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Should wearable devices be invisible?

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wearables? body computing? interface?

Editor's Note: This article shares an interesting idea that somehow has slipped from many designers' creative mindsan invisible wearable device.

If you build wearable devices and haven't yet seen the 2013 movie Her, in which a lonely writer falls in love with his computer's "virtual human" operating system, perhaps you should.

Or so suggests Stuart Karten, president of Karten Design, a Los Angeles-based industrial design consulting firm that's worked with a variety of major consumer and medical device manufacturers, including Samsung, Procter & Gamble and Medtronic.

Karten was one of several speakers at Body Computing Conference at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (USC). His message: The best digital devices are unobtrusive and integrate seamlessly into our daily lives. In a sense, they're "invisible."

Which brings us Her. So what's the connection?

"It's a love story between a man and his technology," Karten told the conference audience of medical, investing and tech industry professionals. "Technology is seamlessly integrated into his entire life."

Invisible wearables

(Source: Keoni Cabral via Flickr)

Samantha, the voice-controlled OS and object of the protagonist's affection, is a powerful "virtual human" capable of complex interactions that seem effortless.

"First of all, she's powerfulhuge computer platform in the background, algorithms at work," said Karten. "She's ubiquitous, she follows him everywhere, and she's intuitive. He speaks to her in natural language, and there's no friction between him and the interface."

But what's most compelling about Samantha and the digital devices of "Her" is what you don't see.

"You don't see sensors, you don't see electronics, and even the devices are minimalised," said Karten.

The hardware, in fact, isn't designed to stand out or make a statement, nor is the user interface.

"There's no glossy white, matte black, glass, aluminium," Karten added. "It's so human. It's informal. It's natural. No awkward sentence constructions like 'open Google' or 'weather in Detroit.'"

By comparison, today's device makers (and many consumers) are "obsessed" with screen size, resolution, thickness, gestures and "bendability," Karten said.

This may change soon enough, though.

"I believe the future of our interaction with technology will ... be invisible," Karten predicted. "We will need to camouflage our devices. We will need to make them less intrusive."

Today's wearables have many good qualities, of course, such as the ability to affect behaviour change (e.g., exercise daily) and deliver fast access to relevant data. But their truth value as a mainstream digital device is still unclear.

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