User Experience for the Micro Screen

As we move further into 2014, I see more news each week focused on wearable technology. Devices are becoming small enough to wear yet powerful enough to serve a purpose in our day to day lives. This factor could make wearable devices more than just a fashion trend and eventually become a necessity. What effect could this have when thinking about UX and UI in the near future?

It is here to stay

We’ve seen the Google Glass, the Pebble smartwatch that was backed by 68,929 people on Kickstarter and more recently Intel has shown their support with a “significant” investment in Recon Instruments, the creators of Jet heads-up display, a set of extreme sports goggles with a HUD. Intel also demoed their new Intel Edison at the latest CES, a full computer the size of an SD card that supports a dual core CPU, Wi-Fi and low energy Bluetooth. This was demoed with a number of wearable devices including a ‘smart onesie’ that can monitor your baby’s heart rate, temperature and breathing.

It seems that with such heavy backing the wearable tech trend is here to stay and with the idea being backed by companies and the public simultaneously we should all start to think about a micro screen future when creating interfaces.

Thinking about UX

Assuming wearable tech is going to stick around, what effect could this have? We have seen user interfaces done at a small size before. Take Apple’s 6th generation iPod nano as an example, this had a screen size similar to the smart watches we are seeing now but was then re-designed in the next generation to have a larger screen size. Did the screen need to be bigger to improve user experience? This could be the problem about to be faced by other companies who are entering into the realm of wearable technology.

There are definitely benefits of a quick voice translation on a smart watch or a map view on your heads up display. Would you have to app-ify these features and make them device/software specific because all these accessories are just so different?. Or would you want a more complete web experience from your, probably expensive, wearable gadget? Assuming the browser could one day hit these smaller devices what sort of challenges could be faced?

  • Typefaces – Making text visible on small devices could prove challenging, especially when accommodating for the visually impaired
  • Screen size – With devices ranging so much in design and size, will there be a universal screen size to work towards?
  • Voice input – With most devices being too small to incorporate a keyboard will voice recognition API’s become more important.
  • Content Condensing – Squeezing all your webpage in to such a small space.

Getting the right balance of the above will be important and provide new challenges to the world of user interface design.

I have a scary vision of a number of responsive websites that have just been squished down to a width of 100px with a page length that could leave your visitors forever scrolling.

It is an interesting thought that as technology continuously moves forward we may well see the internet and web browsers coming to more devices, maybe in a way we haven’t seen so far. Designing and creating interfaces within the constraints  of the micro screen could prove challenging but it will also be exciting to see the innovative new ways people think of to provide a great user experience for wearable tech.

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About the Author

Aidan Gee, Head of Digital Development

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