Wearable technology and valuable, passive content

Learnings from the new Guardian Newspaper Pebble application and fringe benefits of fundamentally ephemeral experiences.

Last month we launched a really simple application for the Pebble watch. It took headlines from the Guardian Newspaper and displayed them one-at-a-time on the Pebble. Accompanied by a small, digital clock face. Simple.

The interaction model was similarly simple with a maximum of two interactions:

  1. Wait. After 30 seconds you get your next headline.
  2. Tap your Pebble to get the next headline.

See? Really simple.

We launched it not expecting much, as our aim was simply to explore the technical and experience aspects of the Pebble platform. Exploring the new experience opportunities that the “smartwatch” device, as an ever-connected, omnipresent-device, offered us as technologists.

The result, however, was quite surprising. The application has now been live for about a month. It’s been installed over 3k times across over 50 countries, displayed 1 million Guardian headlines, and been featured on the Pebble app store homepage.

Value through passive interaction

In the days shortly after we finished the build, I found myself using it as my main Pebble watch face. I found the thin level of content, that would be different every time I checked the time, presented a surprising level of value. It meant every time I checked the time my current affairs knowledge was, broadly speaking, being kept up-to-date.

Whilst the interaction with that specific piece of content was incredibly ephemeral: it lasted a maximum of 30 seconds, but often less as it was consumed within a glance. It added value as a non-intrusive, undemanding, passive content experience.

The effect is similar to the premise of the ticker bar found on any news channel. A shorthand interface that allows viewers to stay aware of other news events without any intellectual or experiential overheads.

Incidental experiences

The concept of passive, low-interaction content isn’t new. The studio Berg explored similar models of interaction in what they called in incidental media. Using media spaces already integrated into our natural everyday experiences, and reapplying content unique to your experience to add additional personal value. Their London Bus API hack (that showed local bus arrival times on a Kindle) was probably one of the first.

However with the advent of the omnipresent screen, that a smartwatch is. Opportunity to bubble up and present unique content or passive experiences to consumers is fast approaching.

In this instance, the content — i.e. Guardian new headlines — isn’t, by nature, ephemeral content. It’s noteworthy. It’s newsworthy. It’s high quality. But the experience in which one interacts with that layer of information can be ephemeral. That doesn’t mean the experience gained from it is lost — as it currently the debate of short-lived content applications like Snapchat etc.

Final thoughts

It’s hard to know exactly the impact of consumers passive experiences via the app and long-tail relationships with that Guardian content. But as with most modern online experiences, the more personalised and unique the content to that user, the better the engagement. Consequently, our first iteration is likely to be to allow users to specify what category or type of content they want to be shown.


Disclaimer: The application has been independently developed from The Guardian newspaper, and is in no way affiliated with The Guardian Newspaper or brand.

Photograph by http://coleyslocket.com/