Apple Watch

My expectations for the Apple Watch were high.  This wasn’t, to me, just about creating a smart watch.  This was about defining wearables.  This wasn’t just about adding another screen to my daily habits, but about something more.  This was bridging fashion and technology, and carving a path for technology’s future.

Creating a Smart Watch

There was a lot of speculation on whether Apples new “wearable” would even be a watch.  Maybe it would be more of a band, like Nike Fuel, or something else entirely.  In most ways they’ve chosen the most difficult path by defining it as a “Watch”.  Those of us who regularly wear a watch have to now make a choice.

It was really interesting to me to see how closely they stuck with concepts of old watch design.  The watch crown as a input device just seems obvious, in hindsight.  While Android watches kept a consistent UI approach with their phones, the Apple Watch tries to carve a different path, which I think is the right way to go.  They are clearly targeting the watch markets, no doubts about that.

Another Screen

I am very mixed on my feelings towards adding yet another screen into my life.  When I dream of the future of technology, the screen is always the first thing that I remove.  I see technology disappearing into the background, and the way we interact with it more subtle (and yet more profound).  Maybe that has skewed my practical expectations.

What I knew I didn’t want was another way to do the same things I did on a phone.  The Apple watch flirts with this.  I can read my email, I can answer texts and answer phone calls, and I can get my calendar for the day.  This really puzzles me, and I bet it was discussed a lot in Cupertino.  Maybe I’m wrong, and these will be often used feature, but for the moment I’m reserved on their usefulness.

The UI, without actually using it myself, seems fantastic. It might take time, and some creative app developers to prove that there is room for another screen. Time will tell.

Defining Wearables

I’m not sure if we’ve seen the future of wearables, but we’re headed in the right direction. Wearables, to me, are about extending ourselves into technology. They do things that a rectangle in your pocket can’t. The Apple watch accomplishes this in 2 exciting ways: communication and health.

After watching the promo video (4 or 5 times), I catch myself taping my wrist. When you’re thinking of someone, but don’t necessarily have something to say, wouldn’t that be great? To just give them a tap to tell them your thinking about them.  In a world where Yo can rise in such a meteoric way, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to imagine.  It’s so simple, but can mean so many different things to different people, in different contexts… it’s brilliant.  Drawing pictures is just icing on the cake.  This feature, and possibly the digital crown, were the highlights for me in the big reveal.

The other Apple watch feature that is extremely important is it’s contribution to health. This, unfortunately, has fallen short for me, and it’s why I’ll probably chose to wait for the Apple watch 2. The watch tracks my heart rate… and that’s about it. It can’t even be my running companion, without me keeping my phone in my pocket.  I wanted something more[1].

Bridging Fashion

The aesthetics of the device, although quite nice, still scream first generation. The overall design work beautifully with the various straps and colour options, but it still looks bulkier than it should. This is a solvable problem, no doubt.  I don’t want to talk too much about the aestetics though (I like it, others might not).

There is something more fundamental happening here. Something every tech hardware company, potentially, might need to undergo. It’s the binding industries. Fashion, the designers of old wearables, infusing with technology.  This is why they paid 2 billion for Beats. It’s why Apple chose jewelry to be their first wearable. This is a big bet of the future technology, and how we, as consumers, will decide how we purchase it.

I bet the designers at Apple are itching to get into this space. We are that much better for the iPhone retiring the iPod, but a lot of the flexibility and wonder has been lost. We were always kept in suspense with every new iPod release. What will they look like?  Will there be a smaller shuffle? Will they keep the click-wheel? The iPhone, though fantastic, can’t change fundamentally from its current form factor. It is a rectangle, and will be a rectangle for many years. Wearables give Apple back that freedom to design. That’s what makes it perfect for fashion.

I don’t think Apple is going to stop with a watch.  Anything is on the table, the watch was just the first logical place to start.  It’s not traditional for Apple to sell many different products, but they make accessories for their computers, why not the iPhone?

The next few years will be fun, and I think that’s mostly the point.

Conclusion

I don’t think I’ll be able to truly understand the Apple watch until I have been using it for a length of time. It’s also the reason I wouldn’t compare it against any other smart watch. We’ll just know when we feel it.  Feeling is important. It’s easy to be dismissive of something on it’s practical use alone, but what practical use does an expensive traditional watch have? Or even a wind-chime[2], for that matter? Technology products are usually judged on their practical uses, but as Gruber notes, this is not a tech product. Here is a great quote:

Apple Watch is not a product from a tech company, and it will not be understood, at all, by the tech world. Apple creates and uses technology in incredible ways. The Apple Watch may prove to be the most technologically advanced product they’ve ever built. But again: Apple is not a tech company, and Apple Watch is not a tech product.

Traditional businesses have had to steadily adapt to technology, or, in many cases, fail. Technology companies could be seeing a similar change[3].

Bonus: Predictions

It’s interesting to seek insight using the iPhone development as a reference.  Here are some predictions, if the Apple watch follows in the iPhone’s footprints:

  • The original apps we’ve seen will fade in importance.
  • 3rd party apps will make it worth buying.
  • Apple watches will have healthy sales the first year, but nothing awe-inspiring – sales will build though year-over-year.

If I was going to hazard a guess, I can see the Apple watch following this pattern.  As I mentioned earlier, however, this is uncharted territory.

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[1] Don’t those 4 sensors on the back just look too good to just simple count heart rate?
[2] I like wind chimes, especially in the fall.  It’s hard to explain why, it’s just a feeling I get.
[3] If I was to push this further, I’d say that this started with the iPhone, not with wearables. This is why a lot of traditional companies are struggling in this space (HP, Dell, Sony, HTC, etc.).

Apple Payments

Probably the most critical announcement (at least for the immediate future) by Apple at their September event was Apple Pay.  We all heard the rumours that payments were going to be announced, and Apple delivered in a big way.  Not only are they incredibly simple to set up, but they’ll also be immediately available by many different merchants using standards already in use by chip-on-cards.

A really important feature as well is that Apple Pay can be used in any app.  All you need is to press a button to make a purchase.  No login required.  No shipping address needed to be added.  One button and your done.

I speculated about this happening 3 years years ago, specifically about Apple (and Google) gobbling up e-commerce transactions.  I said that there were going to be 2 major obstacles:

  1. The seller must ultimately make enough sales to make up for the app store’s fee and;
  2. People must be willing to download an app every time they want to purchase something.

Obstacle 1 is now moot. We know the answer, Apple is not going to take any cut (at least, not from the merchant or customer).  Obstacle 2 is still a hill to be climbed, but I have hope.

An interesting alternative is for the store owners to allow sales of their products through 3rd party apps.  Twitter is testing a feature that will allow followers to make purchases, right in their timeline (DANGER: impulse buying ahead).  Could Flipp, my favourite flyer app browser, allow purchasing using their app?  If the big chains got their heads together, I bet it would be a great strategy to play unseating Amazon off their e-commerce throne.

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