As it turns out, making wearables wearable is harder than it seems

turns making wearables wearable harder seems microsoft band lifestyle
In the grand scheme of things, fitness-band manufacturers have it easy. Take those sensors and transmitters, fashion them into an oval, make things reasonably presentable and you’re good to go. Of course, there’s some leeway in there, and that’s where they’re allowed to get creative. That’s why the JawBone Up doesn’t look exactly like the FitBit.

Things start to get a lot more complicated once screens enter the picture. But what else is new, right? Look at the smartphone market. Many aspects of their design have been standardized from manufacturer to manufacturer, yet screen size has only become more divergent.

That, coupled with the fact that more than 90 percent of all smartphones are essentially running one of two operating systems, has made displays the primary method most device makers are using to differentiate themselves. As more and more companies begin to jump into the wrist-worn smart device space, we’re beginning to see something similar play out, but for a number of reasons, there just isn’t as much space to play around.

The fashion cycle tends to move at a much brisker rate than the pace of human evolution.

Let’s start with the obvious one: the limits of the human body. When the first Galaxy Note was introduced in 2011, plenty of pundits laughed at the thing. Surely no reasonable person would be caught dead carrying around such a massive device. Of course, three years later, 5.3 inches seems downright modest when plenty of devices are pushing 6 inches. But the point remains. There were some simple practical concerns, including whether or not a device that large would fit in a standard-size pocket.

We as a culture have persevered. And, let’s face it, pockets can always get larger. But the fashion cycle tends to move at a much brisker rate than the pace of human evolution. Whatever the good folks at BlackBerry might tell you, the opposable thumb wasn’t developed for typing on small objects.

And while smartphones have been poking at the upper limits of maximum screen size over the last few years, wearable makers hit upon that ceiling almost immediately. When we’re talking about the human wrist, there’s just not a whole heck of a lot place to go, and actively making wearers uncomfortable defeats the purpose of a wearable.


A well made wearable is one you don’t remember you’re wearing most of the time. It ought to be inconspicuous enough so as to forget about its existence until you need to consult it. This is one of the primary issues with devices like Glass — Google had the incredibly unenviable task of creating a wearable device that’s subtle enough so that the wearer forgets it’s on their face for most of the day (or however long the battery lasts), while standing out enough so that bystanders know that the person standing at the urinal next to them essentially has a camera attached to their face.

Once your smartwatch or fitness band constricts your wrist movement, it’s kind of game over for the device. This, it turns out, is precisely why traditional watches have provided such a solid example to follow: Smartphone makers are building upon hundreds of years of trial and error in developing technology for the human body. No matter how smart your smart device ultimately is, the same parameters of comfort still apply here. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

The opposable thumb wasn’t developed for typing on small objects.

Like the Galaxy Note before it, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear was initially mocked by the press for its gigantic, ungainly size. This time, however, the gadget-buying public has seemingly sided with pundits. As popular as giant phones have become in recent years, consumers seem to have pretty roundly confirmed that they don’t want wearables that dwarf their wrists.

The Microsoft Band may well be doomed to a similar fate for similar reasons. The company simply couldn’t walk the line between comfort and functionality. We spoke to the company’s General Manager of Personal Devices, Zulfi Alam, about the matter when doing our review. He told us, “We did hundreds of studies with consumers. We felt we had the best balance we could come up with. Over time we’ll get it to be thinner, sleeker. There are certainly products that have greater comfort, but they only do a tenth of what we do.”

Fair enough. But Microsoft didn’t strike that golden ratio this time out, and for that reason, the product has many of the trappings of a first-generation device. It makes sense — mice and gaming controllers aside, personal comfort isn’t really the sort of thing that Redmond has had to factor into its products.


And that, ultimately, is the issue with these early smart wearables: striking that perfect balance between “smart” and “wearable.” In Microsoft’s case, that may ultimately mean dropping a few sensors in the short term. Ultimately, however, as the wearable space gets larger, components will get smaller, thanks to manufacturer scaling. Whether it will happen fast enough for the second-generation Band to have more functionality and less inclination for inducing carpal tunnel syndrome remains to be seen.

Ultimately the popularity of wearables will also likely drive companies like Samsung to invest even more heavily in nascent flexible display technology, which will almost certainly push the limits on screen size for these devices. For the time being, however, companies are forced to work within the same size parameters as countless watchmakers before them. And that ultimately means a limitation on functionality.

Related: After pioneering the phablet, Samsung’s seniority shines in the Galaxy Note 4

In terms of typing and other app usage, there’s a pretty clear limitation on what you can do inside a 1.5-inch touchscreen. We’ll surely see some creative solutions, like the controls and operating system introduced for the Apple Watch, but even still, smartwatches seem destined to remain complimentary technologies to smartphones, rather than replacements. Because, let’s face it, a wearable that isn’t wear-able is something else entirely.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


Seedling for Magic Leap is the most expensive plant you’ll ever take care of

Insomniac Games has officially launched its new game for Magic Leap One, called 'Seedling.' Throughout the game, you can nurture your very own life form wherever you are. In our demo with Seedling, we got to check out if the game is worth…

Xiaomi overtakes Apple in unit sales of wearables as market booms

The wearables sales for the third quarter of 2018 are in, and it's all change on the leaderboard, with Xiaomi taking first place from Apple, despite the exceptionally strong Apple Watch Series 4.

REI slashed the price of the Garmin Fenix 5, but the sale ends today

The Garmin Fenix 5 is a multisport fitness watch, built almost entirely for use with just about any indoor or outdoor activity you can think of. From now until the end of the day on December 1, you can save $150 on a brand new model.
Emerging Tech

Wearable device spots signs of an opioid overdose, automatically calls for help

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have developed a wearable device that’s capable of detecting an opioid overdose and sending out an alert to medical personnel. Here's how it works.

The Apple Watch Series 4's heart-monitoring ECG feature is now available

Apple officially unveiled the Apple Watch Series 4. From a larger display to a built-in electrical heart sensor, the latest device brings along some notable new features. Here's everything you need to know.
Emerging Tech

This implant goes beyond pacemakers, helps aging hearts beat more vigorously

The FDA's advisory committee has voted to recommend an innovative pacemaker-style gadget be approved in the U.S. The Optimizer Smart Implantable Pulse Generator boosts performance, strength, and pumping ability of weakened heart chambers.
Product Review

Montblanc Summit 2 offers smart functionality but still looks good with a suit

Montblanc’s Summit 2 is the first smartwatch to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor. It’s feature packed, with GPS, NFC for Google Pay, and a heart rate sensor, but it also has the classic timepiece look.

Galaxy Watch vs. Apple Watch Series 4: Which one is the smartest?

The Samsung Galaxy Watch and the Apple Watch Series 4 are two of the best smartwatches available today. But which is better? We put the two watches head-to-head to find out which you should buy.

The $200 TicWatch C2 smartwatch is now being sold in the U.S. and U.K.

Digital well-being and disconnecting from your phone is one of 2018's big trends. Mobvoi wants you to think about its TicWatch C2 smartwatch as a great way to help you use your phone less.

The best Apple Watch deals for December 2018

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.

Beddit Sleep Monitor 3.5 now available on the Apple Store

The Beddit Sleep Monitor 3.5 is now available on the Apple Store for $150. The sensor strip, which is only 2 millimeters thin, automatically tracks a wide array of sleep data when placed under the user's sheets.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Conquer the cold season with the best heated clothing and outdoor apparel

If you're thinking about going outside this winter, heated apparel is a must. Luckily, we've rounded up some of the best heated clothing, whether you're looking for battery-powered gloves or heated insoles.