iWatch or iWhat? — Part I

The purpose for the future wearable device

Will 2014 be the year of the wearable device? That is possible, depending on whether Apple or Google can properly execute the product this year. The idea of a wearable device makes good business sense, due to the potential high profit margin. This can turn into a real fist-to-fist competition, and not just because we only have two wrists.

It’s time to redefine the purpose of the wrist watch.

We all know that the next watch will be so much more than just a watch. But let’s briefly discuss time. We value time, measure time, check on time, watch time go by — tick, tick, tick. Our body was designed to be time-aware with our internal body clock. Time keeps moving, but it keeps us moving.

“What time is it right now?”

At this moment, your eyes are probably focusing on 1 of 4 places: your watch, the corner of your computer screen, your phone, or the clock on the wall. Once upon a time, before the dawn of wrist watches, we knew what time it was by looking at the giant clocks on top of buildings. Look around, you don’t see many giant clocks hung on buildings today because we don’t need them. So what is the value of wearing a watch when you have other options to see the time? Do you still need a wrist watch? Yes, because a watch communicates much more than just time. It reveals a person’s character, taste, and values.

Throughout history, a wrist watch accomplished 2 things: show the time and identify the social class you belong to. But don’t we want to re-write history and design new purpose for the next future wearable device?

Get the best out of each device’s physical form.

The goal of designing the wearable device is to keep its function simple, within scope of the battery size. Take advantage of the smaller form factor, rather than trying to compete with other larger devices. The smartphone, with its screen size, is already the ideal form factor for showing information and communication. There is no need to change it. You shouldn't talk to your wrist watch, despite Dick Tracy’s bad habit of making his phone calls public. However, a wrist device can do a better job in 3 other areas:

Access, Control, and Tracking.

ACCESS — The KEY purpose is the KEY!

There are 4 items we normally carry with us when leaving the house: keys, wallet, phone, and watch.

Those items are important to us for various reasons. Yet we spend a lot of time playing hide-and-seek with them. The exception is our faithful watch, because it’s designed to be strapped to our wrists. This makes the humble wrist watch the perfect device to secure important information in our lives. It can serve as an access KEY to our cloud wallet, our cars, our homes. Fingerprint security on our phones is nice, but security on our wrists is even better.

CONTROL — It’s not MAGIC, it’s your MAGIC wand

Do you remember the incident of a person swinging his video game controller too enthusiastically and sent it flying, breaking his TV? It was later emphasized to the public to secure the controller’s strap to your wrists to prevent future incidents. What if the wrist strap, itself, is already a controller? It isn't just interaction using your wrist, but interaction with your environment.


Most of the wearable devices on the market has been focusing on tracking and monitoring fitness activities. The next phase should be overlapping both fitness data and nutrition data together, Jawbone just made such move with their Up Coffee app recently. It will be perfect if their device is smart enough to know how much and what type of coffee you drink without a single click. How? Right at the moment you purchase your latte. It can be done by having all three, wearable device/nutrition app/Starbucks app talk to each other. Or, wait and let the iOS’s Passbook app and Healthbook app work together on a single loop inside the iWatch.

1/3 is just enough to kill

Don’t expect you will get all three elements inside the up coming iWatch. You will never get the best from the first try, the best is yet to come. But based on the numbers of the credit card accounts which were comfortably shared to Apple, the TouchID and the mobile payment strategy mentioned by Tim Cook. I think using the Apple’s iWatch to pay your coffee in Starbucks is the safest bet. If it’s not going to happen, give me a shout and I will buy you one, promise. It seems like a simple move, but it will become the big wave that change the landscape of mobile payment.

The big players like Apple and Samsung/Google will easily occupy one of our wrist when their product is released. This is due to their huge engineering, R&D, marketing budgets along with a better technological Eco-system and sea of developers who support their app store. There is hope those big players will allow third-party companies to design solutions for their products. Case in point, all those iPhone/iPad accessories. If not, we may end up going back to the old days when wearing multiple bracelets was fashionable.

Thanks for reading, I am going to share my perspectives and predictions about how the physical components and interface might look like, and the potential for 3rd parties in the near future, stay tuned.