Human Touches Computer, Computer Reacts

We all see pictures & commercials about smartphones. Some of us read specs and/or post opinions on the internet about the phone market. But very few study how we interact with the machine. People studying human-human interaction probably outnumber people studying human-machine interaction 1000:1.

Right now in the “smartwatch” (or wearable, or wrist computer) market there are 2 early interface models: Google’s Android Wear and the subset of iOS running on Apple Watch. Google went with very simple displays and relies on a combination of touch and voice to operate, for a total of 2 input methods. Apple took a more ambitious path by giving their Watch 2 more input methods: haptic (movements/touch+) & scroll/click using the wind dial, which Apple is calling the “digital crown”.

I don’t agree with this concept that Google’s simplified Wear interface is better than Apple’s upcoming WatchOS. My bet is on Apple using past experience and marketplace victories to develop a more cohesive, useful, and friendly wrist interface.

Apple Watch combines scroll/click, single home button, & multi-level touch gestures – three input methods perfected by Apple over the last 15 years and accepted by millions of users of all ages and types. To that they’ve added Voice control and Haptic input (rolls, shakes, vibrates). It will be interesting to see how much the user can do with each method.

Apple Watch OS input methods:
Input method 1 – Scroll & Click Dial
Input method 2 – Multitouch screen with 2-layer clicking
Input method 3 – Haptic (movement like shake or turns)
Input method 4 – Voice, interacting with Siri

Some mixing will be required for total operation, but will the user be able to pick an input method that suits them at that moment and use it for their entire task? The perfect UI would have all of those options completed, or at least have 1-2 input methods that allow you to control the entire device without relying on other methods.

Some example task chains:
Task1 – control Apple TV
Task2 – read and reply to a message or email
Task3 – read and interact with twitter feed and facebook timeline
Task4 – google something that leads to directions
Task5 – view calendar, accept invitation to meeting then get directions
Task6 – monitor your workout and sync workout data to your running totals
If the user needs to mode-change between the input methods to accomplish these types of tasks it could be clumsy, or worse, unusable. Imagine having to touch the screen, then scroll the dial, then touch the screen again, then click the dial button to get something done. No thanks.

To achieve pain-free human-computer interaction requires the software and hardware working together to make task completion simple and stable. This is Apple’s specialty and they will keep their methods a secret until it ships so we will just have to drive it ourselves in a few months to answer the usability questions. I bet they are deciding some of those things now, and the WatchKit API they announced is incomplete at this point.

Battling screen size limitations (about the size of a fingertip), 1 hand operation, plus major battery and space limitations is making designers on this new platform cut corners. The google watches look like beta’s to me, and Apple’s watch looks very version 1.

Look back at iPod version 1 and iPhone version 1 for the model. Apple is following their script perfectly. That watch platform will probably get more updates in the first year than AppleTV has gotten in 5 years.

IMHO The smart watch could be the 21st century object of choice if it’s designed properly. We have predicted it coming for decades. A phone is still just a phone, and a tablet is great but it’s basically a digital book which is different than your personal sensor array on your body.

This could become our communicator pin, and it will become our safety net, our recorder of choice, our interface to the cloud when not in front of a large screen.

I think the concept of a “phone” on every person is long in the tooth. Robot calls, telemarketers & bill collectors that don’t really want to be paid are on the phone lines. Business is more and more done over text, email, facebook, maybe with a quick voice confirmation that VoIP can handle.

BTW — do Google watches really only have touch & voice for input? Touch is nearly useless when the screen is the size of your pointer. I would think the dial would get the most use. I wonder if Apple’s dial will accept 2 types of clicks, like a select click and then the home click? I don’t want to talk to my watch and I don’t want to have to move my finger out of the way every time to read something to click. That’s crazy if that’s how they work, i’ll have to watch some demos of the android watches.