The blog of Maxime Kjaer

A glimpse of future interaction paradigms

Yesterday, the headlines on many tech sites were all about the new Pebble Time smartwatch. Some places were content with posting the facts, but a lot of people recognized that the launch was a forecast of what to expect of the future: WIRED and Engadget saw it as a tipping point for Kickstarter, and Mashable stated that it basically ensured the success of wearables in the future.

Yet I think that there’s more to it than just that.

The Pebble Time Watch introduces a new paradigm of how we should interact with our devices. In a sense, previous Pebble OS versions were not unlike a smartphone: a lockscreen (watchface) behind which a list of downloaded apps is located. The user has to exit the lockscreen in order choose the correct app to access the functionality that they want; this is the old interaction paradigm.

In a world where things are increasingly being automated, it’s surprising that this simple dynamic hasn’t been automated yet. It’s surprising that we need to create our own feed of content and functionality on the go.

Machines predict a lot of things for us. What would you be interested in buying on Amazon? What would you like to see on your Facebook feed? Would this or that movie be a better choice for you? Sometimes, computers know more about you than you do yourself; Netflix certainly does choose better movies for me than I do myself. It just seems like no one has thought about using these complicated predictive algorithms for functionality instead of content. We already consume so much curated content, so it’s not too crazy to think that a curated super-feed of functionality and content from all sorts of sources is the way to go in the future.

In the new version of the Pebble, everything is different. There is no app listing to choose from anymore (however, there are expandable previews of the apps that are included, but that’s a detail). Furthermore, the apps aren’t just organized in order of their installation date, but the information shows up in order of chronological relevance for you. Everything that has been relevant is above; everything that will become relevant is below. The metaphor of time being the binding factor between events is indeed very fitting for a timepiece, because it gives a whole new dimension to what a watch is, and to how we percieve time.

This idea is not too distant from what Paul Adams describes in his article The End Of Apps As We Know Them, where he pledges for user interfaces where we interact with notifications and events rather than screenfuls of apps. Now I don’t agree with the whole article, but I do think that he hit the nail on the head with the statement

The idea of having a screen full of icons, representing independent apps, that need to be opened to experience them, is making less and less sense. The idea that these apps sit in the background, pushing content into a central experience, is making more and more sense.

Paul Adams

I’m fairly certain that a decade from now, the grid of apps that is prevalent on most devices will seem like a ridiculous, antique paradigm for the usage of technology. At best, the grid of apps is a temporary hack until we find a better solution.

With the new Pebble Time paradigm, we’re suddenly in a world where wearables are personal again. A watch doesn’t just give you an objective value, it’s no longer just a second-counter, it now gives you a personalised timeline for what has happened and will happen to you. Time isn’t just a value anymore, it’s a continuous string of events and information (on a side note, that may be what all those fancy, fluid animations are a metaphor for: everything is a continuation of what came before. The alarm icon morphs into a basketball, which in turn becomes a sun…).

I definitely think that we’re ready to discover new interaction paradigms. Smartwatches haven’t had the same success as tablets or smartphones, and that is in part because they still are in their infancy, but also because it took us some time to find the correct place for them. They shouldn’t be another smartphone-esque device with apps and faces: that’s boring, and frankly not very innovative. That’s why I think that the Apple Watch will be nothing more than a gizmo, a piece of jewelry at best.

When I look at my watch, I want to get an overview of the current situation; I want information, not distractions. That’s what the new Pebble delivers.

I really think that this launch is a redefinition of the “wearables” category. As excited as I may sound, I haven’t bought it yet – I have yet to see if they actually can live up to the idea. But it sure is incredibly promising, and I’m keeping an eye out.

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