Winning Wearable Devices: Create Great Customer Experiences

Jennifer Waltner
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Can you meet consumers’ high expectations?

For a long time, the smartphone was the consumer’s most intimate device, never more than an arm’s length away. Now, wearable technology is competing for those consumers’ affections.

Users maintain nearly constant contact with wearable devices. Many people only take them off briefly to charge. Fitness trackers, smart watches, hearables and other wearable technology saw explosive growth in recent years. And there are no signs the market will slow any time soon.

Consumers expect wearable devices and apps to work seamlessly together; they won’t tolerate anything less than perfection. Ensure your wearables exceed customer expectations at every touch with this advice.

Consider the whole ecosystem

Today’s wearable technology lives in an ecosystem that combines hardware and software. Winning in the wearable space calls for rock-solid integration between your company’s devices and app(s), plus the ability to play well with other apps and aggregators of wearable technology data. Companies can play in the market even if they don’t produce the actual wearable hardware. Instead, they can integrate with existing hardware, whether it’s input hardware or notification hardware. The Strava app, for example, integrates with many fitness trackers, GPS units and apps to provide athletes with performance stats, community challenges, and trail maps.

Most devices rely on a variety of sensors that either capture data about the user or their environment or serve up information from other devices. Smart glasses, for example, might provide directions, or a watch can alert you to an incoming phone call. Wearable devices typically pair with a companion app that runs on a primary device, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer. The app can serve several purposes, such as syncing data, providing notifications and initial device setup.

Establish seamless connections

Companion apps are often the face of your brand or device — and a crucial component in the overall user experience. These apps are the portal for information and interaction. Often, the apps need to interact with a variety of different devices, sometimes from multiple manufacturers, and incorporate outside data from others’ APIs.

Apps running on wearable devices themselves require special attention. On-device apps must be pared down and designed specifically to work on the form factor. In addition to shrinking the interface, developers must focus on use cases, battery life and user attention spans. In short, these types of apps need to serve up relevant information and then let the interface get out of the way.

Conduct in-the-wild testing

Wearables must work for different types of users, body types, sizes, activities and environments. Put devices and apps through their paces in real-world situations to guarantee they will stand up to heavy use without fail.

While simulating devices to test content and data display is useful, particularly in regression and acceptance testing, it’s no replacement for the real thing. Without real-world testing, you can’t tell if your hardware is destined to get left on the dresser each day or if your app is bound to get uninstalled due to disappointing performance. Add real devices into the mix to mitigate syncing/connectivity issues, capture real data and offer real-time feedback to guide product development and enhancements.

Four key factors for real world wearables testing

Overall, wearables pose both familiar and unique challenges for hardware and app developers. Wearable hardware must withstand a range of temperatures and moisture levels that everyday users experience – not to mention getting jostled, banged around and roughed up. The apps designed for wearables need to function on their native devices and environments under the same varied conditions as smartphone apps, such as working effectively across different network connections.

To ensure seamless customer experiences, organizations must develop and thoroughly test wearables in these contexts:

Connectivity. Wearable technology often requires either intermittent or constant connectivity with a primary device. With a variety of ways to connect, including hardware (such as 3.5-millimeter jacks or USB), Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, these connections require extensive testing. Test Wi-Fi networks and configurations in real-world situations — not simulations — to account for varying signal strength in different environments. While advances in Bluetooth technology offer faster, more reliable connections than in the past, wearables makers still need to ensure strong connectivity to drive customer satisfaction.

Battery life. Users have high expectations that their devices will work at all times and in all places. However, many wearable technologies suffer from short battery life, primarily due to device size, which poses a challenge for both hardware producers and software developers. Developers should test to ensure their apps do not have an adverse effect on the battery life of the device. Users who have to charge a wearable too frequently may abandon the device altogether.

Screen size. Smaller screens and shorter user attention spans mean it’s imperative to get to the heart of what your app does. Complex menu systems or too much information on a small display can overwhelm the user. Think about what users want to accomplish when they interact with your app, then design a unique interface to fit your device’s screen size.

User feedback. While traditional app stores have known feedback mechanisms, it’s a challenge to evaluate how your users feel about your wearable technology. A variety of factors drive ratings in app stores, including user opinion of the hardware component, how the device and app sync, the functionality and usability of the app itself, and investment. For on-device apps, collecting user feedback faces additional hurdles. Even if you could get a star rating for an app, the lack of a keyboard often means there is no process for capturing user reviews.

Overall, wearables pose both familiar and unique challenges for hardware and app developers.

Comprehensive testing for wearable technology

To test wearables effectively, you need to take advantage of several techniques. Leverage a combination of:

  • functional testing to ensure your app or hardware works on a fundamental level, coupled with exploratory testing to find edge cases and unexpected use cases

  • test case execution for advanced elements like data gathering, connectivity and alert display;

  • user acceptance testing to uncover issues you didn’t plan for.

Also, think about the user experience, not just whether or not the app and device work. While adjusting apps to fit a smaller form factor calls for some tradeoffs, you can’t sacrifice quality — users will notice. Do you serve up relevant and timely information in an unobtrusive manner, or is your app bloated with too many features? Is your app easy to use on this new device? Perform a usability study with users in your target demographic to concentrate on the criteria that matters most.

If you target users across the globe, localization testing helps ensure your wearable technology adapts to their culture, language and formats. With smaller screens to display information, it’s important to validate word choice: do translations fit into the interface and still have your intended meaning? If your wearable technology includes a form of measurement, verify that you’re using the correct formatting for the market, such as the metric system vs. U.S. customary units.

While most wearable technology communicates directly device-to-app, consider how your app handles load whether it stores user information in the cloud or syncs across multiple devices. When you know how your app handles pressure during peak usage times, you can adjust to create a smoother, lag-free experience for users.

With significant growth in the wearable technology market, standing out in this competitive landscape calls for a consistent, high-quality user experience. Focus on customer-centric design and thorough testing to ensure your products deliver.

Learn to set up effective real-world usability tests for your wearable devices in the ebook How to Plan and Prepare Remote Usability Tests.

How to Plan and Prepare Remote Usability Tests


Learn the steps to successfully plan and prepare remote usability studies to improve customer satisfaction with minimal overhead.

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