New Research Adds A 'Twist' To Smartwatch Innovation
April 30, 2014

New Research Adds A ‘Twist’ To Smartwatch Innovation

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

If it was once a complaint that the smartphone had limited real estate, it might now be said that the smartwatch has even more limited real estate and even less screen space to perform tasks on the screen. A group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have pushed beyond these limitations by creating a prototype that offers control beyond the touchscreen -- with gestures such as mechanical pan, twist, tilt and click.

The CMU researchers realized that the watch face was small, and therefore hampered the completion of certain tasks. The ability to manipulate the bezel makes it easier to scroll through a larger space and select options on the screen.

Findings from the research were exhibited at the ongoing ACM CHI Conference on Human Interface Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto, Computer World reports. "The prototype is being billed as a way to overcome the small form factor and input limitations on standard smartwatches, unlocking their powerful computer potential."

Robert Xiao, Gierad Laput and Chris Harrison from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University led the research. The research document was posted to Chris Harrison's website and additional information including video and images was posted on a website run by Gierad Laput.

The limited size of a watch face was recognized as a factor that might hold back smartwatch development, Computer World reports. "Since our fingers are large, and people want smartwatches to be small, we have to go beyond traditional input techniques," Laput wrote in an email to Computer World. "Digitizing watchface mechanical movements offers expressive interaction capabilities without occluding the screen. It is a simple yet clever idea, and it is easy to implement."

The smartwatch is an emerging player in the wearable market. The technology could be licensed to manufacturers such as Google, Samsung, Apple, and other players in the market. Pebble emerged last year with a popular smartwatch, which began as a Kickstarter campaign.

The wearable market, where the smartwatch is still a small player, is quickly taking off. A recent report released by research firm IDC forecasts growth of 78.4 percent over the next four years. also recognizes the potential of the wearable market segment -- earlier this week the online retailer opened a storefront dedicated to wearables.

Future developments for the smartwatch include controls such as 3D pan, yaw, pitch, and roll, reports. Until that time, the CMU effort has added six degrees of mechanical input.

"The six degrees of freedom mechanical input clearly makes the smartwatch a much easier device to interact with in different ways, and in turn it opens up the potential for functionality. Importantly, you never need more than two fingers to achieve all inputs. It’s so diverse, it even allows for the control of classic FPSDoom,"'s Matthew Humphries wrote.

One potential downfall to adding elements such as mechanical pan, twist, tilt and click is unintended use of the controls, poses Gizmodo. "And while adding more physical functionality to a device that's prone to get bumped and knocked throughout the day does create the potential for accidental activities, a lock screen could be implemented just like on your smartphone. Or the watch's bezel could be made to detect the presence of your fingers just like a touchscreen does, so that only deliberate presses would be recognized," wrote Gizmodo's Andrew Liszewski.