As we reported earlier this year, there is no shortage of smartwatches approaching the market. And while some are finally perfecting the fashion style of these clunky screens on our wrists, the functionality remains a challenge. Have you tried swiping a one-inch square screen? Even ballerina fingers can't be elegant or useful on such devices. Unlike other electronics or wearables, the challenges are not about battery life or overheating or speed, but rather that we can't get data in or out of it easily.
But a new way to interact with smartwatches is on the table, coming from researchers in the human-computer interaction labs at Carnegie Mellon University. Their new prototype allows us to physically manipulate the watch's bezel by tilting, clicking and turning it. And apparently this makes it a lot easier to interact with the function of the watch—which is to say that they function as tiny smartphones. This design can work seamlessly with any touchscreen. Their paper outlining the prototype is here [PDF].
There's no substitute for seeing the watch in action, so it's worth reading on and checking out the video below. Navigating a map, for instance, by clicking and tilting makes me honestly wonder why this kind of functionality hadn't been developed yet. Browsing and selecting your music on this prototype is reminiscent of the first time you experienced an iPod. (Well, that might be a bit of a stretch, but this is just a prototype after all.) Gaming ability is also vastly improved with this design, where you can actually imagine playing a simple video shooting game with your watch.
It's made of a 1.5-inch display that sits on an ARM processor, with two Hall-effect displacement sensors that measure the screen's movement. Mechanical sensors are challenging though, as they are more likely to break from dust or water. But the researchers are looking into ways of control that have nothing to do with touching the watch (and it's not voice recognition) but rather interacting with the skin next to the watch. No details on that right now, but expect more true innovation in this area in the near future.