Saturday, September 23, 2023

Golden Rules for Designing Wearables

Dilin Anand is a senior assistant editor at EFY -- Anagha P. is a technical correspondent at EFY

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James Colby, manager, business and technology development, semiconductor business unit, Littlefuse, says,“Circuit designers for wearables are tasked with incorporating advanced circuit-protection technologies that safeguard the device as well as the user from irreparable damage.”
Colby adds, “Another challenge faced by circuit designers stems from the shrinking form factor of most wearables and the need to accomplish improved performance with a smaller estate.”

Design displays with ambient light in mind
The scene of people bending their necks to peer into their phones is common. It is easy to hold the phone such that the screen is parallel to the face, but is it really that easy to hold it like that, while, say, running to catch a bus?

Smartwatches will, more often than not, be used at less than optimal angles. If the display used in the device has a limited viewing angle, it will stress the eyes and, eventually, frustrate the user.

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Even if the viewing angle is perfect, ambient light needs to be considered for these devices. The colour gamut of the watch screen will need to be much better as there is significant washout due to ambient light.

If the display is not bright enough or lacks the contrast to be viewed in direct sunlight, that is going to be another problem. Liquid crystal display (LCD) and organic light emitting diode (OLED) technologies are the ones mostly used in smartwatches; Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 comes with a super-AMOLED RGB Stripe display.

Keeping in tune with the saying, “If you cannot beat them, join them,” watches like Sony SmartWatch 2 and Pebble use ambient light to their advantage instead of fighting it. This is done by using transflective LCD technology with a low-pixel aspect ratio (ratio of pixel width to height). The transflective technology reflects some of the ambient light hitting it.

Resolution is another important element. With most users already accustomed to high resolution on their smartphones, they expect a similar pixilation-free experience on their smartwatches. Of course, simple or more specialised devices might not require a screen at all; these simply make do with a mix of blinking lights or haptic feedback.

Design element that matters
While researching for this article, if there is one thing that stood out, it was the answer to the question: What is the most important design characteristic in a device?

The unanimous response was that the device should look fashionable or cool, be intuitive and very comfortable to use. This could be the one thing that could make or break a device, irrespective of whether the software and circuits are perfect.

“People will not wear something that is clumsy or looks crude. They will wear and market the product (by word of mouth) only if it looks stylish and futuristic. Hence, a lot of emphasis should be given to the design aspect of the wearable. Style and comfort are all some predominant features that should be focused on. The product should then be built around the design of the final product, and not the other way around,” explains Sanjeev.

Kashinath adds to this, from his own experience, “Since we work on wearables in clothing form factor, our main challenge has been to try to reduce the presence of ‘hard’ ware and replicate similar functionality using soft materials like conducting thread and fabric.”

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