it - Part 2
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 - Why smartwatches failed, and how to fix it - Part 2 - - smartwatches - android - ios -apple smartwatch - - Tony Karp, design, art, photography, techno-impressionist, techno-impressionism, aerial photography , drone , drones , dji , mavic pro , video , 3D printing - Books -
This is what my desktop looks like. It's an app-based interface and it's just waiting for me to click on an icon to get things going.

What do you see when you turn on your computer? You see your desktop -- a screen filled with icons for applications, files, folders, etc. That's it. If you want to do something, you're going to have to click on one of the icons to start things going. I call this a app-based interface.

This view first appeared on monitors for desktop systems. Then, laptops, with their smaller screens came out. The app-based interface worked just as well here. Then tablets, with even smaller screens. App-based is still fine. Then came smartphones, with screens that were smaller still. And at this point we reach the limit for app-based systems.

The reason for this is that app-based systems require a lot of user interaction. Desktops and laptops usually use a mouse or touchpad. With tablets and smartphones, the screen becomes the input device and you interact with it by touching the screen with your finger. The smartphone screen is about as small as you can go with a touchscreen device.

And now we come to a UDD -- an Unfortunate Design Decision.

The smartwatch is sort of like a computer, so why not give it an app-based design? We'll have a default screen that shows the time, but if you actually want to do something, you have to push the watch's crown, or slide the screen, or some other gesture, and what do you get? A list of apps.

If you start an app, it takes over the watch's tiny screen, covering up whatever else was happening. We'll even have apps with keyboards. To make things even better, we'll have tons of apps that you can install on your watch. Just like a computer.

Here's an example. I need a stopwatch, so I have to find a stopwatch app. There may be several. So, with my OCD, I have to try them all before installing one. When I want to use the stopwatch, I have to get the watch to display its list of apps and then pick the stopwatch. Now the stopwatch fills the screen, covering things like the time and date. To switch from the stopwatch to something else, I have to go through another multi-step process.

App-based smartwatches need a lot of user interaction. You're continuously poking at the watch if you are doing anything useful. And you'd better practice your poking skills because the poke-able items on the smartwatch screen are pretty small.

The app-based interface is one more reason that smartwatches have failed to generate any real interest with the buying public.

But smartwatches are cursed with other things.

We have evolved to the point where everything about us is a personal statement. Please notice the logo on my laptop, and how very thin it is. And my phone, it speaks volumes about my taste.

And my smartwatch? It's gorgeous. It's round, just like a real watch. And every app has such a beautifully designed screen. Just look at those fonts, and how well the colors work together. And I can choose from thousands of watchfaces.

I am a big fan of good industrial design, but I think that a ton of functionality and usefulness is being wasted on this obsession with how things look. The extreme case is the Android smartwatches with their round screens. Screen real estate sacrificed in the name of beauty.

Looking back, there might have been a better way to go.

The problem is not technical. It's philosophical. The smartwatch is not a little computer, and it's not a watch. It's too small to use the same interface as larger devices. It's something new and it requires a new way of thinking. A new design paradigm.

The answer is a smartwatch with no apps.

Stay tuned for the next episode, where we dig deeper into the world of smartwatches.

< Previous Jan 20, 2022 Next >

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