Gadgets

5 Reasons Why Wearable Notifications Suck?

In the age of the smartwatch, it’s deplorable to see how little notifications have moved on from our mobile phone. Navigating how we engage with smart technology, not just in our wearables, but soon in our entire life (thanks IoT!) will become vitally important, yet it is still failing to get the attention it deserves.

Below are five of the key issues around smartwatch/device notifications, showcasing the problems, and solutions, that are currently being looked at.

1, Beeping at you is a dumb response

Your watch beeps at you.

You know you have some sort of notification.

Now what?

Beeping is essentially a way to notify you that something has happened. But it fails to give you enough information to make a useful decision.

Beeping at me due to a Twitter favorite – unnecessary. Beeping at me because my brother sent me an SMS – need to know.

So why are they so often the same? How is this different from having your mobile phone with you? At its heart, this system of using a simple noise to let you know you have some sort of message is basic and unchanged after 10 years. Sure, you can add custom noises, but this doesn’t get to the core of the problem.

A lot of this stems from the fact the smartwatch is still just an “extension” of the mobile phone, rather than a truly groundbreaking device in its own way. The other problem stems from the lack of difference between a “notification” and “information overload” – currently we’re edging towards the latter when the aim should be the former.

2. Vibration notifications are less dumb, but not perfect

Single vibration notifications are an equally dumb response. While more subtle than a beep, it does nothing to help us understand what has been sent to us.

Yet there are situations where companies are using vibration extraordinarily well. Alarms for waking up come to mind particularly when used in conjunction with a device/app that senses your sleep patterns to wake you up.

However, even for normal notifications, we could be doing much better. Why does every single notification only buzz me once? Why couldn’t patterns of vibration indicate different message types or even help spell out words or basic messages to you?

There is a lot to learn here from the blind and deaf communities as to how improvements can be made for the general populace simplifying devices so that all can use them. The most notable example of this has been a young woman who has been using her Apple Watch to navigate the streets of a city.

This kind of smart thinking should be embedded in more technologies and apps, allowing us to react more naturally with technology than we do now.

3. Notifications are not universal

You’re sitting at work, typing, or searching online for something and your attention focused on the screen in front of you.

So why is it your wrist that alerts you to a notification?

The company’s lack of integration for notifications to computers and other technologies has gone on for too long. Under the guise of incompatible operating systems, or apps that won’t talk to each other, somehow we’ve come to see this as the norm.

But why shouldn’t I receive a call notification on my laptop screen? Or TV even? Why is it limited to certain paired technology? We have to move away from seeing the phone as the focal point to see service offerings like Google and Apple which provide more holistic solutions to our communications management.

The lack of more universal notifications that help you gather information in the place you are has to be an important next step in improving notifications across smartwatches, smartphones, and any other connected devices we own.

4. On-screen notifications are small/unhelpful

Let’s say you’ve seen a message flash up on your screen, or had a dumb notification, and now want to action something.

Currently, you bring up your wrist, poke at a button or swipe something to clear it, or if you (God forbid), want to reply, either send a quick limited reply or attempt to use your voice to text to send what is hopefully the right message… which still has to be confirmed before being sent with more button clicks.

There is a clear limitation here. We cannot interact the same way we have come to on a phone, yet still, we insist on doing so.

But there are answers coming, particularly in the speech to text and command/reply space. As shown in this fantastic article in Wired the next wave of advancements will help alleviate some of these issues around replying/controlling through our smartwatches/phones. Smart replies and commands are one way to make these devices more useful on their own.

Other advancements are also coming in the form of interesting ways to communicate through your smartwatch. One that caught my eye is Five, which is simplifying communication to a near-universal level and enabling better use of screen space on size-limited devices. These sorts of interesting apps wouldn’t make much sense on a smartphone but are perfect on a smartwatch.

5. Notifications aren’t contextual

You’re sitting at the cinemas… your watch beeps at you and lights up and you become annoyed and lose the moment you were in. Sounds normal to people?

Your phone knows you bought and got emailed movie tickets, but can’t figure out to turn off notifications while you’re in there watching it?

These sorts of limitations are frustrating. Why should we have to manually turn off our equipment when we should be able to make smarter programming that actually knows what is required. Currently, your phone tends to push through every notification to your smartwatch by default, yet this doesn’t have to be the best answer.

A smartwatch should know I’m riding a bike and hold off on sending a message through until I stop At the same time, it should automatically start my ride tracking app and display that information instead.

The way we are contextually notified about things will become an important factor moving forward to ensure that we are not overwhelmed by vast quantities of information; instead, it needs to be streamlined and fed to us in more useful, bite-sized pieces.

Creating technology like this isn’t easy, but would make using a smartwatch delightful, rather than a task to make it do what you want. Currently, we still rely too heavily on manual input, and adjustment and technology does not always make our life easier.

In conclusion

The way we are contextually notified about things will become an important factor moving forward to ensure that we are not overwhelmed by vast quantities of information; instead, it needs to be streamlined and fed to us in more useful, bite-sized pieces.

Creating technology like this isn’t easy, but would make using a smartwatch delightful, rather than a task to make it do what you want. Currently, we still rely too heavily on manual input, and adjustment and technology does not always make our life easier.

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