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Wearable Device Design: Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

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Are you looking to design a new wearable device? You're in good company! Wearables are hotter than ever, and more brands are looking to enter this burgeoning market. These devices experienced significant growth last year, and heavy-hitters in the tech industry continue to pump out products that push wearables further into the mainstream.

To say that there's stiff competition would be an understatement. It's more important than ever to get things right during the design phase. Whether this is your first foray into wearables or not, creating an excellent device that meets market needs is not as easy as popping a few sensors into a familiar form factor and calling it a day. It's a complex process that requires careful planning, a long list of well-defined requirements, and a lot of consideration for your target audience.

At Voler Systems, we pride ourselves on offering first-time-right designs and have a solid track record of bringing ideas to life. We're often brought into projects to review designs and provide consulting services. During those reviews, we see many common mistakes. These design mistakes are easy to make, but failing to address them could hamper the development process in the future. In the worst-case scenario, they could make it to final production and cause issues after launch.

Keep reading to learn more about common wearable design mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Ignoring Power Efficiency

One of the worst things you can do when designing a wearable device is to ignore how your device uses power. Battery life is one of the most significant deciding factors for consumers. The entire point of having a wearable is that you're untethered. But what's the point if you have to take it off to charge it after only a few hours of use?

We've made great strides in recent years. A decade ago, battery life was one of the biggest hurdles to widespread adoption. Thanks to innovations in low-power design, current wearables are relatively efficient. But even still, consumers want more.

Low power consumption should always be a priority when designing a new device. Unfortunately, many designs treat it as an afterthought, forcing you to return to the drawing board.

There are many ways to extend the battery life of a wearable device. You can implement energy-efficient sensors, use low-power microprocessors, and more. Sometimes, something as simple as turning off sensors and other power-hungry elements when not in use makes all the difference. Consider testing shutdown and sleep modes to draw as little power as possible.

Download the Battery Design Checklist


Utilizing the Wrong Wireless Protocol

Your new wearable device can use many wireless protocols to communicate with the cloud and other devices. You might consider using more than one to cover your bases and offer plenty of connectivity. But one common mistake we see repeatedly is using an option that doesn't match how the device works.

For example, many designs take advantage of Wi-Fi. It's no surprise given the widespread availability of Wi-Fi networks. But in some cases, those connections do nothing more than waste power. As a result, it's not suitable if you're looking to maximize energy efficiency.

Other alternatives might be more efficient. There's Bluetooth LE, LTE-M, LoRa, and so much more. The most important thing is to match the protocol to the application. Bluetooth LE is fantastic for low-bandwidth data and audio. But for communication directly to the Internet or for video transmission, there are better choices.

Implement wireless protocols relevant to your device's core purpose to avoid this mistake. Consider including multiple protocols and switching between them for ultimate efficiency.

Choosing Sensors That Don't Provide Reliable Results

There's no shortage of sensors available to implement into your device. But does your design use them correctly and strategically?

Another common hurdle we'll see when reviewing designs is a poor design choice. It's a pretty easy mistake to make, given the limitations of wearables. You only have so much room to pack sensors in. You must also consider how end users will wear the device and where it is on the body.

Some sensors are more reliable for taking measurements and gathering data from one part of the body than others. For example, heart rate sensors work well on the wrist. Meanwhile, using it for an ECG or monitoring breathing patterns on the wrist isn't so reliable. It’s very challenging to accomplish.

To avoid this issue, test several types of sensors to determine which ones meet your accuracy requirements in a real-world situation. Better yet, find out from experts what works well and what doesn’t.

Not Planning Ahead for Firmware Updates

Have you thought about how you plan on doing firmware updates? These days, firmware updates are ubiquitous in our connected world. Software updates occur regularly. They're so common that many device manufacturers have automatic over-the-air update features built right in.

Bug fixes are inevitable, and you might have future features you want to implement. Ideally, you'd design the perfect piece of software that doesn't need significant changes. But if issues arise, such as cybersecurity hacking, you need a way to address them. Otherwise, you'll lose valuable customers and damage your reputation.

It's happened before, and it'll likely happen in the future. Don't let your company experience that nightmare. Have the technology to push updates to ensure your device doesn't become nonfunctional.

Collecting Too Much Data

Contrary to popular belief, capturing as much data as possible isn't always the best choice. There's nothing wrong with having an abundance of data for in-depth analysis, but you need to plan what you'll do with that data. Where do you store it, and how do you analyze it?

A common issue with some device designs is that they don't consider data collection and transmission. You will have a higher demand for storage and processing power if you have high sample rates. Not only that, but your device will use a significant amount of energy.

Determine what happens with the data once the sensors collect it. You can send it to the cloud, process it on the device itself, and more. Whatever you do, have a plan that considers all those finer details. Strike the right balance between sample rates, performance, battery life, etc.

Forgetting to Offer Insight

In addition to collecting too much data, you might make the mistake of not taking full advantage of the information gathered by your device. Data is great and can provide a lot of value. However, your device should be able to turn that data into powerful insight that helps users.

The best wearables are the ones that help you learn about the person wearing them. For example, a fitness tracker should offer actionable tips on how to improve. Meanwhile, a medical wearable must provide information that helps with recovery or treatment.

Ultimately, the wearable device should focus less on data capturing and more on what users can learn from their generated data.

Prioritizing Form Over Function and Vice Versa

Wearable devices need to be just that: Wearable! There's a delicate balance between form and function, and this technology can't lean too much in either direction.

Of course, you want your gadget full of features people will use. Functionality is what sets standard devices apart from intelligent tech. Implement too few features, and the device won't impact the market. You could make the device uncomfortable and cumbersome if you provide too many.

Ultimately, devices should feel effortless. They need to gather data in the background without impacting a user's regular activities.

However, form is critical, too. That's evident in the market preference for slim, minimalist design and luxury fashion brands getting in the wearable game. Even medical wearables have a noticeably sleek look.

When designing a device, keep both sides of the coin in mind. Weaving aesthetic goals into the design phase ensures that you're not cutting corners or sacrificing features for cosmetics. It encourages creative solutions and lets you have the best of both worlds.

Ignoring Non-Wearable Moments

How often will users wear your device? While wearables are often for long-term use throughout the day, they're usually not 24-hour devices. There will be many ways people will interact with the gadget outside of active intended use.

Always think about the broader context of how people will engage with your product. Consider how they transport it, toss it in their bag, and charge it. Convenience and performance go beyond active use.

Charging cases, wireless charging capabilities, docks, unique folding mechanisms, and more are becoming increasingly common. Manufacturers aren't just creating devices alone; they’re developing accessories and features that make the entire experience of using the device top-notch.

Treating Security as an Afterthought

Finally, let's talk about security. Most people are fully aware of the security threats present on computers and mobile devices. But wearables present a brand-new avenue for cybercriminals to exploit.

Wearable devices gather an unprecedented amount of personal data about the user. Some also handle financial and identification information, presenting even more potential risks. Wearables are often designed with low security, providing easy paths to breach a company’s security.

As security breaches become more prevalent, the need for top-notch security features is a must. Luckily, you can implement many best practices into the product design to keep your users as safe as possible.

Designing a Wearable That Works

To avoid these issues and many more, turn to Voler Systems. We understand wearable design’s complexities and know how to navigate the development process.

Let us take your ideas and turn them into a tangible product. Contact us today to get started.

Contact Voler Systems Today

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