What I want in a smartwatch
With the smartwatch trend just starting, there’s a lot of interesting new things showing up now. The new devices includes the Pebble, Qualcomm Toq, Agent, Galaxy Gear, Metawatch, i’m Watch, Sony Smartwatch and their previous LiveView, and many more. I find these devices fascinating, and I hope that it really isn’t just a temporary fad that will pass since I think there’s quite a few things they could to that would be useful. So I’m going to write down what I’m looking for in a smartwatch, and explain what I think about the devices that are in the market now or coming soon. What I really hope is that somebody will release a smartwatch that simply gets it right, and that won’t just die out and be forgotten in a month, and I think that what I’m going to list here will be some of the things that will decide if a smartwatch will succeed or fail.
One thing that is more important than ever for these devices are the interface. You can’t have too many buttons, you can’t have a touchscreen-only interface with a bunch of on-screen buttons (too hard to aim right, and you’ll cover the interface with your fingers), you can’t have a screen too small, you can’t have a screen too big, the buttons must be easy to press at all times (I’ve experienced watches with buttons you can’t access from certain common angles), the screen can’t really be curved (can be too hard to read) which can make it harder to design something that fits well, the watch can’t be too thick (so the electronics are very limited), etc…
As for the hardware, some of the things I want is a battery that lasts at least a full week (in combination with wireless charging such as with Qi), straps that can be replaced (and you should be able to put a clip instead of straps on it, if you want it somewhere else than on your arm), waterproof and minimal bezel. Maybe even a flashlight LED, but that’s probably a bit too much.
The basic look and interface I want is something that looks like Sony’s Smartwatch and LiveView, with something around a 2″ touchscreen, decent screen resolution, a capacitive “slider” below the screen like the volume control that Sony’s Bluetooth headset SE MW600 has which lets you feel approximately where along it your finger is and how far you’re moving it, and I’d want 3 buttons just below that “slider”. Most interactions would be composed of scrolling through the options with the slider, selecting options with the buttons and using swipes on the screen to bring up additional options. Basic text input could be performed with the slider by selecting groups of characters through sliding your finger left/right over it and picking a character from the visible group with the buttons and/or the screen (if somebody else can come up with a better suggestion, please explain it in the comments below).
I would absolutely NOT want a LED notification light, my phone’s LED is bothering me enough the few times I have it on my desk with unread notifications. What I’d rather want it to have is custom vibration patterns for different types of notifications so I know what kind of messages it is I haven’t read yet, and a screen that can be always on (like e-paper screens and the refractive Mirasol screen that Qualcomm developed) so that I can glance over it quickly. An optional feature could be to let the notification-dependent vibration patterns repeat if you shake the watch, so you don’t have to look at the screen to know if it’s a call or an email that you missed (like how phone LED:s can show different colors for different notifications).
One of the major things I want from a smartwatch is being able to work as a remote control. This both means controlling my phone over Bluetooth as well as controlling my TV via IR and really anything else via my phone’s network connection. I want music controls, I want to be able to mute my TV with it when there’s an incoming call, I want to be able to lock my laptop with it when I’m walking away from it, I want to be able to unlock my door with it, and much more. Via my smartphone I could trigger tasks in the app Tasker to do just about anything, including turning my lights and stereo on/off if I’ve got a home automation device or changing the profile on my phone to turn off the sound and switch wallpaper, or just about anything else.
Connectivity is also one of the most important part for a device like this. Since battery life is so important (and since a separate cell phone contract for it would be too expensive in many places), it will really have to depend on another device for internet connectivity and more. But it should still be able to work stand-alone. I don’t really see a need for it to have WiFi, since you’re going to want to use it wherever you want, and most places don’t actually have a WiFi network you can use. Chances are that Bluetooth tethering will be the best choice in most cases. You’re likely going to have your phone directly connected to the internet more often the watch (and the watch would likely not have as good antennas as the phone anyway). But what other kinds of connectivity would be useful in a smartwatch? I’ve already mentioned IR (and I’m hoping for full IrDA support which will be fast enough for small data exchanges over small distances without having to touch anything), but two things that really would be great is NFC and something that’s mostly unknown, often called electric field modulation or body area network (BAN) or personal area network (PAN). This type of wireless communication technology modifies the electric field of the body (that field is what makes half of all FM radios go crazy when you touch them) in order to send signals to objects you touch. And one of the more awesome things it can do is to act as a key, unlocking the door when you touch it’s handle, unlock your phone when you pick it up, unlock your laptop when you put your hands on it, and it can also let you exchange contact details when you shake hands, and much more. And NFC would mostly be used to link the smartwatch to all the devices such as smartphones already equipped with NFC, which makes pairing it easy (just let the devices touch and press a button on both to accept).
The kind of information I’d want to see on the screen is summaries of notifications (who called, how many unread emails are there, are there important news headlines, etc), who’s currently calling, unread text messages, music controls, and information from various phone apps. That info could be just about anything, including sports scores, game stats, comments on my blog, Reddit replies, and more. It would also be awesome in combination with navigation apps, with a compass + gyro + accelerometer combo you could put your phone back down in your pocket and let the smartwatch show you arrows for where to go and how many meters there are to the next turn, and other simple instructions – this would be amazing for everybody on a bike who sometimes have to rely on a map and be forced to stop to check it or wobble ahead with a paper map or their phone in their hands. Being able to use it for shopping checklists (and not have to unlock the phone every 3 minutes) would also be incredibly convenient, as well as using it for voice memos.
This thing would also be useful for two-factor authentication. If you’ve used the Google Authenticator app or one of those security tokens / one-time code dongles, you know what I’m talking about – let the device generate a one-time code based on a secret key, and enter that code on your computer (or smartphone app) to log in. In combination with a PIN on the smartwatch to be able to unlock the two-factor app, this would raise the security far above what most people currently are using to log in. Today most people are using passwords that are easy to guess, and even the hardest passwords are often snatched by spyware on the computer. With a PIN protected smartwatch, it’s faaar harder for an attacker to take control of your accounts.
The possibilities are endless, you just need to be a little creative to see them.
I have a lot more ideas and will update this post with them later on, but for now this will do.