The Challenging Ergonomics of an Apple iWatch

There is no doubt that Apple can make an iWatch that does all the right things: works as a standalone device and helps us monitor our health and upcoming events. Plus all the other cool stuff we know an iWatch can do. However, the biggest challenge may simply be good old-fashioned ergonomics.


I've seen lots of concept designs for a possible iWatch that are strikingly beautiful and functional. The ones I like the most are from Todd Hamilton and Martin Hajek, shown below. The focus of these designs seems to be something dramatically beautiful and Applesque functional.

Concept by Martin Hajek

What interests me, however, is the ergonomics. This is something that's a lot harder to deal with because it requires experts in human physiology to work closely with the designer of the look of the iWatch. Beautiful renderings generally don't address that issue.

It all starts, for me, with the idea that we'll want to wear this device 24 x 7. In my case, I have found that watches with metal bands dig into my wrist and are always painful. I have to use a soft plastic or leather watch band. And even then, I take it off at night so that the red marks on my wrist can recover.

A watch we'll want to wear all day long has to fit so well, for lots of different sized people, that it's never painful. It needs to come off quickly, yet be secure so that it's isn't lost on the subway. This will be a fairly expensive item, and so a loose, circular band, like a bracelet just won't do. It needs to be waterproof, and Apple has never made a waterproof product. It must be so comfortable that it feels like a second skin, and yet not accumulate water during the morning shower.

Men's and women's watch sizes are now standard. Unless Apple intends to make one size for women and one size for men, an adjustable band will have to be very clever.

An iWatch needs to account for the clumsy amongst us who may bang it against a door knob or a refrigerator door. It may need to have a sapphire crystal to keep it from getting scratched and be able to withstand a healthy shock in everyday use. More than any iOS device we now use, I expect it will take a beating. But we'll want it to retain its beauty.

It the iWatch is so integrated into our lives, awake and asleep, what will we do when playing sports? Throw it into pocket during flag football? That sounds like a bad day when one falls on it when in a jeans pocket.

What about battery charging? A device that's intended to be always worn shouldn't have to be removed just to charge the battery. I've seen stories of a solar powered iWatch, and I think that's the way to go. Except for customers in Sweden and Norway.

If we wear it to bed, will it make obnoxious beeps that might disturb a spouse?

Will it be so tough, ABS plastic and sapphire, that if it gets caught in some machinery that the wrist bones give before the watchband does?

While not strictly an ergonomic issue, what if the iWatch we want to always have with us violates government security rules in the workplace, and we have to surrender it to the security guard every day.  What a mess that would be.

Concept by Todd Hamilton

These are just some of the initial thoughts I've been having about iWatch ergonomics. Apple has its work cut out. All the cool technology Apple puts into the iWatch may be fairly straightforward compared to the ergonomic issues for a new class of device: something so darn useful and integrated into our lives that we never want to take it off.