Michael Boord (AP Photo).

From brick to bracelet

By Michael Boord

Mobile and mobile devices have changed drastically since the days Don Johnson’s “Sonny” Crockett carried a 5-pound brick in his 1974 Ferrari Daytona Spider “police car” on the TV show “Miami Vice.” His phone was used to make phone calls, nothing more. Our phones are now barely phones; they are supercomputers that run our lives. We now carry a sleeker, lighter, more modern device in our pockets and purses, but to me, it still feels like a brick.

I am a pragmatist and an observer by nature. So where is all this headed and how long before we get there?

While smartwatches have been around for some time, the release of the Apple Watch this week probably signals a familiar Apple-induced seminal moment — a shift from the brick to the bracelet, if you will. But it’s actually more significant than simply a device relocation from the pocket to the wrist. It’s about a more integrated use of technology in our lives, which makes it even more personal. Google Glass attempted to shift the paradigm from looking down to looking ahead, multitasking and being productive in a more practical way than pulling out your phone and staring at the ground while walking into other distracted, over-stimulated people and probably some oncoming traffic.

Smartwatches are the latest attempt to free us of the burden of carrying an extra device on our person. Will it work? It might once we stop thinking that the experience on our wrist will and should be the same as on our “pocket” phone. It shouldn’t be.

And as more devices become sleeker, more subtle and integrated into our clothing and our person, they will be more modular and functional. When creating content for these devices, we need to bear that in mind, rather than try to squeeze everything into one device and one experience.

For example, when my colleagues at The Associated Press and I embarked on the latest update to AP Mobile, our core app, we had to think about the experience and practicality of reading content on a tiny screen on your wrist where you only have one hand to navigate. We tried to connect the watch experience to the phone experience in a more personal way. Will the watch really be the trigger to better engagement on the phone?

The version 6.8 update of AP Mobile, released this week on iTunes, includes a watch app with features that specifically address the platform. You will of course get breaking news notifications from AP, but also glances to see the top story of the moment and the top 5 stories from your favorite category on AP Mobile on your iPhone. The watch app also includes force touch to save stories to read later on your phone, as well as dynamic type to support font adjustments and hand-off functionality to allow you to continue reading a story on your phone.

Working at a global news organization like AP, I often think about disruptive technologies since we have pretty much seen it all in our nearly 170-year history. As we evolve AP Mobile to address the needs of news consumers and AP members around the world, we are thinking of ways to innovate for the platform shifts as well. This is the exciting part. Fortunately, it’s not one size fits all.
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Michael Boord is director of mobile products at The Associated Press.

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