The Future of Wearables: Kyle Mathewson on New Interfaces for the Human Body

kyle mathewson wearables and the human brain

A psychology professor from the University of Alberta will blow your mind in episode 4 of the Future of Wearables podcast this week. Kyle Mathewson has developed new technologies relevant to wearables – all to help him study the human brain in the real world. What does that mean for the mobile industry?

Listen to Episode 4

From interfaces that feel like human skin to button-free interactions – what might seem like far-off science fiction is already a reality. In fact, Mathewson’s work has impacted wearable devices already on the market – and many more to come. He’s currently testing an EEG headset called Muse, by InteraXon in Toronto. It uses Bluetooth to transmit your brain waves during meditation to either your iPhone, or to a computer.

As these wearable technologies gain adoption, researchers and businesses are excited by the new data that can help us learn more about how our brains work outside the lab. It’s a mind-bending conversation you don’t want to miss!

The Sourcebits TakeKE

Mathewson might seem far out, but he’s really not far off. And there’s tremendous opportunity for businesses creating apps and wearables interfaces. Within just 3 years, the smart glasses industry could become a $6 billion opportunity. Analysts at Onalytica also predict about 170 million fitness trackers and activity monitors will be sold by 2017. Business Insider forecasts that 91.6 million smartwatch units will be sold globally in 2018.

But entirely new interfaces require wearable apps designers and developers to take an innovative approach to UI/UX and visual design. Everything is still extremely experimental – you need to innovate while evaluating and testing.

How do you design apps that make the most of these new interfaces and bring the future to life? Sourcebits Chief Innovation Officer (and Apple Design Award winner) Piotr Gajos shared the following tips about creating compelling interactions on wearable apps that go beyond buttons to select, navigate, and input data.

1. Use the Sense of Touch to Provide Information

Design interactions that make it easy for the user to push and squeeze the device itself to interact with the pressure-sensitive touchscreen – like on the Apple Watch. The interaction target is much larger – making the entire device essentially a button. It’s like the device is made out of rubber. You can squeeze in different directions, press on it, and pull on it. The wearable responds to what users do with it, and they can feel the change on their fingertips.

2. Design for Simple Gestures

When a wearable can read gestures without touching it – it’s important to design for simple gestures such as waving a few fingers in front of the device, not the user’s whole arm. It might sound awkward (like giving voice commands to a device in public) – but this type of interaction can be designed in a tasteful and minimalist way.

3. Track Eye Movements

If the wearable device has a rear-facing camera, think about including eyesight tracking so you can incorporate how the user’s eyes move. Then your app can respond to reactions inside the eye. Curious to learn how eyesight tracking is being used today? Listen to The Future of Wearables episode 2 with Affectiva’s Boisy Pitre on technology used to map people’s facial expressions to “read” emotions.

4. Make the Most of Sensors – Collect Data Passively

Right now it’s difficult to take advantage of all the sensors available on a wearable because of battery issues. Once battery life improves, you’ll be able to do more with the heart rate sensor, gyroscope, and accelerometer. For example, continuous heart rate monitoring could make it possible to detect trends and predict behaviors. Imagine an app experience where the user is about to get exhausted, or when they’ve had too much rest and need to move around, and the app starts playing energizing music.

Let’s Talk Wearable Apps

We love working with clients that seek our mobile design and app development services – and they’ve asked us to create awesome apps for the wearable tech market. A great example of a recent project: Vuzix and their enterprise smart glasses.

If you’re thinking about entering the wearable tech market or have an existing app that you’d like to reimagine for the Apple Watch, smart glasses or other devices – you’ve come to the right place.


Sourcebits is sponsoring The Future of Wearables podcast – sign up to get a weekly email with the latest episode. Each week, host Heather Schlegel interviews mobile industry thought leaders and wearable makers.

Piotr Gajos, Chief Innovation Officer

Piotr is Sourcebits Chief Innovation Officer. A 2006 Apple Design Award winner, Piotr draws much of his inspiration from film and music, and focuses on leading our Innovation Strategy Workshops, generating new ideas for Sourcebits, and consulting on projects.