Wearables shouldn’t be an exercise in screen miniaturization

Summary: At this early stage, smartwatches still look like tiny smartphones — much as early automobiles looked like horse-drawn carriages without horses.

By J.P. Gownder for Forrester Research | August 27, 2014 — 10:00 GMT (03:00 PDT)

Just as smartphones shouldn’t be PC screens shrunk down to a 4- to 5-inch screen, smartwatches shouldn’t look like smartphones shrunk to 1 inch. Nor is it a matter of responsive web design (RWD), which resizes web content to fit the screen.

Instead, it’s a different type of design philosophy – one with DNA in the mobile revolution, and then extending mobile thinking even further.

Let’s start with the concept of mobile moments. As my colleagues write in The Mobile Mind Shift, mobile moments are those points in time and space when someone pulls out a mobile device to get what he or she wants immediately, in context. In the case of wearables, the wearer often won’t need to pull out a device – it’s affixed to her wrist, clothing, or eyeglasses. But she might need to lift her wrist, as a visitor to Disney World must do with MagicBand.

Wearables: Fit For Business?

The explosion of interest in wearable computing is one of tech’s fastest rising trends. While big moves from Google, Apple, and Samsung will likely attract a lot of attention, we’re going to examine the broader potential that wearables hold for driving innovation in business.

Now we’re getting closer to what wearables should be. But there are additional dimensions to wearables that obviate the need for pixel-dense screens:

Naturally, at this still early stage of the wearables market, smartwatches still look like tiny smartphones. My colleague Moira Dorsey writes that early automobiles looked like horse-drawn carriages without horses. Designers didn’t yet have mental models to depart from the past.

David Rose, author of Enchanted Objects, emphasizes design simplicity. The cover of his book shows an umbrella that simply glows when it’s going to rain. The GlowCap glows when a senior needs to take his prescription medicine. Wearables have the opportunity to break out from what Rose calls “Terminal World” – the tyranny of screens – making them more relevant and effective.

I&O pros should keep in mind that smartwatches aren’t a “fourth screen,” but rather a new way of designing computing experiences, when designing wearables pilots for employees or customers.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder