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Wearables in 2015 What The Technology Can Do For Us

an assortment of wearable technology

Wearables in 2015

I have a stack, literally, of “wearables” or fitness tracking devices. Some I use on a daily basis, others I wear only sometimes. I often switch out different fitness trackers depending upon mood or fashion. I’m interested in this space because I see fitness tracking as one of the many ways that technology can help us to live better lives. The promise of these category of devices is that they will tell us, in general, how healthy we are being on a day to day basis. From there either applications or our own brains can begin to infer patterns and then we can try to change some of those patterns for our own betterment. I might see that I’m sleeping really badly on Monday nights and note that I often work extra hours that day, which might be causing me stress. Or I notice that I feel happier when my step count is above 15,000 steps. Tracking our fitness in these sorts of ways can help us to move past the vagueness of “eat better, sleep better” and help us to understand WHY we sleep or eat better, which COULD then lead to behavior changes. But there is still a ways to go.

Wearables Till Now

a collection of three fitness trackers on my wristUp until now wearables has really concentrated on fitness types of devices. Things that you wear on your body (usually a non-dominate wrist) that track your movement over the day. Devices have gotten smarter, smaller, and are now tracking heart-rate, perspiration, etc. People have been pretty excited about these types of devices and have bought in at a decent rate. But, like going to the gym, something happens and people stop wearing the devices. One to three months later that $100+ device is sitting in a drawer somewhere struggling to live on it’s drained battery.

So, I think we can say something isn’t working. Is it comfortability? Durability? Fashion? Having to charge the things too much? Or perhaps we are finding that even though we have the data in front of us, and we know that we should do something to change, in the end change is just too damn hard. Like the salad we feel like we should eat while we are munching down on some fries.

In 2012 I gave a talk at the Midwest UX conference about Living with Wearable Tech. In that talk I spoke about some things companies could do to enable better designs for wearable technology. I said things like:

      • Make it easy to find, and easy to replace
      • Make it stay put
      • Be thoughtful about materials used
      • Be mindful of fashion and the aversion to looking like a cyborg
      • Think about daily and long term use

 

A lot of these things are still important, and some devices are still missing the mark. But, for the most part companies are starting to get things right. Fitness devices are in general pleasant to wear, durable, and while maybe not always fashion forward, at least not completely ugly. But, something is still missing. People are still putting them down, in drawers, so that they are out of sight and out of mind.

Wearables in 2015

Before we dive into all the problems, let’s look at wearable technology as it is today. Wearable tech is really an exploding market segment. Noted especially on the CES show floor this year (2015). There were a lot of companies promising or showing off some kind of wearable technology, and there were some truly interesting things. But also a lot of the same old stuff. Here are some thoughts about what 2015 will see in wearable technology.

Companies Will Explore

Smart beltsMOTA-Ring-FB-BLACK-WShadow-webrevised are coming to auto-adjust to your waist and tell you more about your waistline. The Ring will allow you to control other devices with small motions of your hand/finger; but looks horribly uncomfortable. There are devices to automatically track what you eat, without intervention from you. Headbands to help you understand your own stress level, and perhaps utilize meditation to become more peaceful. There are smart pacifiers, smart clothes, smart rings, even throw-away wearables. But, the biggest category of all is still smart watches.

Smarter Wrists for Everyone

Gallery-09Smart Watches will be seemingly released (or upgraded) from just about every manufacturer of technology this year. The fight is on to control your wrist. Samsung, Motorola, Garmin, Guess, Lenovo, LG, Montblac, Polar, Sony, and yes even Apple all have or will be soon releasing a smart watch. By the looks of it, everyone in America will have a smarter wrist in 2015, and have more ways than ever to get their notifications from their zillion apps. But I predict that sales numbers will be lower than expected and people will quickly tire of notifications on the wrist. The thought of buying that sexy new watch seems awesome, but I doubt millions of people will plunk down their hard earned cash. Further many of the people who do buy them will forget to charge the things, take the watch off, and then never put it back on.

Fashion Will be Taken More Seriously

Misfits partnership with fashion brandsMisfit is becoming more fashionable with a partnership with Swarovski. Withthings is getting cheaper and more fashionable while also utilizing a standard watch batter. Fitbit is/has been partnering with fashion brands directly. We will see more and more of this as tech companies struggle to make something people will wear more and not toss in a drawer after two months.

Partnerships Will Create Ecosystems

With all these companies releasing more and more wearable technologies, I believe we will also see more partnerships formed to keep customers engaged with products longer. Jawbone and Misfit are both doing a great job keeping their ecosystem open which enables things like turning on the lights as you are waking up. Other companies will follow suite and try to form partnerships between wearables and smart home products.

Where to Go From Here

The biggest question isn’t really what’s going to happen in 2015 though, it’s really what will happen in the next 3-5 years. Clearly consumers are interested in wearable technology, maybe just as the next fashionable thing to have, but interested enough to pluck down a chunk of change ($100 still seems to be the sweat spot). What companies need to consider is not notifications or even plain step counts, but enabling changes to people’s habits. The technology we use and wear on our bodies everyday should ideally fade into the background, only surfacing when needed or desired as a fashion statement. People want technology to help them change, they just don’t really want to put that much effort (or feel like they putting in effort) into the actual change.

Remember, it’s not about the technology at all. It’s about what the technology can do for us. It’s about humans.

Inter-Connected

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I found this draft post from 2013, I’ve decided to publish it now for no other reason but to get it out there. It may not be well worded, or well thought out. But hey, it’s there.

We are a lost generation. We don’t know how to act or behave in the world. We are making it up as we go along and pretending that everything is okay. It’s not.

Frank Chimero wrote that there are not truly “Independent Creators”. He is absolutely correct. He states that creations must be upheld, discussed, and distributed by the public in order to live. That public then becomes the life blood of your own creation. Therefore, when you put a creation out into the world, you are no longer in charge of that creation and no longer an “Independent Creator”.

Louis CK has been heralded recently for claiming that smartphones are making us less empathic and are teaching us that it’s easy to be mean to other people without repercussions.

Other people are been rallying around internet bullying, cybercrime, and the likes. I’m hear to tell you that it’s all connected. We are not alone in creating things, and we are becoming less empathetic. Yes both arguments have nuances that I am subverting, and those should be talked about. But in a general sense both Frank and Louis are right. Technology has enabled a global community, one we have never experienced before. With a community that large it has become easy to avoid the guilt and “bad feeling” of calling someone “fat”. It’s easy to hide behind the masses when you do something against someone else. But it’s just as easy to forget that the masses help carry you and your work. Those same people that you hide behind, and perhaps those that you call fat, allow your work, your creation, to live and breathe in the world. Without them you work would die the moment you set it free. That’s the world we have to face. We are all inextricably connected now. We could go back, but we won’t. That connection gives us so so much, and we don’t want to live without it. But that connection to such a global audience and community comes at a cost as well. We need to see that cost for what it is, and learn how to deal with the consequences. Yes, we will probably create more bullies, but that is just because we give them more places to hide. In the same manner we are able to give more life to creative people who want to put things into the world for the better. We, as a new global community, have a responsibility to both. We have to uphold the greater good, and learn how to put down the evil as best we can. It’s a brave new world out there, but we have the chance to make it better, and better we will make it.

Image by Tom Coates on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/plasticbag/4974137718/

Updated Site

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My website has been static html with a WordPress powered blog for the longest time. I loved this approach. It allowed me to create quick loading pages that could be super customized as projects needed. To create a cohesive design I had to create a custom WordPress theme to match my html based website. I also had to develop a custom WordPress plugin that allowed images in my posts to math the gallery style in my website. But, this site never matched my full tastes and intentions. Further it was not mobile-friendly. Boo.

So today I launch a new website. It’s a new year, and a fresh start for me. Rather than spending a lot of time rebuilding everything from the ground up, I instead opted to start with a complete WordPress site and build everything around a theme. As a designer I don’t need to show off my website coding abilities, so I wasn’t worried about using a WordPress theme. But the site did need to adhere to my own design principles, be forward looking if possible, and certainly fit the myriad of screens people now use everyday. So, here it is!

With the new year also comes a new job search for me. I’m looking for a small to medium sized design firm or an awesome product team within a company. I’m approaching 10 years of design experience with a graduate degree, so I’m looking for a mid to senior type of role. I’m a self starter, team player, and well rounded interaction designer. If you think I’d be a good fit within your organization, please contact me so we can chat. I greatly look forward to new challenges in 2015 and I’m ready to hit the ground running within a new team.

Thanks for stopping by!

Beautiful Hardware, Pretty Useless Software A User Experience Review of Misfit’s Shine

feature-shine

Disclaimer: This is my personal review of a device. I represent only my own views. I am not endorsed by or connected to Misfit in any way. While I do have some expertise in the world of Experience Design, this is just one person’s opinion so please read it as such.

Misfit Wearables’ Shine is another in a long-ish list of wearable technology that allow for tracking of personal activity. The Shine promised to be more thoughtful about the hardware design, to track more activities better than any other technology on the market, and to “help you lead an active life”. And there was promise there, great promise in something people would actually want to wear all the time. Promise in something that was fashionable, but was incredibly useful, but Misfit broke those promises. First it was launch dates. Then it was the second launch date. Then dropping support for Android. Then using bluetooth instead of some new technology to which they alluded. Then accessories starting missing launch dates (and haven’t made it to market yet). And then we got the thing in our hands and we were the most disappointed yet.

It’s the software. It’s just plain useless.

The Hardware

But let’s start off on a good note. The hardware, it’s beautiful. Really. Everyone that has seen it talks about how damn pretty it is, and they are right. On it’s own the Shine is small and sleek. It’s made of a high grade metal and feels good in the hand. It’s smooth and has wonderfully strong magnets, too strong actually, but we’ll get to that. The Shine feels and looks expensive. Like your first iPhone, it quickly becomes precious and you check on it constantly, partly to make sure that you didn’t loose it and partly just to feel it. Sure, that new gadget smell goes away and the device starts to blend into your everyday life, but even after several weeks, and scratches, it still looks and feels awesome.

Shine's iPhone Application as of August 2013

Shine’s iPhone Application as of August 2013

At first glance the software looks great. It’s simple and easy to visually parse. There is a great use of circles and lightness to the app that feels like part of the Shine “family”. Animations and small interactions within the app are great, playful even. Syncing works well, and seems very stable after an App update. There is a nice graph and the entire App is useable and friendly. But, that’s it. That is where everything stops and starts to fall apart, not entirely, but enough to notice, enough to change the entire experience of the Shine.

The Experience

Let’s be honest, I was an early supporter of the Shine jumping on theIndiegogo campaign as soon as I heard about. There was just so much promise in being able to track multiple activities, being able to wear the device in a myriad of ways, and being fashion forward. All of these things are places where every other wearable tracker has failed. Every other tracker is flawed in some large way, but the Shine promised to change all of that. I was excited. I was hooked.

Misfit's Shine with magnetic clasp

Misfit’s Shine with magnetic clasp

Unfortunately real life and real usage turned out a bit different. First, it really is beautiful and the strong magnets allow it to clip well to my clothing in various places (jean pockets, vests, waistband of the gym shorts, etc). However, several times the Shine’s magnets have been too strong, flying off my person and attaching itself to some metal gate, a door handle, a chair, and other objects. The Shine also has a set of LED lights that are placed around the outer edge, which create a ring of lights. These lights are the primary feedback mechanism for the Shine, and they work very well. The Shine has a really great animation for completing goals, and the progress meter makes plenty of sense as well. These LEDs also allow the Shine to display the current time in a fairly understandable fashion, something most other wearable trackers have missed (but maybe don’t need, I’m not sure yet). However, in trying to switch my activity I find it hard to understand the current mode of my Shine. Tapping the Shine at least three times displays another fun animation of the lights, which informs me that it’s doing something, but there is no real indication of what mode you just switched into. Did I set this to track my sleep? My running? Or did I get it mixed up and when I wanted to track my sleep I instead took it out of sleep mode and into it’s basic tracking mode? It’s really confusing. Further, while the Shine promised to be able to track multiple activities, it can only be switched between two modes. So, if I want to track a run and my sleep I have to sync the Shine with my phone and manually change the activity to track. Another promise unfulfilled. Another disappointment.

The real crux of the entire experience however hinges upon the ability to help me change my habits over time and become a bit healthier. And that my friend is where everything fails. While the Shine seems to track everything well, the app fails at giving me any insight into my life. Sure it tells me when I was active, fairly active, and really active, but it doesn’t help me to change anything. Yes it gives me points and I have a point goal, but that isn’t enough. Should I try to be more “fairly” active, or do I really need to kick it up and go for a run? Was my walk to work this morning something that helped me feel better, or did it make me tired and not walk the rest of the day? If the Shine can track my activity and my sleep, it should tell me some correlation between the two. Jawbone UP got this right through their “insights”, but most of those were not entirely useful. I understand this might be a hard problem to solve, but at least take a stab at it. And that’s my biggest problem with the Shine, it doesn’t take any meaningful action on my behalf to help me improve my life. It’s really just a dumb tracker, a really beautiful and dumb tracker.

It’s not all over yet for Misfit though. Given some time and hard work I think they could take the Shine to somewhere awesome. The have the hardware mostly right (though multicolored LEDs and a vibration motor would be welcome), now they just need to spend some quality time with the rest of the experience. I know this is hard, and building a physical object at scale isn’t easy, and I’m sure Misfit has some incredibly smart people working with them, but we all have to face the fact that the first version of the Shine is a bit of a failure. I’m sorry, and I certainly hoped for more, but it’s true.

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