I bought an iPhone 6 on launch day, sight-unseen, with only a cursory read at the reviews, ready to upgrade from my iPhone 5. But then, once it was in my hand, something didn’t gel between me and the phone. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but a part of me cooled to the appeal of the newest, larger smartphone, of putting more money and attention into something that was surely better than what I had, but wasn’t really all that different.
Or, perhaps I cooled to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus because I got more excited about Apple’s Watch.
That’s a big change for me, as I’ve eschewed wearing watches for the past couple decades. Until I recently started wearing a Fitbit Flex, I’ve had bare wrists for years, uninterested in the utility of watches, and skipping the expression of style and fashion that watches offer.
But Apple’s Watch intrigues me. For a long time, I’ve believed that the dominant way we use our phones, looking down at little screens in our hands, is not the ideal design for leveraging technology to experience life. As powerful and freeing as smartphones are, a part of me says we’re not meant to be looking at our phone, typing to people over text to exchange information, looking up our locations on maps, checking each notification or ping about something new in our digital inboxes. And as smart as we can get with notifications, with finding and predicting and recommending exactly what we need or should pay attention to in any context or moment, there’s something powerful in a lighter way to engage with technology. The rise of the mobile phone has made laptops feel like a heavy, cumbersome way to use technology, just like the rise of laptops made desktops feel heavy. It’s inevitable, in my opinion, that something will make a phone feel heavy, and that just might be a watch.
Up, Williamstown, MA
I call people that walk while staring at their phones "zombies". You know what I mean. You see them in the distance, walking toward you on the sidewalk, or standing in the middle of the sidewalk, or crossing the street, heads down, screens up, thumbs busy. Their bodies are there, but their minds aren’t. They’re zombies, their minds far away, largely unaware of their surroundings or the movement of the world around them.
We’re not meant to be zombies. Smartphones created an incredible opportunity for us to live mobile lifestyles, but there’s room for new devices and interfaces to empower us to live better mobile lifestyles.
Which is why watches are intriguing. Wrists make sense as the next place for mobile technology to congregate:
Clocks first popped up on top of towers in the center of towns and over time were gradually miniaturized, appearing on belt buckles, as neck pendants, and inside trouser pockets. They eventually migrated to the wrist, first as a way for ship captains to tell time while keeping their hands firmly locked on the wheel. “What was interesting is that it took centuries to find the wrist and then it didn’t go anywhere else,” [Jony] Ive says. “I would argue the wrist is the right place for the technology.”
Yes, early indications point to some major limitations of Apple Watch v1, but aren’t v1s of any new tech more of an expression of possibility than a realization of utility? Yes, at the moment the Apple Watch requires an iPhone for it to work properly, but to me that seems like a transitory positioning than a long-term limitation. 1 Remember all the things the first iPhone couldn’t do?
Smartwatches have the potential to be the next massive, consumer adopted device platform. How will we leverage them? Think about the applications of smartwatches for financial transactions 2, identify verification 3, communication, just to start. But I don’t think we can even imagine the true utility or applications of a smartwatch, in much of the same way we couldn’t imagine the utility of a mobile phone. Did we ever imagine the demand for personal computers? Did we ever imagine the applications of the Internet? Did we ever think that smartphones would help lead to the rise of mobile on-demand services? The adoption, and utility, of each are obvious only in retrospect.
I also think that smartwatches bigger smartphones make more appealing. "All the visual apps we use seem to make more sense on a larger screen", which I believe is one factor behind the trend towards larger mobile screen sizes. If we have a smartwatch on our wrist, pairing with our phones (or not), do we care whether our phones fit in our pockets?
"The best technology fades into the background", and the smartwatch has the chance to fade into the background of our lives with an even bigger impact than desktops, laptops, tablets, and yes, even phones. 4
Like Ben, I think that eventually the Apple Watch will come to have cellular connectivity, removing one of its major functional limitations, but that it’s smarter to release a v1 of Apple Watch now, providing the platform for users and developers to start building new cultural and technological fashions now. ↩
Back in 2000, I worked for a startup working on a mobile wallet and payment system to enable people to use their phones to pay at retail POS and over the mobile internet (back then, WAP 1.0). Since then, mobile technology has grown by exponentially, yet the usecases for mobile transactions, mobile couponing, and mobile advertising have hardly changed. For financial transactions, it’s never been obvious why someone should pay using their phone when credit cards and cash work pretty well. But now, with Apple Pay, finally we’ve seen the creation of a mobile payment technology where convenience isn’t the main selling point, but addresses something that’s incredibly relevant and powerful today: security. And if you think Apple Pay on an iPhone is interesting, just wait until you see Apple Pay in an Apple Watch. ↩
Could a smartwatch be the next leap in approaches to identify verification and account access? Better passwords aren’t the answer, and two-factor identification, while powerful, has yet to be widely adopted. Imagine how much more sense two-factor authentication could make when we’re using a watch (perhaps with TouchID) to verify ourselves. ↩
A lot of this also applies to bracelets, rings, and other types of jewelry. Watches will probably have greater utility earlier on because we’re accustomed to the larger sizes of watches and the used to having screens of information on watches, but in many ways, jewelry will have some of the same power and applications as smartwatches. Maybe eventually rings will talk to watches the same way watches will talk to phones? And what about glasses? If it looks like a computer, it has the exact converse effect: if something on your face looks like a computer, it intrudes into our lives, rather than fades into our lives. ↩