What is the job of wearables?

Google added to the noise this week by showing off Android Wear and continuing to dig a hole for themselves. They’re digging in the wrong place! I think there are plenty of things a piece of wearable technology can do for us, for example…

  • I would like to monitor and measure my individual behaviors.
  • I would like to aware of information and activities of others.
  • I would like to authenticate myself to systems and environments.

Scores of scenarios that can be covered by these statements. The runner who wants to record the time, distance, and performance of their workout. The remote worker who wants to be aware of project input from their colleagues. The student who wants to debit their meal plan to pay for lunch. And yet phones today are capable of meeting all of these needs (which is why plenty of people would have you believe that wearables are simply obnoxious overkill).

Why then is it worth talking about wearables? Some people will try to say these things aren’t true, but I would argue they’re no longer living in the real world: Phones are heavy, fragile, expensive, and ugly. We carry them against our will.

Some will say they’re light, but not compared to a pencil. Some will say they’re durable, but not compared to a house key. Some will say they’re affordable, but not compared to a notebook.

And some will say they’re beautiful, but the minority in that group are the sort who find beauty in a car or radio (you can put me firmly in that camp). The rest, if they describe their phones with any amount of praise, are more likely praising the many jobs the phone does for them and not the actual object. And, most importantly for our purposes, phone batteries hardly last more than a day, and you’ve got to stare at them to get anything done. These two aspects represent a high cost to our attention.

So to answer the question: we want wearable technology to help us interact with software while being durable, affordable, inconspicuous, and requiring minimal attention.