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A Joystick-Inspired Interface Could Solve Smartwatches' Biggest Problem

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The smartwatch revival isn't going away anytime soon, but maybe this time around we can finally figure out a way to make their tiny displays useful for more than just showing notifications. In fact, a group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon might have finally figured out how with a concept watch that can be twisted, tilted, and clicked.

Think of the way we used to use those small nubs located in the middle of an older laptop's keyboard to move the cursor, and you'll understand how this concept—created by Robert Xiao, Gierad Laput, and Chris Harrison—works. Except that instead of a cursor, it's navigating a mobile device's UI that usually relies on taps and gestures.


The problem is that your fingers are usually far too large to use all the same gestures you rely on with your smartphone on a watch's tiny touchscreen. And you usually end up blocking the display in the process, making it even more difficult. So this concept reproduces most of that functionality with a watch display that can be subtly tilted side to side, up and down, rotated, and even pressed like a button.


Everything from panning and zooming large maps, to writing characters, to navigating an MP3 player, suddenly becomes far more plausible on a smartwatch. To the point where this concept can even be used to play Doom with little to no practise—it's that intuitive.

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.

But even with those caveats in mind, this concept still shows a lot of potential in a product category that seems to be seeing new models introduced every week. And with this added functionality, consumers might finally be ready to embrace the smartwatch with open wrists. [Gierad Laput]