Reason I‘m excited for the Apple Watch

“Machines that give too much feedback are like backseat drivers. Not only is it distracting to be subjected to continual flashing lights, text announcements, spoken voices, or beeps and boops, but it can be dangerous. Too many announcements cause people to ignore all of them, or wherever possible, disable all of them, which means that critical and important ones are apt to be missed. Feedback is essential, but not when it gets in the way of other things, including a calm and relaxing environment.” — Don Norman. “The Design of Everyday Things”

I was reading Don Norman’s fantastic book, The Design of Everyday Things, when I came across the above excerpt and found myself writing a lengthy piece — lengthy for me anyway — about why the above statement is what makes me so excited about the Apple Watch.

Phones today provide too much feedback, and that’s my fault not necessarily the fault of the device or application. It’s possible for me to disable notifications for apps or to limit the number of apps on my phone but I don’t as I’m afraid to “miss” anything. As if missing an alert that Dwayne Wade may miss a game tonight is somehow something I can’t do without.

These constant notifications can be distracting to myself and others. I once had a co-worker who had their text message notification set to “Tweet”. Everytime that whistle sound went off I found myself cringing and if they were receiving a constant stream of messages I’d have to get up and leave for a few minutes as it was simply too grating to me to continue my work.

How many times has that familiar Apple ding gone off and multiple people in the room look at their phones to see if it was their phone. This is why I’ve been trying to leave mine on vibrate. I don’t have to look at my phone when someone elses goes off and I’m not distracting others when mine vibrates — so long as it doesn’t vibrate while resting on a table or other such surface. This, however, is an imperfect solution.

I see too many people, including myself, reflexively reach into their pocket or pick the phone up off a table when it goes off, looking to see what just happened. It becomes especially bothersome when you’re talking to someone or in a meeting and you lose their attention because their phone went off.

It would be nice if more apps would provide a more fine grained level of detail in their notification settings. This would give me, the user, more power to control what notifications I deem important. Using the above example, I’d want to know if Dwayne Wade has suffered a season ending injury or is missing a game in the playoffs but not when it’s simply 1 game of 82 during the season.

That level of detail in notifications would be a nice change of pace from the typical “we want to send you notifications” and then getting flooded with notifications. This would add another layer of complexity on the designers and engineers. I’d be putting my trust in them to accurately determine these levels I could adjust but that would be an indicator of just how well thought out the design is.

“The reasons for the deficiencies in human-machine interaction are numerous. Some come from the limitations of today’s technology. Some come from self-imposed restrictions by the designers, often to hold down cost. But most of the problems come from a complete lack of understanding of the design principles necessary for effective human-machine interaction.” — Don Norman. “The design of Everyday Things”

This brings us to why I am excited for the Apple Watch. My hope is Apple is trying to empower me to determine which notifications are important since most apps aren’t providing it.

The Apple Watch is providing new ways for applications to notify users through their “Taptic Engine”. This engine provides different vibrations to indicate different types of feedback. Alone, or combined with a discreet audio cue, this provides me a powerful non-visual indicator as to if I even need to look.

This solves several issues for me. One of which is that I miss notifications due to the fact that I almost always leave my phone in my pocket on vibrate. If I’m sitting down things are fine but while I’m walking or moving around I have been known to miss a notification or two. With the watch being directly against my wrist this should no longer be an issue. This helps me to feel comfortable that I haven’t missed anything, as I presently have a tendency to pull out my phone every so often to make sure I haven’t missed something.

To go along with these non-visual cues are short-looks. I feel a pulse or tap on my wrist and bring it up to look, I see a notification about a package I’ve been tracking is out for delivery. At this point I can keep my wrist elevated and the watch will know to show me more information, or I can put my wrist back down and the notification goes away but remains for later.

That still takes my attention away but it should be a second compared to the multiple seconds it takes to pick up the phone — or pull out of a pocket — check the notification and then put it back.

“Now imagine a future where instead of the phone replacing the watch, the two will merge, perhaps worn on the wrist, perhaps on the head like glasses, complete with display screen. The phone, watch, and components of a computer will all form one unit.” — Don Norman. “The Design of Everyday Things”

The Apple Watch is an extension of the phone. A device designed as the antithesis to the current culture of smartphones. Interactions are defined in seconds instead of minutes. Its purpose to bring our attention back to the people and world that surrounds us.

As Don Norman said, “Feedback is essential but not when it gets in the way of other things”. My hope for the Apple Watch is that it provides a new way to perceive feedback that is not distracting — or as distracting. That it provides a better level of understanding of what I’m receiving without even needing to look. I will be empowered to determine what is important and what isn’t.

With this on my wrist, I hope to reclaim the time lost from being distracted by my phone and put that focus back on more important things. This is why I truly am hoping the Apple Watch is their most personal device yet.

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