I Watch

When my grandfather passed away, he left me his watch. And while I treasure it, I never wear it. I haven’t worn a watch since I started carrying a cell phone over a decade ago. And I really don’t have an inclination to start wearing one today. But these rumors of an Apple watch have me think it’s not a matter of if, but when I’ll start wearing one again.

I am not going to start wearing a watch because I am an Apple loyalist, even though I am one. And while I appreciate the value that another screen holds to output data, this doesn’t captivate me. What interests me is input.

I don’t want to wear a watch as a watch, but as a remote, as an input device. Kevin Fox argued that a watch would be a natural fit for Siri to take commands. He suggested it could very well include a compass and accelerometer for maps. But what other sensors could fit into a wrist band? Light sensor? Of course. A gyroscope? Temperature, ambient and body? Your pulse? Air quality? NFC?

During an episode of the Critical Path, Horace Dediu argued that advances in computing occur because of innovations in input methods. At the time, I think he was mostly considering voice commands and Siri. But an iOS-based watch might bring wearable devices to the mass market. It might take the market that FitBit is in but with deep device integration, no deep ecosystem integration, and measure so much more and for so many more people. A watch could also serve as a suitable remote for the coming “phablet” iPhones that people might prefer to keep in a bag while on the go.

The Tom Cruise/Minority Report thing we always laugh about relied on big exhausting gestures. What if a wrist-band could capture much more discrete and less tiring movements? I’m no futurist, but imagine if you could hold your phone in one hand and generate input with the other hand with small motions or subtle typing like flexing of your fingers. What if you could conduct Siri by drumming your fingers against a table top?

A watch is a path toward wearable computing and the quantified self. No wonder Nike recently announced that it has no plans to release its FuelBand app for Android. If Nike isn’t already partnering with Apple to make an early app, they’re deep enough in this direction to understand it’s value and likelihood: they’re going to be busy remaking and making apps for this new addition to the iOS ecosystem.

Of course, an iOS watch as wearable computing device will be pitted squarely against Google Glass. Google Glass sounds expensive in terms of monetary ($1,500) and social costs (it’s too in your face and too in the face of your acquaintances). But an iOS accessory, might be less expensive. What’s the word for disrupting a product that hasn’t launched yet?

But look at me, increasing my own enthusiasm as I write. I shouldn’t get ahead of reality. Like the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV before it, an iOS watch will probably debut with a high price and then come down over time. The price will signal that’s it’s not a device for everyone yet. It might not be a device for me yet. But I suspect in the future, we will all be wearing more not fewer computing devices, and Jonathan Ive will probably design at least some of the ones I wear.


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