By Frank Spillers

Android Wear UI

This week at Google's Developer Conference the company officially unveils their second play with wearable computing. As with Google Glass (the heads up display you wear over an eye), this wearable is more discreet. Android Wear (a wearable Operating System) takes common place jewelry- the wrist watch- and makes it smart ie. provides you with a richer array of meaningful information. 

The interface design approach adheres to 3 essentials, according to Google's Timothy Jordan (see video Introduction to Google Wear):

  1. Simple: You don't have much canvas to play with. Think useful, not MacGyver or James Bond.
  2. Glanceable: Users spend 2-4 seconds, so make it visual and based on actions occurring around the user.
  3. Built around Microinteractions. Microinteractions are those little details that keep a system and a user in "synch" (see this related seminar on Synch as a design tool).

The new Android Wear UI is built on what looks like a well thought out user experience (UX). Specifically Google has focused on the context of wearability: constant movement, limited interaction and quick bursts of visual attention. The UX strategy seems to weigh heavily on notifications: flight leaving, dinner appointment, meeting coming up etc. In many cases it pulls the alert from the phone, meaning your phone AND your wrist will now blow up. I don't know about you, but the idea of one more electronic leash concerns me. This is NOT the wrist watch you want to take with you on vacation. If you are diabetic however, an alert might be valuable...

The Social Relevancy Test: Does it cater to our need for social delicateness?

One of Google's huge public relations challenges with Google Glass has been social relevancy (see Is usability a public relations problem?). Specifically journalist and early adopters have complained that Glass receives hostile reactions, causes them to trip or loose their children. Google has struggled, not with usability, but with social aspects of usage. These social elements of your user experience can cause users to stay away from your product, if you ignore them.

Think of how many decades watch and jewelry designers have perfected socially appropriate, attractive and emotionally appealing designs-- of static time telling machines, we call wristwatches. Google's philosophy of keeping your attention in the read world (the premise behind the heads-up display technology of Glass) and likewise with the "context stream" of glanceable notifications, has still to prove itself out.

One thing Google Wear has going for it is discreet wear. An obnoxious watch isn't a social atmosphere killer, where a guy with Google Glass video-taping your lunch date seems to be considered distasteful. Still the 'Wear UI' from Google will still need to by-pass or gracefully compliment our inherent need for maintaining social graces with the real world.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below...

Here's a usage scenario video of life with Google Wear