Study reveals how smartwatches are actually used

Just how do consumers use their smartwatches, and how does this compare to smartphone use? A study led by the University of Oulu, joined by Dartmouth College and the University of Melbourne, reveals interesting differences and similarities.

The study looked at how more than 300 volunteers used their smartwatches over a period of 6 months, and including variety of smartwatches by Motorola, Huawei, Sony, LG, and Samsung. The study then compared this data against data obtained from over 400 people using a variety of Android smartphones. Prof. Vassilis Kostakos said that “our team had access to a unique dataset that allowed us for the first time to compare usage patterns between smartwatches and smartphones”.

The results show that smartwatches are used more briefly and more frequently throughout the day. On average, we use our smartwatches over 140 times per day, for about 9 seconds on average at a time, and about 2/3 of these are just glances to just check the time or incoming notifications. In contrast, we use our smartphones 60 times per day, for about 4 minutes at a time, and half of these are glances.

Graph showing how often consumers use smartwatches and smartphones, and for how long each time.

Delving deeper into how smartwatches are being used, Mr. Aku Visuri noted that “the notifications we receive on our devices play a big role in how we use them.” For instance, the analysis showed that during work hours a smartwatch is more likely to be used as a result of an arriving notification. Even so, only 1 in 10 notifications make us use our smartwatches, and typically we react to notifications on our smartwatches within 20 seconds of arrival, significantly faster than the previously reported 3.5 minutes on smartphones.

Overall, the findings allow us to better understand how our smartphone habits are shaping our smartwatch use. The results suggest that the habit of quick unprompted peeks seems to carry from smartphones to smartwatches, and longer unprompted interaction sessions are less frequent. It can be argued that for smartwatches, ease of access results in an increase in peeks, since the user does not need to go through the physical procedure of digging his or her pocket or bag for the device, but the limited interaction options result in brief engagement periods. Furthermore, just like with smartphones, the study finds that we are more likely to interact with the smartwatch when notified by an application from “Communication”, “Internet and Social”, or “Other” general categories, and more likely to peek at the smartwatch when notified by an application in the “Productivity and Admin”, “Maps and Travel”, “Media”, and “Health” categories.

Ultimately, the study addresses the question: Should we design smartwatches as standalone devices or as smartphone extensions? The analysis shows that current smartwatches are used more frequently than smartphones, but much more briefly. It also shows that smartwatches are used in ways that have not been observed in the analysis of smartphone usage. Therefore, it can be argued that standalone smartwatches could be built on these unique aspects. Furthermore, the study finds that user behaviour with regards to notification and application content is similar across both types of devices. This indicates that users still prioritise the same type of content, while the method of interaction is adjusted to the unique characteristics of the smartwatch.

The study will be presented at the 2017 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. For more information, contact Prof. Vassilis Kostakos.


[bibtex key=Visuri:ConferenceOnHumanFactorsInComputingSystems:2017]