Heather and Donte have recently tested smartwatches, with Heather trying the Apple Watch and Donte trying the Moto 360, an Android smartwatch. We asked them to use their devices as naturally as they could (given no direction or specific intent) and to give their thoughts on the current state of the smartwatch consumer experience.
How would you describe your relationship with tech gadgets?
Donte: I like gadgets. I read tech blogs and enjoy staying on top of what’s coming out, general tech news, and how those things are being received. That said, I’m not at all an early adopter. I enjoy reading about the latest and greatest, but I tend to only buy in once I have an actual need.
Heather: I’m an interesting mix. I like new gadgets, and like new tech. I like staying on top of what’s coming up, but don’t necessarily read blogs or keep up with any particular site. I’m occasionally an early adopter - but also a cautious one. I like to do my research before just jumping in.
Overall, what’d you think of your first smartwatch experience?
Donte: Well, that was interesting. I feel like there’s a world of untapped potential, but the tech isn’t quite where I need it to be to work for me.
Heather: I was totally surprised by this experiment. I thought the experience would be all marketing and no substance, but I’m happy to admit I was wrong.
How did this fit into your daily experience?
Donte: This got me used to wearing a watch again which is nice, but this all still feels very first-generation. While some of the notifications and workflow changes are welcome, they don’t rise to the level of making this watch necessary. Instead it feels like a solution looking for a problem. I’m very much not an early adopter and while I’ve been told I’m a bit stubborn, when simple things like music navigation are awkward, I’m more inclined to wonder what the point is than to dig in and make this thing work.
That said, the more baked Google Now-esque features are well done, as is Motorola’s health tracking software. The main thing with both is that they already know what to do and didn’t require me spending time researching or otherwise setting them up. They just work. When more of the experience is similarly simple, this will be a much different beast. There’s definitely a curve to convenience and I didn’t have long enough to get over the hump. As a consumer, I don’t feel I should have to.
Heather: I haven’t worn a watch in years, and fully expected to hate the overall experience from wearing to device interactions. But it pretty quickly became useful. There’s still a long way to go in terms of making this a seamless experience, though.
Initially I let all of the apps on my phone (that had a watch app) go to my watch … that was a mistake. After a little while, I had a lot of watch apps that I didn’t use. Removing them wasn’t super straightforward either. Then, alerts took me a little while to get configured. For a little while, I felt like I was being spammed.
Admittedly, most of this learning curve was me. It took me a little while to figure out exactly what I wanted to know from my watch. I still wrestle with whether or not it’s indispensable and if I’ll purchase one - but I’m leaning towards yes.
Did you find yourself less or more distracted?
Donte: I did look at my phone less. The notifications (meetings, texts, etc.) require far less time since it’s just a flick of the wrist instead of pulling out and unlocking my phone, taking a look, then putting my phone away. Helps to keep one in the moment. As a precursor of sorts, Google Now’s notifications have gotten better over the last few years, so the ones that appear on the watch are just right. That felt “natural,” even obvious.
Heather: Perhaps it was a bit of a soft break from the security blanket of my phone, but I started keeping my phone in my pocket, purse, jacket, etc. It didn’t have to be out where I could see it. Once the notifications were set up, it was a relief to only see what I cared about and easily see if I could ignore an email or text. I also worried less about missing things while at work - sometimes with multiple screens and devices it can get easy to miss something. But with all the most important things funneling to my watch, I had one place to check.
Did you use the smartwatch more for consumption or creation?
Donte: There are options to dictate a text or take a note via speech. Why? For me this entire device is much more suited to getting small bursts of information vs. trying to create something. This might be a feature I’m just not inclined to use. Saying “OK Google” feels even more silly when doing so to my wrist than it does to my phone. I am not Dick Tracy.
Heather: I definitely felt like this isn’t the device for creating information. For watchOS (1), Apple seems to have very specifically geared use towards consumption. I haven’t missed it at all, and have really only dictated text messages with my watch (My S.O. actually called it my Dick Tracy watch!). watchOS.2 doesn’t seem to stray far from that idea, but does give developers a little more access to the watch when creating apps.
When did this really make sense as a platform for you?
Donte: The beauty of Google Now is that it tells me things when I need to know them. Meeting reminders before a meeting? Fantastic. Telling me to leave for the airport? Brilliant. Sometimes I’m checking my phone to use a full app when some micro-interaction would do the trick. Not every app should do this, but there are plenty that should.
Heather: The first moment where I truly got how much of a game changer this could be was actually in the airport. I was about to check the screens for my gate info, when I remembered I had Delta’s watch app. Their app showed me all of the information that I needed - time my flight was leaving and what gate it was departing from. It was perfect! I was quickly back on my way without having to stare at a tv screen or click through several menus or options on the phone.
What’s your biggest takeaway from this experience?
Donte: As I said earlier, I’m not an early adopter and I’m not one to look for problems where there aren’t any. My favorite parts of the smartwatch experience are those that happen by “magic,” meaning without much interaction from me. I want it to feel obvious, for the watch to just somehow make my life better without my own intervention. My phone has a bunch of apps, knows I have a smartwatch. Now the apps just need to figure out what to do with that information. Sounds obvious enough, but I can understand that taking some time to get right.
Heather: I think this experience is great when done well. A lot of companies are still experimenting with it, but having a less intrusive communication hub has been great. I think it will be good to see people experiment with this a little more. I’d love to see more apps leveraging spinning the crown.
Some Free Ideas*
Donte: Were we hungry when we were talking about our watch experiences? Our example ideas are mighty food-centric…
Heather: Yeah. Though, I think these really reflect our thoughts around quick focused interactions. A Domino’s Pizza tracker app would be another great one (tho, knowing them it’s already out!) :D Ed. note - kudos to Domino’s.
Woot gained fame as a daily deal experience, where one item was offered at a discounted price a day. Peach is like Woot for food, meaning that there’s one meal every day available for lunch. For both, there’s a timeliness aspect and a simple yes/no answer required. Exactly the perfect sort of notification that makes sense for a smartwatch.
With both of the delivery services TryCaviar and Postmates you’re kept up to date of your order status, but for much of the delivery time you don’t really need to be that engaged. You care most when your order is about to arrive, so a simple notification then would be great. One isn’t necessarily staring at the order and may lose track of time.
Get your watch experience together. The people are clamoring for it, and music control is clearly one of the most obvious use cases. There are some workaround apps, but officially sanctioned apps that actually work the way people expect would be great. For the music services that haven’t done this yet this applies to you too.
If you’re in a OneBusAway-enabled city, it’s likely an indispensable tool. The app tracks buses in real time, letting you know when the next bus is arriving. What if you didn’t need to open the full app to get this information? You arrive at a bus stop and your watch notifies you of the next one of your preferred buses is coming to where you are. A simple interaction with big utility. Ed. note - Similar app Transit has an Apple Watch app.
* We’re willing to give these ideas away, but if any of these companies read this and want our help in making them reality, they should get in touch.
Image from YouTube user Justin Tse.