The main way you interact with smartphones and tablets is through touchscreens. But that doesn’t mean touchscreens are the right solution for every form factor. While many wearable devices including smartwatches support touch input, Google thinks voice controls will play a key role in its new Google Wear platform and the popular Pebble smartwatch has buttons rather than a touchscreen.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group have a different solution: They’ve designed a system that lets you use pan, twist, tilt, and click gestures to control smartwatch apps, and they’ve built a working prototype to show the system in action.
The idea is that since watches have tiny screens and hang out on your wrist, it’s tough to use a touchscreen for precise input — your fingertip is nearly as big as the screen.
Instead, you can grab the sides of the researchers’ smartwatch and tilt, pan, or twist to control on-screen apps and click the surface to select.
What kind of things can you do with these controls? The team released a demo video showing a user navigating a map, framing a shot with a camera app and then zooming, drawing shapes and characters, and even playing classic first-person shooter DOOM.
The prototype is a smartwatch with a 1.5 inch, 280 x 220 pixel display with a pair of joystick sensors to detect input. As a proof-of-concept device, it looks a bit clunky, but surprisingly usable. More advanced hardware could allow for even more precise input or support for additional gestures.
It’s not clear whether any future smartwatches will actually use this sort of mechanical input instead of touch, voice, or button controls. But the concept looks promising.