This thread was started as a spin-off from a discussion in > An amazing Eve Phone.
It was felt that it would be better to give this discussion its own thread.
Disclaimer: What I will post here is the culmination of over a decade and a half of my work and experience. Please be kind.
Ok, with that out of the way, there are few things that must first be considered for the design direction, even at the conceptual level.
=== Part 1 - Principles of Design ===
1: A mobile wearable should not be a watch.
I have seen so many smart-watches over the past few years and before them, so many watch phones going as far back as Samsung’s SPH-WP10 in 1999. I have owned a few watch phones over those years as well and I can tell you both from professional and personal experience that a wearable that tries to be your watch will ultimately fail in the mass market.
There are so many issues with this approach, from the obvious style factor, to the impracticability of the tiny unusable screen that will no doubt grace its face.
Q: What happens when someone who wants to wear their favourite Chopard, Breguet or IWC buys a smartwatch-styled phone?
A: They will leave the smartwatch behind in favour of a traditional phone on the occasion that wearing two watches just would not work.
Remember, the wrist was not where that class of timepiece started. It started in the pocket and fashion and practicality dictated its final resting place on your forearm. So if we take a cue from history, we will see that copying the wrist watch isn’t the way forward for wearables.
2: The wearable should not be the accessory of a larger device but should be the core of an ecosystem.
Your usage scenarios should dictate what kind of UX and UI you have at the time. Therefore, the wearable should be small, kept out of the way and worn for the convenience of transportation. The ideal interaction with it should be done with a series of wireless dumb accessories designed to take your input and give output in a form-factor that matches the application.
3: Do not put a screen on it.
Aside from the obvious style issue (ala point #1), there is the fact that in order to be usable, your screen will dictate the size of the wearable and to a certain extent, its battery life.
Use an alternative method of display technology for the scenarios where you will be interacting with it directly, sans wireless accessories.
4: It must be water-resistant.
A practical wearable should be something you put on your body and not think about as you go about your day. Having to worry about your wearable when it rains, when you sweat or if you go to the pool is counter-intuitive and unnecessary with today’s technologies.
5: Battery life is everything and contactless wireless charging is a must.
Being able to charge your wearable without having to take it off will change the way people use it for the better. Contactless wireless charging that can put a few metres between you and the charger is the ideal solution and it exists today.
6: Processing power, storage and RAM are your make or break specs.
If you are going to build a wearable that is worth buying, it should be able to replace more than someone’s aging iPad. Today we can make a dual 64-bit processor wearable with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, that runs Windows 10 and has the power to rival your Core i5. It won’t be in the price range of your entry level Apple Watch or Asus ZenWatch but then, why should it be?
7: Understanding your target price point is important.
You wouldn’t expect to buy a new Core i5 powered ultra thin tablet for the price of a cheap smartwatch. So then don’t try to build a cutting edge wearable that can replace your tablet/laptop at the price point of the Apple Watch.
8: Security is paramount.
A wearable that is properly made will be more attractive than a traditional smartphone. This also means it’s more likely to be stolen. If your files are not well protected, then this will be yet another potential threat to your privacy and identity. If the wearable uses biometric security to encrypt its filesystem and has as few physical interfaces as possible, then while it may be a pretty target for thieves, it will be nothing more than a pretty paperweight without its owner.
9: Design from the perspective of jewellery first, technology second.
While many of us engineers tend to overlook the aesthetics of our creations as a vital point to be examined at the start of development, we should always remember that what something looks like can already be more than 50% of the battle won when you are trying to get the final product sold.
Taking the above points into consideration, the wearable should look like a piece of jewellery. It should be elegant, yet subtle. It must be something that a 15 year old will want to wear and at the same time, something that her 60 year old grandfather would wear as well. You must make it a piece of fine jewellery that takes design cues from the established fashion houses.
Do not make a piece of technology then slap a fashion brand on it after the fact, like some famous product designers have done.
10: Support multiple Operating Systems.
A worthwhile wearable must not be limited to just one OS like most traditional smartphones. As with a laptop/tablet PC, this is a portable computer that will be used by a diverse range of end users. Much like the Eve V, it must be able to support all of the major Operating Systems that may be used by its target market.
As this is jewellery and not a traditional smart device design, there are a few new rules for engineering and materials budgeting.
I: Determine the highest materials cost of the largest size in whatever material the chassis will be made of.
II: Determine the minimum available space for components in the smallest size in whatever material the chassis will be made of.
=== Part 2 - The state of the technology and of the market ===
The following product design is powered by the much anticipated Qualcomm MSM8998 which you may know as the Snapdragon 835 10nm SoC, and shares design characteristics of the Neptune Suite and the Ritot Bracelet. The 10nm process produces a SoC with better thermal properties, making a wearable with this chip a much cooler running and practical device, while simultaneously offering PC-class performance.
It is rumoured that the upcoming OnePlus 4 smartphone will be powered by a single Qualcomm MSM8998 SoC bundled with 8GB RAM. Given the lower power consumption that should be expected of the MSM8998’s combination of LPDDR4X RAM and the 10nm manufacturing process, along with its thermal savings, these choices set the bar for the next generation of performance smartphones.
Today, high-quality, lowlight camera performance is a must and so this core product and its accessories should have main cameras of at least 23MP resolutions (with the exception of the bundled 4-inch accessory) with aperture sizes of at least f/1.6, laser autofocus or dual lens designs optimized for for low-light shooting. It should also integrate a 32MP main camera into the core device which will have another positioned on its opposing side (one at the top and one at the bottom of the wearer’s wrist respectively). The second, an 16MP with an aperture size of at least f/1.9 and a wide-angle lens, should be positioned as a front/selfie camera. With all cameras, we should pay careful attention to the choices of lenses and optical array designs.
With the concept of the Neptune Suite as a starting point, we should first re-imagine the hub as a screen-less, laser pico projector based bracelet, inspired by the the Ritot. This bracelet should be factory sealed carrying no ports or other openings in its body making it more effectively water resistant and along with all compatible accessories, will use wireless contact-less battery recharging technology licensed from Energeous. Furthermore, by standardizing the wireless link interface it uses, third-parties can create other compatible accessories for this product.
This is the preliminary specifications list:
• Dual Qualcomm MSM8998 (Snapdragon 835) 10nm SoCs (w/x86 emulation support)
• 16GB LPDDR4X RAM (2x8GB… yes insane, but keep reading)
• Dual Band 802.11ac
• 60GHz WiGig 802.11ad
• Bluetooth 5.0
• Dual LTE Cat.16 (Gigabit-class) radios
• Dual LTE 4G Machine-to-Machine UICC (M2M Form Factor/eSIM) support
• 6000-9000mAh battery from SolidEnergy Systems (yes, it is possible in that physical space, read here )
• Qualcomm QuickCharge 4.0 (if compatible with the SolidEnergy Systems battery technology and Energous WattUP contactless charging technology)
• Onboard 512GB/1TB SSD using Samsung’s new V-NAND MLC based SSD technology
• 16MP front camera with embedded LED ring flash, f/1.9 aperture, OIS & EIS
• 32MP rear camera with embedded LED ring flash, f/1.7 aperture, OIS & EIS
• MicroVision PicoP® Embedded 1280x720 pixel resolution (720p) laser pico projector
• AGPS/GLONASS support
• 6-Axis Gyroscope
• Digital Compass
• Stereo speakers each positioned on opposing sides of the bracelet
• Dual Microphones
• Vibration motor
• Seiko Kinetic generator (to jump-start wireless charging module if battery is completely depleted)
• Fujitsu PalmSecure authentication technology (applied to wrist not palm)
• Energous WattUp contact-less charging
• IP67/MilSpec 810G (it is inevitable that a wearable will be dropped, bumped or accidentally submerged)
=== Part 3 - The product accessory ecosystem ===
As we have established now, the wearable will form the centre of an ecosystem where accessories will be built to more effectively allow interaction under various usage scenarios. With this is mind, here is s short list of first generation accessory ideas to complement the concept.
1: Start with a similar display accessory line up to the Neptune Suite including the HDMI compatible dongle for TVs and monitors, a 5.5-inch ‘smartphone’ dumb-display and 10-inch ‘tablet’ dumb-display w/detachable backlit bluetooth keyboard. The dongle should support 4K resolution and the other accessories should each have IPS daylight readable OLED multi-touch screens with resolutions of at least 3072 x 1728 pixels (3K) as well as cameras with f/1.6 apertures, OIS and EIS.
2: Include a 4-inch ‘smartphone’ dumb-display with rollable flexible OLED technology and 1920x1080 pixel (1080p) multi-touch screen as standard with every bracelet. This device should carry a single 20MP camera with OIS and EIS and when rolled and should be around the size of a thick tube of lipstick.
3: Through partnership with designers of A/R glasses (eg LAFORGE Optical), we will also build a pair of eye-glasses suitable for the Augmented Reality applications of the platform which will integrate stereo 16MP cameras as well as stereo high resolution I/R cameras. This accessory will be available in multiple sizes and styles and should support prescription lenses for reading glasses and sunglasses.
4: There should also be a media dock with built-in speakers, to convert the bracelet into a mobile pico projector which positions the front camera towards the user, allowing it to be used for video calls. Simply put, when the user takes the bracelet off, it can be mated with this new dock, to transform it into a tiny portable all-in-one PC (much like Sony’s Xperia Touch), with built-in projector. This dock should also act as a charging cradle and should use magnets to hold the bracelet in place.
5: The same magnetic docking will be used on the back of the tablet and smartphone display accessories (something like this concept from Nexcrea but with the new bracelet instead of the illustrated handset). The industrial design will need to be refined in order to support varying sizes of bracelet while still keeping the back panels of the devices ‘elegant’ and minimalist.
6: There is no need to re-invent the wheel and so I recommend working with a partner such as Bragi to have them make a Special Edition pair of The Dash earbuds (which already include premium features like fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring, voice commands etc) or their more basic The Headphone earbuds, to be shipped with the bracelet.
7: For the battery charging options, create an on-the-go charging case for the bracelet (with internal magnetic docking) which also charges these earbuds, it could optionally store and charge the bracelet and the included 4-inch accessory while other displays are being used. This protective case should be stylish, compact, water resistant, pleasing to the eye, lightweight, sturdy and should store the USB-C cable it needs for its own recharging.
The case should also act as a wireless contact-less charging base for the bracelet and its accessories and will integrate standard PalmSecure contact-less authentication technology (to enable owner authentication even when housing the main unit). Finally this case should also carry a multi-card reader and pass-through ports for the bracelet including Gigabit Etbernet, USB 3.0 and USB-C 3.1.
8: As the above case is in itself quite a feature-rich accessory, it should be offered in two or three optional variants in addition to the standard version described. There could also be:
• One providing high-definition audio support and multiple audio I/O ports
• One with internal storage which doubles as a portable drive and could also work as a personal wireless access point without the battery drain the bracelet would suffer on its own
• One with a circular OLED touch screen in the lid, effectively providing yet another type of mobile phone form factor for the user
=== Part 4 - The hardware/software interface design ===
This wearable is meant to support more than one Operating system while being powered by two Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoCs. These two basic goals present a number of unique design and UX challenges. As a result I have borrowed a few tricks from other systems and architectures I have encountered over my career.
First of all the bracelet should be built around a semi-virtualized system with its direct hardware access managed by an advanced low-level OS (think of it like having an intelligent BIOS on an ARM device). The inspiration for this came from the intelligent firmware in the old military-grade BlackDiamond Switchback tablet PC.
In this design, direct control of basic system functions such as power management, hardware I/O control and hardware monitoring and management are removed from the user facing OS (eg Android), which can instead be presented with a rather ‘vanilla’ virtualized hardware interface that only requires the most common, lightweight drivers and standard system calls.
I/O interface pass-through (eg. USB) is not compromised in this design and the user facing OS is still able to directly address connected peripherals that are not specifically white-listed for firmware control. Think of the design like an embedded server cluster running the user facing OS in a hypervisor. This will allow for wider OS compatibility and reduces the need for special user-level OS drivers for handling such functions as unusual hardware configurations (eg. multiple native displays etc).
This style of system design will also easily support modular multi-cpu architectures, allowing hot add/remove of CPU and memory resources, a very important feature for a tiny wearable system with two Snapdragon 835 SoCs.
The dual SoC, high memory design will be power hungry and with heavy usage of the embedded pico projector (even though it won’t need to operate over 10 lumens when being worn), a 6000-9000mAh battery will not seem large enough. The workaround to make this a practical design lies in the power-management features of the intelligent firmware, through the dynamic performance modes made possible with the semi-virtualized design.
Example Mode 0: When being worn
• Restrict clock speed on SoCs
• Disable one SoC/half of the RAM
• Set projector to wearable mode (lower light output, mirrors angled for on-wrist use)
Example Mode 1: When docked to the mobile pico-projector dock
• Enable full clock speed on SoCs
• Enable both SoCs/all of RAM
• Set projector media mode (maximum light output, mirrors angled for on-wall use)
Example Mode 2: When docked in the mobile charging case with HD audio
With the more powerful configuration of dual SoC and larger RAM capacity, the system will have enough power to become a practical laptop replacement. To make full use of this however, it must be able to run a powerful OS in the user space that is better suited for the task of replacing a desktop/laptop PC.
The semi-virtualized design makes the option of offering a choice of operating systems, much more feasible. To exploit this, we should provide user downloadable images for alternative operating systems and offer the following options with the necessary EULA and fees where applicable:
• Android + MaruOS (ARM64)
• Ubuntu Touch (ARM64)
• SailfishOS (ARM64)
• BB10 with Android API support (ARM64)
• Debian Linux (ARM64)
• Windows 10 (ARM64 w/x86-32 emulation support)
• No pre-installed OS (A hacker friendly version)
=== Part 5 - Make it stick/Justify the price point ===
Build a bracelet that is meant to last with a return-for-upgrade programme giving customers an opt-in by paying a small fee at purchase time. Every twelve to eighteen months (12-18 mos) after this, users can ship their bracelets back, pay an upgrade fee and have its electronics updated.
From a mechanical engineering design standpoint, there are a few challenges in the way of getting this design to support such an initiative. One example of how this could be achieved is to design a modular and future-proof chassis with the logic board, battery and storage kept as separate pluggable blocks.
In theory, one should be able to design a service station that simply takes in a bracelet and applies pressure to tiny pins/points on the chassis to slide its serviceable modules out on a tray. From a business standpoint, it creates a repeat business model from each existing customer and a flexible standardized hardware interface upon which development of an ecosystem can be continued. Imagine new device form factors and new fashionable chassis styles built on the original modular design making them all backward and forward compatible.
This bracelet and suite will be quite an extraordinary piece of modern engineering and a true work of art. For the consumer however, it will just be another piece of fashion/jewellery and so it’s very important from a business and marketing standpoint, to think of it as jewellery with the capabilities of a smartphone, NOT a smartphone designed to look like jewellery.
People will gladly spend much more than $1,000 on a genuine piece of fine jewellery but not so much a smart device that looks like Jewellery.
=== Part 6 - So, what might it look like? ===
Again, using Ritot’s design as the starting point of reference, in addition to a basic polished aluminium and anodized aluminium versions, create ceramic, precious metal and gemstone versions as well as limited special edition versions of the bracelet endorsed by high-end luxury fashion brands (eg. Bvlgari, Cartier, Van Cleef, Arpels, Edward Mirell).
This wearable will need to appeal to both the stereotypical male and the stereotypical female demographics in order to be successful. Apart from multiple sizes for many different sizes of wrists and multiple materials for various price points and market demographics, it must also be available in both ladies’ and gents’ collections.
From an engineering point of view, this won’t matter. The modular chassis should be designed with both external layer and internal layer modules where there are only three materials used for internal layers:
Everything else remains the same internally. External layers can be designed and manufactured by third parties including the above mentioned fashioned houses. These layers would be made to precise specifications so even a limited edition or custom design can be assembled and packaged in the same mass-production facility as any other unit.
The inner chassis layer will be a space-frame designed and optimized for strength and structural rigidity while maintaining a low weight.
For the concept version of this wearable, I have imagined a few possible designs that have outer chassis layers made of aircraft-grade aluminium, stainless steel, ceramic or precious metals for the ladies’ versions or aircraft-grade aluminium, stainless steel, aircraft-grade titanium, ceramic or precious metals for the gents’ versions. Please note that the following images are just early concept renders so there will be missing elements (such as the clasp mechanism for removing the bracelet for example) as well as elements that in a production unit may not be feasible in the proportions or placement illustrated. Also please be aware that the example images illustrating the Augemented reality glasses are taken directly from LAFORGE Optical’s website and are only meant to relate a visual example of an application. I do not own these eyewear images.
Ladies’ concept versions in seven (7) styles:
- Onyx black/rose gold/champagne gold/ocean gold anodized aluminium w/black/white leather stripe (base model)
- Polished Aluminium with black leather stripe (base model)
- Onyx black/polished stainless steel with black/white leather stripe or stripe of opal, apatite or topaz
- Rose Gold with stripe of brown leather or yellow/white gold trim with rubies, sapphires, emeralds or diamonds
- White Gold with stripe of black leather or yellow/rose gold trim with rubies, sapphires, emeralds or diamonds
- Ceramic with stripe of white leather or white/yellow/rose gold trim with rubies, sapphires, emeralds or diamonds
- Platinum with stripe of rubies, sapphires, emeralds or diamonds trimmed with white gold
As an example of how it would be used in real world scenarios, here is what the wearable paired with the custom designed LAFORGE Optical A/R glasses (Mentioned in part 3 above) could look like and what the wearer might possibly see when she looks at her wrist:
For the gents’ version…
…here is the concept imagined in eight (8) styles
- Polished Aluminium with stripe of tan leather (base model)
- Polished Aluminium with stripe of natural wood/black/tan leather
- Onyx black/polished stainless steel with stripe of natural wood black/tan leather
- Onyx black/polished titanium with stripe of natural wood black/tan leather
- White gold with stripe of tan/black/brown leather
- Platinum with stripe of tan/black/brown leather
- Platinum with with stripe of white ceramic/black ceramic
- Solid onyx black/pearl white ceramic body
As an example of how it would be used in real world scenarios, here is what the wearable paired with the custom designed LAFORGE Optical A/R glasses (Mentioned in part 3 above) could look like and what the wearer might possibly see in his field of view:
This computer design forms a part of my vision of the evolution of the personal computer, something I call Cyber Darwinism.