HERE for Gear is back, this time for the Samsung Galaxy Gear S2, and our wearable navigation app packs in some impressive new features. We talk to Mateusz Tomaszewski, from the HERE design team behind the app, to find out what makes it tick.
What’s good about the latest HERE for Gear S2 app?
“The latest release brings a couple of significant updates. One that we think will bring a lot of additional value for both people who use navigation on foot, and for those that use a car, and that improvement is what we call Advanced Junction View. It’s typically a snapshot of the map, showing the exact manoeuvre that the user needs to perform, with a very schematic but accurate view.
“That brings value because sometimes when you’re navigating in the city it’s not just about turning left or right, but it may include a series of turns rather than one simple manoeuvre. We’ve quite successfully presented the user with a view of the map on the tiny screen of the watch, and they see exactly where they need to go. Doing that was not trivial at all, firstly because of the size of the device, and perhaps more importantly, the duration of time that you’re looking at the device.
“We don’t want to distract drivers; we don’t want them to interact with their watches when they’re driving. Our key principle here with junction view specifically was for the watch to be glanceable, and not to require any interactions. The screen will light up at the right moment when the manoeuvre is getting close, and they will see the turn they need to make presented in a graphical way.
“We brought some additional vibration feedback for the user, so they can identify the turn earlier on. So imagine you’ve decided to hide the phone in your pocket and rely just on the watch. If you’re not listening to audio feedback, we wanted to make sure you don’t miss your turn. Whether it’s a bigger distance or you’re going faster, you’ll have additional vibration earlier on to make sure you know when your turn is coming up.”
What were the toughest challenges when designing the app?
“The fundamental challenge is the nature of the device itself, primarily the size of the screen. It’s no accident that watches have been primarily circular for centuries, as it’s just the most beautiful shape for a watch. Samsung boldly followed that, and it looks both modern and elegant, but that presents a huge challenge. The circle is the most constrained shape in terms of the available screen space and the amount of information that can be shown on-screen, even in comparison to a similar sized rectangular screen.
“We needed to show essential information in a visible way on that tiny screen, and I think we’ve been pretty successful. We also had to make sure it performs well, that there’s no lag.
“From a design standpoint we needed to figure out the right level of interruptions for the user. We rely on vibrations to let you know what’s happening, but we can’t overdo it. If your watch starts vibrating every few seconds, then it just becomes meaningless and annoying. It’s critical to make sure that vibration feedback is delivered at just the right moment and, if necessary, synchronised with what you’re hearing on the phone. That’s also the most essential part when designing an in-car experience – to not overwhelm you with signals, but to make sure those signals are synchronised across all your senses, so you hear, and you feel, and you see.
How did the latest app come about – where did your inspiration come from?
“The watch is a really perfect way of navigating. You look silly walking around looking at your phone all the time. It’s also not safe, which is an important consideration for lots of people. You want to have a minimal level of disruption, you want to enjoy the city, and we strongly believe that the screens are overwhelming our lives a little bit.
“We were always a little bit sceptical when it came to car navigation with a watch, as we were worried it would be a distraction and we wouldn’t be able to present users with meaningful information on a tiny screen. Samsung thought it was worth giving a shot though, and starting with that experience of being in sync with a phone, we discovered that it can be a proper standalone experience from the user point of view – you can rely on the watch 100 per cent to get you to your destination.
“We realised it’s just as safe as using your in-car navigation or phone, as you really just need a very quick glance at that screen. The time your eye is transfixed on the screen cannot be longer than two seconds, but the watch is actually shorter than with your phone, as when your hand is on the steering wheel, it’s actually positioned quite close to your natural field of view."
How important are wearables for the future of navigation?
“Wearables are a natural space for mapping, as the wearable is on you and with you, and can provide feedback that is non-disruptive for your general behaviour. That’s something we’re really passionate about. It’s a chance to stop staring at your phone all day and start behaving like humans. When they’re on us, they actually feel like a part of us. Navigation is one of the most suitable experiences for the smartwatch, and I think our competition have realised that too.”