Dear Julia: SmartWatch Habits and Preferences

Julia’s recent post about her experiences with the Samsung Gear watches triggered a lively conversation here at the AppsLab. I’m going to share my response here and sprinkle in some of Julia’s replies.  I’ll also make a separate post about the interesting paper she referenced.

Dear Julia,

You embraced the idea of the smart watch as a fully functional replacement for the smart phone (nicely captured by your Fred Flintstone image). I am on the other end of the spectrum. I like my Pebble precisely because it is so simple and limited.

I wonder if gender-typical fashion and habit is a partial factor here. One reason I prefer my phone to my watch is that I always keep my phone in my hip pocket and can reliably pull it out in less than two seconds. My attitude might change if I had to fish around for it in a purse which may or may not be close at hand.

Julia’s response:

I don’t do much on the watch either. I use it on the go to:

  • read and send SMS
  • make and receive a call
  • read email headlines
  • receive alerts when meetings start
  • take small notes

and with Gear Live:

  • get driving directions
  • ask for factoids

I have two modes to my typical day. One is when I am moving around with hands busy. Second is when I have 5+ minutes of still time with my hands free. In the first mode I would prefer to use a watch instead of a phone. In the second mode I would prefer to use a tablet or a desktop instead of a phone. I understand that some people find it useful to have just one device – the phone – for both modes. From Raymond’s description of Gear S, it sounds like reading on a watch is also okay.

Another possible differentiator, correlated with gender, is finger size. For delicate tasks I sometimes ask my wife for help. Her small, nimble fingers can do some things more easily than my big man paws. Thus I am wary of depending too heavily on interactions with the small screen of a watch. Pinch-zooming a map is delightful on a phone but almost impossible on a watch. Even pushing a virtual button is awkward because my finger obscures almost the entire surface of the watch. I am comfortable swiping the surface of the watch, and tapping one or two button targets on it, but not much more. For this reason I actually prefer the analog side buttons of the Pebble.

Julia’s response:

Gear has a very usable interface. It is controlled by a tap, swipe, single analog button, and voice. Pinch-zoom of images was enabled on old Gear, but there were no interaction that depended on pinch-zoom.

How comfortable are you talking to your watch in public? I have become a big fan of dictation, and do ask Siri questions from time to time, but generally only when I am alone (in my car, on a walk, or after everyone else has gone to bed). I am a bit self-conscious about talking to gadgets in public spaces. When other people do it near me I sometimes wonder if they are talking to me or are crazy, which is distracting or alarming, so I don’t want to commit the same offense.

I can still remember watching Noel talking to his Google Glass at a meeting we were in. He stood in a corner of the room, facing the wall, so that other people wouldn’t be distracted or think he was talking to them. An interesting adaption to this problem, but I’m not sure I want a world in which people are literally driven into corners.

Julia’s Response:

I am not at all comfortable talking to my watch. We should teach lipreading to our devices (wouldn’t that be a good kickstarter project?) But I would speak to the watch out of safety or convenience. Speaking to a watch is not as bad as to glasses. I am holding the watch to my mouth, looking at it, and, in case of Gear Live, first say “Okay, Google.” I don’t think many think I am talking to them. I must say most look at me with curiosity and, yes, admiration.

What acrobatics did you have to go through to use your watch as a camera? Did you take it off your wrist? Or were you able to simultaneously point your watch at your subject while watching the image on the watch? Did tapping the watch to take the photo jiggle the camera? Using the watch to take pictures of wine bottles and books and what-not is a compelling use case but often means that you have to use your non-watch hand to hold the object. If you ever expand your evaluation, I would love it if you could have someone else video you (with their smart watch?) as you take photos of wine bottles and children with your watch.

Julia’s Response:

No acrobatics at all. The camera was positioned at the right place. As a piece of industrial design it looked awful. My husband called it the “carbuncle” (I suspect it might be the true reason for camera’s disappearance in Gear Live). But it worked great. See my reflection in the mirror as I was taking the picture below? No acrobatics. The screen of the watch worked well as a viewfinder. I didn’t have to hold these “objects” in my hands. Tapping didn’t jiggle the screen.

dhdibfff      julia-spy-photo

Thanks again for a thought-provoking post, Julia.  I am also not sure how typical I am. But clearly there is a spectrum of how much smart watch interaction people are comfortable with.

John

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