Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Connected tech: gimmicks or valuable aids?

Rica has been researching the benefits for disabled people of connected technology, including devices using voice recognition and wearables. RicaWatch members – one person with MS and two blind members - tested the Amazon Echo and Hive technology. See video of their experiences with connected tech on Rica's YouTube channel.

Are connected devices just fashionable gadgets? Here’s my experience of the Apple Watch:

High spec
It’s a nice piece of kit - remarkably well made and stylish. Few of us can afford its heavy price tag, so I was thrilled to get my hands on one for 10 days. I found it easy to pair the watch with the app on my iPhone. So the first point is that you need to already have an iPhone to use this watch.

Wheelchair push tracking
I could set the watch to count wheelchair pushes rather than steps in the activity tracker, which is a feature offered by very few wearables. This feature was not obvious, though, and might have remained a mystery if friends hadn’t tipped me off. I even managed an average of 3,000 wheelchair pushes a day, I discovered.

Pulse monitoring
The watch monitored my pulse too, which gave me a new measure of how I reacted to different environments. Pushing uphill and across cobbles one day, for example, saw my heart rate climb to 125 beats per minute (bpm). I was pleased to see it revert back to normal quickly.

Emotional impact
One day my ‘resting pulse’ soared to nearly 100 bpm in a carriage on the London Underground. I wasn’t pushing my wheelchair, just waiting for my stop. But I was thinking about how to solve an access problem that was bothering me. So the Apple Watch was a great way to monitor how I was affected by everyday stress. Its not just me who gets anxious when travelling, it could happen to anyone; I recommend looking at Anxiety UK's report on travel.

Convenient map
Maps and spoken directions given by the Apple Watch GPS were a great help. A map attached to my wrist was so much easier to use than a phone balanced on my lap. I’ve dropped and broken my phone trying to use a map while pushing through busy streets.

Lack of privacy
I wouldn’t use the watch for phone calls because it offers no privacy. Conversations are broadcast over open speakers and that’s just not suitable for my calls. But some people might find it convenient.

Customisation
By the end of my 10-day trial, I'd learned that the watch could be customised in many ways using the phone app. There are lots of features that I’ve still not fully explored. 

Conclusion - fun but expensive
Would I buy an Apple Watch now? Probably not, even though I adored using it and was sad to give it back. Though the features are fun, creative and useful, they're not vital for daily life. It’s a lovely gadget for those with plenty of spare cash, rather than a life tool for those needing to spend wisely. However, I would be first in the queue for a wearable device offering truly innovative features, at a much lower price.

See also:

The Internet of Things

Inclusive design, including smart appliances

Has anyone else found connected technology useful? At Rica, we'd love to hear from you - please comment below.