Always on the body, wearables have created an unprecedented intimacy between people and information.

PERHAPS THE BIGGEST HARDWARE TREND OF LATE HAS BEEN THE WEARABLE DEVICE. Nearly every big company has made an effort to get in the game. Samsung and Qualcomm showed off new smart watches, Pebble was a huge Kickstarter success, and many wrists are sporting a Nike Fuelband, Jawbone Up, or Fitbit Flex. Always on the body, wearables have created an unprecedented intimacy between people and information. However, wearables are not only changing the relationship between people and information, they’re changing the face of the device ecosystem altogether. Wearables are quickly pushing aside the smartphone to become the device that creates the most personally intimate relationship with the user.

As we at Punchcut continue to work in the wearables space, we’ve classified the devices we’ve seen and those we hope to see into three connectivity levels – Contributors, Companions, and Connectors. Contributors are wearable devices that have no connection to the internet yet generate their own information. The most common types of contributors are fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up or Fitbit Flex. Companions are devices that work back and forth with another device for connectivity such as the Pebble Watch or Google Glass. Connectors are wearables that independently connect the user to the world around them. While these devices may be rare today, they will become key players in the future.

Wearables are making three big steps for the future:

  1. Wearable devices are reshaping the device ecosystem as they become the wearer’s most personal device
  2. Wearable devices are going beyond their wearer to bring people together in new ways.
  3. Wearable devices are accelerating the convergence of the digital and physical worlds – bringing people into the Internet of Things.



Wearable devices are reshaping the device ecosystem as they become the wearer’s most personal device.

Today’s users are always connected and interact with several devices throughout their day, sometimes using multiple devices at once. At the center of this device ecosystem is usually the smartphone. Almost always on a person and always connected, the smartphone has long been the most personal computer a user interacts with. As wearables become more commonplace and more mature, however, they will quickly take over this role of intimacy within the device ecosystem. The shift from companion wearables to connectors will allow wearables devices to fulfill the role of keeping the user connected, not just to other devices but to their own body. Wearables can take advantage of biometrics and tactile connections in ways that other devices can’t. These devices have the unique opportunity to record personal information about the user at all times and then deliver it back in the most insightful and contextual of ways. As these devices become more contextual and learn to present themselves exactly at the moment they’re needed, they will move to the background of the user’s attention, allowing the user to feel more connected to the larger world around them.

This shift to wearables as a contextual deliverer of information creates opportunities for new paradigms of user/device interaction and information display. Users are often busy and on the move when interacting with wearables – meaning they need quick, contextual, and glanceable interactions. Shorter moments of interaction, combined with smaller hardware, create opportunities for refined gesture libraries and the creation of new gestures that use body parts beyond just hands. Google Glass, for example, uses head motions up and down to turn the display on and off. While these head motions can be socially awkward, they’re headed in the right direction. Imagine being able to send a text message with just a flick of the wrist or pulling up a map with just a tilt of the head. These new interactions can free the user’s hands and attention for more important things.


Wearable devices are going beyond their wearer to bring people together in new ways.

Wearable devices are not only changing interactions between users and their devices, they’re changing relationships between human beings. Wearables as ambient, contextual aides help change the habit people have fallen into of using technology and devices as interrupters. The Companion Pebble Watch, for example, allows wearers to no longer have to rudely pull out their phone to read a text message, but rather, they can simply glance at their wrist and have all the information they need, barely interrupting a conversation. Wearables thrive on glance able moments, as well as moments that take advantage of creative and private alert systems, such as vibrations, pressure or temperature. Instead of personal screens that are seen all too publicly, wearables are providing users with personal devices that can remain private to the wearer, whether that’s by being worn out of view or by utilizing more subtle information delivery. The best wearables will stay out of the way, allowing the users to more actively engage with one another.

Though wearables themselves may become more invisible to the non-wearer, their effects are uniquely positioned to improve accountability and relationships between both the non-wearer and the wearer. Take, for example, Vancive’s Metria, a Contributor that monitors the wearer’s vital signs throughout their day. Intimate, up-to-date access to this information puts both the wearer and the wearer’s doctor on an equal playing field, uniting them in common knowledge and improving their relationship. Not only are the outputs of wearables improving relationships between people, but now the devices themselves are forging new relationships between different kinds of people. Designing for wearables requires a collective effort from engineering to fashion to design, and already, companies are making big moves to staff their teams appropriately. Apple recently hired the CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, who is rumored to be helping them design a smartwatch. The most successful wearable products will both create and be the result of a collaboration of efforts.


Wearable devices are accelerating the convergence of the digital and physical worlds, bringing people into the Internet of Things.

As wearables become more ubiquitous, richer experiences can be created for the user from the information carried by the wearable device. Being on the body puts wearables in a unique position, allowing them to tap into the wearer’s body and biometry. This access enables wearable devices to become a credible talisman of the user’s identity. Take the Nymi band, for example, an early Connector which uses its wearer’s heart patterns as credentials to unlock their other devices. When wearing the Nymi band, a user can walk up to their computer and start using it, without inputting their password, or even walk up to their house and unlock the door, without ever pulling out their keys. Wearables can do all the hard work, allowing other devices to show only the most important and relevant information. With wearables as a token for identity, personalized, contextual displays will be able to augment the physical world to create seamless user experiences no matter where a user is or what they’re doing.

As wearable devices pull their wearers into the Internet of Things, the devices may cease to be wearable altogether. Motorola recently announced at the D11 conference that they are exploring electronic tattoos and implantable chips. In the short term, these “devices” will be able to identify their wearer and could replace passwords. In the long term, chips and tattoos such as these may be able to identify their wearer in bigger ways, such as verifying someone’s identity as they go through airport security or cross over international borders. By creating devices that can be implanted or permanently associated with a person, the onus is taken off the user to constantly wear something, enabling that person to just enjoy the benefits. Instead of being tethered to a clunky device, the future allows people freedom of movement in a world where they themselves are the connected device.

Wearable devices are paving the way to a richer world where digital and physical experiences seamlessly converge. Through this convergence, integrated technology and services will serve to augment a wearer’s world without directly interrupting it. When people move beyond their screens, they can begin to once again enjoy each other, as well as a more natural relationship with their technology and services. As Punchcut continues to research and design solutions in the wearables space, we’re excited about tackling and solving all the unique challenges these new devices bring us. There’s a lot of complexity ahead, and we look forward to partnering with our clients to unlock the incredible potential we see in this sector.


Punchcut is a human interface design company specializing in mobile, connected products and services. Punchcut works with the world’s top companies to envision, design and realize next generation connected experiences across devices and platforms that engage customers and transform businesses in a connected world.
A Punchcut Perspective | Contributors: Samantha Berg, Jared Benson
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