An easier to use interface for smartwatches and fitness bands has been developed by researchers at the University of St Andrews that could have major implications for the capability of wearable devices in the future.
The technology, called WatchMI, enables wearers to access functions on their watch using a wider range of actions: for example by twisting the watch face, applying pressure to the screen, or by panning the watch to the right or left.
Currently the small size of smartwatch screens makes the touch input interface limited, and smartwatches have been criticised for their fiddly interfaces and limited functionality.
The team claim to have created a new interface using the built-in sensors contained in most smartwatches (in particular, the accelerometer, which measures acceleration; and the gyroscope, which monitors movement), which means that the new technology can be easily applied to existing watches.
The new methods make it quicker and easier to carry out a variety of functions: for example to turn up the volume by twisting the watch face; scroll between menus by panning left or right; or even play games by twisting the face to move a character and tapping with another finger to fire a weapon.
Sending text messages could also be made easier by enabling pressure to be used in order to select characters, rather than multiple taps.
"I believe this could transform the way smartwatches are viewed and used because our technique could be applied to most of the smartwatches and fitness trackers in the market without adding to the cost," said Hui-Shyong Yeo, postgraduate researcher in the School of Computer Science at the University, who led the project.
Professor Aaron Quigley, Chair of Human Computer Interaction at the School of Computer Science at the university, added: "Direct input with our smartphones or smartwatches allows many forms of interaction.
"However, with small devices our fingers and hands get in the way, blocking our view of what is happening. WatchMI overcomes this problem and allows us to wear and interact with all the pixels on our body-worn devices, not just the ones our fingers aren't blocking."
Other examples of the new interface include being able to twist the watch face to change the time on the alarm clock, or using pan and twist to scroll across maps and to zoom in.
The researchers even showed the interactions can be used to turn a smartwatch into a game controller by being able to control the movement of objects, such as a character or car, onscreen (see below).
The system was created with the help of researchers from Korea Advanced Institute of Science (KAIST).
Smartwatches have been on tech companies' agendas for a number of years with the launch of the Samsung Gear and the Apple Watch, in particular.
However, while Apple's first devices were greeted with interest, sales have plunged due to their limited functionality, poor battery life and fiddly interface. There have also been claims that the devices are insecure.
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