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Wearables?

In a discussion last week, I suggested that things I was excited about included wearables. Sure enough, someone asked if I’d written anything about it, and I haven’t, much. So here are some initial thoughts.

I admit I was not a Google Glass ‘Explorer’ (and now the program has ended).  While tempted to experiment, I tend not to spend money until I see how the device is really going to make me more productive.  For instance, when the iPad was first announced, I didn’t want one. Between the time it was announced and it was available, however, I figured out how I’d use it produce, not just consume.   I got one the first day it came out.  By the same rationale, I got a Palm Pilot pretty early on, and it made me much more effective.   I haven’t gotten a wrist health band, on the other hand, though I don’t think they’re bad ideas, just not what I need.

The point being that I want to see a clear value proposition before I spend my hard earned money.  So what am I thinking in regards to wearables? What wearables do I mean?  I am talking wrist devices, specifically.  (I  may eventually warm up to glasses as well, when what they can do is more augmented reality than they do now.)  Why wrist devices?  That’s what I’m wrestling with, trying to conceptualize what is a more intuitive assessment.

Part of it, at least, is that it’s with me all the time, but in an unobtrusive way.  It supports a quick flick of the wrist instead of pulling out a whole phone. So it can do that ‘smallest info’ in an easy way. And, more importantly, I think it can bring things to my attention more subtly than can a phone.  I don’t need a loud ringing!

I admit that I’m keen on a more mixed-initiative relationship than I currently have with my technology.  I use my smartphone to get things I need, and it can alert me to things that I’ve indicated I’m interested in, such as events that I want an audio alert for.  And of course, for incoming calls.  But what about for things that my systems come up with on their own?  This is increasingly possible, and again desirable.  Using context, and if a system had some understanding of my goals, it might be able to be proactive. So imagine you’re out and about, and your watch reminds you that while you were  here you wanted to pick up something nearby, and provide the item and location.  Or to prep for that upcoming meeting and provide some minimal but useful info.   Note that this is not what’s currently on offer, largely.  We already have geofencing to do some, but right now for it to happen you largely have to pull out your phone or have it give a largely intrusive noise to be heard from your pocket or purse.

So two things about this: one why the watch and not the phone, and the other, why not the glasses? The watch form factor is, to me, a more accessible interface to serve as a interactive interface. As I suggested, pulling it out of the pocket, turning it on, going through the security check (even just my fingerprint), adds more of an overhead than I necessarily want.  If I can have something less intrusive, even as part of a system and not fully capable on it’s own, that’s OK.  Why not glasses? I guess it’s just that they seem more unnatural.  I am accustomed to having information on my wrist, and while I wear glasses, I want them to be invisible to me.  I would love to have a heads-up display at times, but all the time would seem to get annoying. I’ll stretch and suggest that the empirical result that most folks have stopped wearing them most of the time bears up my story.

Why not a ring, or a pendant, or?  A ring seems to have too small an interface area.  A pendant isn’t easily observable. On my wrist is easy for a glance (hence, watches).  Why not a whole forearm console?  If I need that much interface, I can always pull out my phone.  Or jump to my tablet. Maybe I will eventually will want an iBracer, but I’m not yet convinced. A forearm holster for my iPhone?  Hmmm…maybe too geeky.

So, reflecting on all this, it appears I’m thinking about tradeoffs of utility versus intrusion.  A wrist devices seems to fit a sweet spot in an ecosystem of tech for the quick glance, the pocket access, and then various tradeoffs of size and weight for a real productivity between tablets and laptops.

Of course, the real issue is whether there’s sufficient information available through the watch that it makes a value proposition. Is there enough that’s easy to get to that doesn’t require a phone?  Check the temperature?  Take a (voice) note?  Get a reminder, take a call, check your location? My instinct is that there is.  There are times I’d be happy to not have to take my phone (to the store, to a party) if I could take calls on my wrist, do minimal note taking and checking, and navigating.  For the business perspective, also have performance support whether push or pull.  I don’t see it for courses, but for just-in-time…  And contextual.

This is all just thinking aloud at this point.  I’m contemplating the iWatch but don’t have enough information as of yet.  And I may not feel the benefits outweigh the costs. We’ll see.

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