As I have been developing applications for smart watches for some time now and reading the prevailing literature on design principles, I have come to believe a number of the prevailing design recommendations foolishly hamper our creative vision with these innovative devices. I will analyze these “myths” one by one.
Myth 1 – Lightweight Interactions:
In Apple’s words, smartwatch applications should be “designed for quick interactions.” In its latest incarnation, the Gear S3 from Samsung begins to state a different case: that smartwatch users want to leave their phones in their pocket. I believe Samsung to be right. In my both my use and design of smartwatch, I find the watches to be extremely powerful devices that are both fun to use and productive in nature. A well designed app can not only present the available information otherwise stored on the phone, but enable large amounts of interaction with a small wrist movement and a few touches. So, I disagree with the basic principle that smartwatch applications should provide limited and quick interactions. Even companies are starting the notice how they can increase productivity with the proper application.
Myth 2 – UI should be limited and large:
Many smartwatch applications present screens with few buttons and limited interaction per scene. And in many situations this does make sense because there is limited screen area. However, the touch sensitivity of the watches is incredible. On both the Samsung Gear S2 and S3 we have successfully tested 15 different buttons on a screen at one time with a high degree of accuracy. So while I agree that simple and larger is often times better, I don’t believe we should limit our creative design for those situations where more makes sense — and keeps the phone in the pocket.
Myth 3 – Use the crown for app interaction:
Both Apple and Samsung provide developers access to the watch crown. While it may make sense in limited situations to use the crown, I do not believe it should be often or even provide a necessary or inherent app function. Spinning the crown on both devices require the use of two fingers and takes away from the natural one finger interaction with the watch. Now I get it…using the crown is cool and fun. And in the right kind of application, especially those that value fun above productivity, it makes sense to use the crown. But just because it is there, does not mean we should use it when we could design for the task with a simple tap, flick, or swipe.