Apple Watch Hasn’t Caught Up to 1970’s Future

by Matthew Pawley
Digital Strategy Director, Wipro Digital
@Mattoshi

Set Expectations to 11 and Proceed Carefully

In my last blog I wrote about making one’s business relevant in the mobile world.

Today, I want to talk about the reality of wearing a wearable. Full disclosure: I’m currently sporting an Apple Watch (in public) and besides the inevitable “it’s too expensive” comments I’ve been hearing, it’s also elicited a few interesting discussions around purpose, design and value. Putting the cost to one side for a moment, let me tell you why I bought one, how I thought I’d use it, and how I actually do:

Once upon a time there was this 1970’s kid who was really into Sci-Fi and computers. The tech dreams that were sold in Star Wars, Star Trek and Buck Rogers were, disappointingly, just that. However, these films came at the same time as the microchip and the resulting tech revolution. This thing called the chip, also known as the 8086, Z80 and 68000, made by Intel, Zilog and Motorola (a company I’d work for many years later), offered up access to an interactive world that I could create. They were things that I could program and it wasn’t a leap of the imagination for my young brain to consider a future where I could build my own worlds, be in a game like Tron, carry a telephone in my pocket or wear a computer on my wrist. Apple wasn’t first to the party. Casio has been making the databank since the 1980’s — thanks Casio, ❤ you all. But fast forward thirty years to today, and the technological sweet spot has hopefully arrived for a really good computer watch.

After a trial session in the Regent Street Apple Store, I placed my order and waited. The device arrived about a month later, in an unassuming white plastic box that wouldn’t look out of place on the Nostromo. So far so good, however, after unboxing and setting it up I realized the biggest problem with it was something I myself brought to the table.

Unfortunately for Apple, a value prop offering anything less than a ride in a tie fighter would be a huge disappointment after my decades of dreaming. There was an empirical decay between what was in my head and what the designers and engineers actually produced. Let’s take a look at what the Apple Watch doesn’t do: firstly there’s no Tricorder, there’s no personal shield (or cloak), it doesn’t facilitate time travel, and it doesn’t have an offensive mode (beyond the cost). I’m a pragmatic guy and joking aside, there were a few things I expected that the watch didn’t deliver:

  1. Blood pressure monitoring and a healthcare app that helps rather than simply informs. If I’m about to have a heart attack or stroke, warn me, so I can get to the emergency room.
  2. Siri as a personal assistant who proactively does things and learns from me, rather than one who needs to be driven and directed.
  3. App functionality that doesn’t require a tether to my phone.
  4. A voice driven interface that works. Currently it’s quicker to navigate/multi-tap the screen of app balls rather than just say ‘photos’ and have the app load.

From the pov of a 3rdparty functionality, it’s inconsistent. Clearly, the developers didn’t consider how a wearable application should work. Lots of apps I use on my iPhone are shadows of themselves or just irrelevant on the watch. While I don’t expect a fully featured app I do expect the wearable counterpart to have a purpose.

For example, an Underground/Subway app that only shows line service status and doesn’t help me actually navigate between stations is useless — #InstaDelete. Topping it all is making or taking a call from the Watch. Far from looking like Dick Tracy you simply look like… well, take the Tracy out and you’ll know what I mean.

Reading the above you’d conclude I was heartbroken. I’m not. There are a lot of things the device does well:

  1. iPhone integration is effortless. As soon as the watch and phone were paired, a process which required running an app and pointing the iPhone camera at the watch, they were best buddies. The biometric Touch ID unlocks both the phone and Watch simultaneously.
  2. The notification function is slick with lots of options, no more buzzing twitter popups on my phone but a range of subtle and distinctive taps, clicks and swishes.
  3. 3. It looks great. The model I own has a black DLC coating. It looks like something forged in the furnace of Mount Doom, and would accessorize well with a stealth fighter or Batman’s car. As industrial design goes, it’s beautiful. There’s an uncompromising aesthetic that shows the effort, user testing and quality control that’s gone into the product.
  4. The ‘always on’ health tracker has helped me get more exercise. I’m reliably getting my 10k steps a day, and have been for the last month.
  5. Using Satnav via the watch is the best.
  6. Sending text messages through Siri is fast, accurate and easy.
  7. The battery life is outstanding — easily 2 days per charge.
  8. It actually does work very well as a watch and there’s lots of fun to be had, customizing the faces.

So there you have it. Wearables are here but they are not perfect. The promise is tantalizing but not fully realized.

Is this going to change people’s lives? Yes, but not today. Am I glad to be on the journey? Damn right, that 1970s future is almost here…

Tagged: Apple, Apple Watch, User Experience, wearables


Originally published at wiprodigital.com on August 6, 2015.

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