Thursday, June 4, 2015

Android Wear Offers Timely Advice to Display Makers

By Ken Werner

On Thursday morning at Display Week, The Special Wearables Address in the business track was given by Sidney Chang, Head of Business Development for Android Wear, whose topic was "Android Wear Overview and Google's Wish List." (Chang replaced Fossil CTO Philip Thompson, whose scheduled talk was "Why Wearables with a Display Will Not Succeed with Today's Display Companies." I have been assured that the switch was due to a scheduling conflict and not because Thompson was planning on telling us, quite accurately, that display and computer companies can't be trusted to design watches.)

Chang's approach was not confrontational, but he had interesting things to say, some of them aimed directly at display makers. The first was that display makers should think very hard about "improving" traditional display parameters if they impact battery life. Although outdoor visibility is essential, it should be done in ways other than cranking up the luminance. The display must always be on, but it doesn't always have to be on in the same way.  Chang described two modes. The "interactive mode" has full animation and full refresh rate. "Ambient mode" has reduced color depth, reduced brightness, and reduced refresh rate for showing basic information, like the time, whenever the user looks. (Pixtronix and Sharp, are you listening?)

Chang specifically discouraged display makers from going to 300 ppi for watch displays. The extra pixel density isn't needed for most watch apps, he said, and most watches can't tolerate the hit on battery life. 

Chang showed the results of user studies done by Android Wear. Not surprisingly, users want the thinnest watch they can get. Many women feel that current watches, although arguably appropriate for men's generally larger wrists, are too large for theirs. Average wrist diameters are 17.5cm for men and 15.0cm for women. Average wrist breadths are 5.8cm for men and 5.2cm for women. When a group of users (presumably both male and female) were asked whether they preferred a watch diameter of 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 inches, there was a strong bi-modal preference of 1.0 and 1.2 inches.  Of these, participants over 40 years old preferred the smaller size, while participants under 40 preferred the larger. (Display makers, don't try to sell 1.5-inch displays to watchmakers!)

A general issue is trying to meld the very different approaches of watchmakers and people from the display and mobile systems communities. Chang noted that watchmakers and watch users prefer choice and variety. In 2014 Fossil had 8000 watch SKUs under 15 different brands. Typical sales for each SKU were thousands to tens of thousands. Since Google Wear released its API, the most popule apps have been different watch faces, with one app allowing the user to take a selfie of his or her clothing and then match the color of the watch face to the color of the clothes.

Forging compatibility between the watchmakers' need for variety and the display- and system-makers need for volume will be an ongoing topic of conversation.

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