One of the big changes coming to wearables at the moment, is specificity. By that I mean that both the hardware behind the wearable and the applications it can run, are designed with the device itself in mind and not just copied over from a smartphone system with a decidedly different purpose and architecture.
However not everyone agrees that this is the direction we should be taking, like Evernote’s CEO Phil Libin, who claimed in a talk with Engadget that wearables shouldn’t have their own specific applications or uses. In his mind, it should simply be an extra display to augment your smartphone’s current functions.
Isn’t that what smartwatches are doing at the moment?
“It isn’t any particular form factor that’s important,” Libin said. “It’s this idea that when you use an app in the near future you’ll be using it across multiple devices at the same time. Think about how profound that is.”
Speaking about Evernote specifically, he suggested a scenario where you’re reading a note on your phone and suddenly you get a phone call. Instead of having to close the note down or minimise it to answer, you could answer the call on your wrist instead and continue to read the note as before. He imagines that will be what wearables are like in the future, offering this augmented smartphone experience, rather than their own unique benefits.
“Within a few years it’s going to feel like you’re surrounded by this field of digital intelligence,” Libin said. “No one knows how to do that . Nobody knows how to design experiences for that, you can’t even wireframe that stuff … We basically have to invent completely new design paradigms for it. It’s going to be a cataclysmic change in the industry.”
What seems strange about Libin’s ideas, is that the ability to augment your smartphone’s abilities is already here. Smartwatches offer that sort of function in various ways, but sidestepping unique applications and unique uses for wearables seems like a missed opportunity.
There’s something special about technology that is in direct contact with your skin at all times. Not only can it give you information about you that a smartphone can’t when it’s in your pocket, but it can allow new methods of interaction through gestures and the fact that it’s always on hand. You don’t need to pull it from your pocket or similar, making it much handier.
And that’s just the ones you have attached to your wrist. There’s all sorts of unique and interesting uses for wearables which we have yet to even discover.
As forward thinking as Libin was with his own Evernote software, it feels like he hasn’t really appreciated the potential for wearable innovation.