Wearable Technology: Lived Up to Expectations, or a Let-Down?

July 19, 2019 12:59 pm

Wearable Technology: Lived Up to Expectations, or a Let-Down?

Since the wearable technology boom of recent years, smart watches and fitness trackers are as popular as ever. Look at the wrists of the people you walk past on the street, and chances are, a large majority of people now have, (or have had) one. Of the people surveyed by PwC, 49% of them owned a wearable device.

Usually described as either an ‘essential’ or a ‘gimmick’, with wearables there’s often no middle ground. So, we went and had a casual chat with the wearable-tech owners in the *office to get an idea of their opinions and needs and find out…what their smart watch or fitness tracker actually does for them.

Most of those we spoke to had reasonably high expectations for their wearable and expected it to do most of what their phone could do, just in a smaller and more convenient format. Some people said that they specifically chose to purchase a smart watch for this reason as their phone had become too large to carry around in a pocket; suggesting that the requirement for compact and smart technology has been fulfilled by wearables.

The most used (and loved) features?

Image by Alvaro Reyes

However, a ‘compact smartphone’ needs compact functionality, and features vary widely between brand and device. From our conversations with the wearable owners, it became quickly clear that in terms of usage, some features came out on top.

The number one feature used was the time and date. One person explained that having a digital display is clearer than some analogue watches and described this as a key benefit. However, the reason that the time and date was popular with the people we spoke to, is because they’d abandoned using most other functions due to the confusing interface.

Tracking steps and GPS location came up as a popular feature to use. These were useful for people trying to build habits (e.g. walking more) or helping them work out how far they had moved whilst exercising, as they wanted to improve their health and get positive feedback regarding their activity. This is supported by PwC who have found that most wearable users want their smart watch or fitness tracker to help them with their health by increasing activity levels. However, we actually found that out of those we had a chat with, if exercise tracking wasn’t one of their more popular features, it was one of their least. This was because of the discomfort of, or fear of damaging the device whilst exercising.

Stats like heart rate tracking received a mixed response from the wearable owners, with some relying on it heavily during exercise, and others hardly referring to it at all, due to concerns about accuracy. The people we spoke to also had mixed feelings about features like faster payments and the weather, which suggests that there is no definitive list of the most preferred features across the board.

Pain points?

Although we didn’t run any usability testing on these devices, we asked the owners to demonstrate their wearables whilst elaborating on any key pain points they experienced. We found similar themes appearing across various brands and models.

The Apple watch displayed too many small icons on the home screen, which made it difficult for people to associate and remember the icon functions.  On the other hand, the icons of the Fitbit were described as clearer, and people found it easier to understand what each icon referred to; which goes to show, when you’ve only got a small screen to play with, it’s important that the interface is clear, for consumers to make use of all the item has to offer.

One of the team interacting with the icons on their Apple watch

Along with the confusing icons, people also found navigating the devices themselves hard to do. Both the Apple watch and the Fitbit ranges rely on touch gestures and button presses to be able to use them. But most of those we spoke to felt that the actions and gestures they needed to do, were not clear. Even upon having the device for several months or more, they struggled to know how to use their watch or tracker. Although they commented that the onboarding experience with the corresponding smartphone apps was good, there was a lack of information on how to physically use the Apple watch or Fitbit.

Wearables that were slow to respond were also a huge bugbear. Any wake-time slower than two seconds was far too long for people to use it efficiently. And having to manually wake the device up by repeatedly tapping on it, only served to make our colleagues frustrated.

Poor battery life, concern about accuracy, the difficulty of wearing it during exercise, and Apple’s strict security measures were all also described as frustrating aspects of these otherwise high-tech items.

Did it deliver?

Apart from one person we spoke to, all in all, not really. Most people were generally neutral about their smart watch or fitness tracker and had accepted its limitations. Some of those we spoke with said, although a useful tool that allowed them to make faster payments, easily check the time, and receive notifications; it was not something they used as much as they expected they would do. Some people were happier with their device and interacted and relied on it far more than others.

Overall though, interviewees stated that in general, it was far easier to just pick up their smartphone and check features such as the weather, than try and figure out how to navigate their wearable for the same thing.

Most people found the use of smart watches and fitness trackers convenient, but only as an accessory to their smartphone, rather than a standalone piece of tech. As with any piece of technology we own, the reasons we buy each item is individual to us and our needs.

Unfortunately, some technology falls slightly short of the mark of what we’re really looking for (as seems to be the case from our conversations with some of the owners of the more recent versions of the Apple watch and the Fitbit). So, although wearable technology does seem to have changed the way we interact with our smartphones and has added benefits (such as measuring our behaviours) – it seems that these devices have still got a long way to go before meeting our needs.

Of course, this is just our experience with wearable devices, so let us know how you use yours, either in the comments below, or reach out to us on social media!

*5 people were asked about their wearable technology devices. These individuals currently had either an Apple watch, Samsung smart watch, or a version of the Fitbit. Apart from one person, most of the people interviewed had possessed several smart watches and fitness trackers over a long period of time, so had an experience with both.