Mobile Community Design
Research and design information for mobile community developers.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Beyond a Timepiece

There is a device that you already have. You may wear it in the shower and when you sleep. You may touch it, or have it close at hand 24 hours a day. You wear it as a highly visible fashion excessory. Of course, we are discussing the common wrist watch.

More abstractly, the watch provides a sense of grounding and regularity in a busy world. It is also important to note that it is inherently a social device. Humanity created systems of portraying and tracking time, primarily to enable standard and efficient coordination of schedules. Thus, knowing you are on time means: you will get to see that important person, your boss won't fire you for being late, your first date will get off to a good start. Watches at their core are intimate, practical and social.

Since we have a device with such strong potential, why is it primarily still the timepiece it was 200 years ago? To be fair, there has been some exploration of the watch design space. Swatch has recognized that the device has reached a mature stage where they can turn it into a pure fashion excessory that in many cases is actually unusable for it's original purpose. HP introduced the calculator watch, which did show a desire for increased functionality, but had functions and an appearance many people didn't want. Similarly, Suunto has turned them into huge sport-specific computers such as diving watches.
However, during this recent phase of innovation in watches, we still have the round passive display, four cryptic non-labled buttons, and a primary focus on either an analog or digital time representation. Neither the interface nor the functionality has really seen much innovation for the majority of watch owners. I personally think this is a shame for a technology and form factor that has so much potential - so I've done a design brainstorm on the topic.

Imagine if our watches could do the following:

  • call for help in emergencies,
  • tell us where we are (not just when it is),
  • give us directions,
  • tell us when our friends are near,
  • help us communicate with our friends, and meet up with them,
  • pay our bill at the table,
  • find the nearest food,
  • remember crucial personal personal ID, login information, and prove our identity,
  • keep a shopping list for us, and
  • remind us of appointments.

In short, why isn't the technology which we have closest to us every day helping us with the activities that we need to do every day? The following are a few design sketches to show what would be possible.

There are a variety of different form factors and input/output devices possible.

Small and mobile doesn't have to mean static and disconnected.

Four buttons and abbreviated labels isn't the only option.