The Future of the Apple Watch, I Hope

This might come as a shock to those who know me, but I’m not usually an early adopter of technology products.

My first iPod was a nano I got in 2006.

My first iPhone was a 3GS I got in 2009.

I never bought an iPad, because I never saw a personal need.

But this time, I decided to get a first generation Apple Watch a month after launch. No, I didn’t camp out or wait in line, but I also didn’t wait for it to be a clear winner either. This time, I wanted to be there when something was crappy and new.

Some people are hardcore about getting something first. This is the “price” they pay. And of course, they pay the social price of being wrong if something fails.

As a technologist, I know that the first version of a product is usually pretty flawed. The innovators and early adopters, as they call them, are willing to look past these issues because they are excited about something new. They believe the product will be great and they project this hope onto the current product.

My Take

The Apple Watch is no different. It’s definitely cooler than any wearable I’ve tried (2–3 others), but it falls short in a few ways. Before I get into complaining, here are 5 features/use cases where I think the Apple Watch kicks ass.

  1. Apple Pay: Tap the side button twice and hold your hand up to the sensor. It’s pretty awesome. I can’t wait ‘til it is widely supported at concerts and sporting events.
  2. Transit App: Seeing the next bus/train time in the glances view is awesome when you are moving around quickly, getting ready for work, or running to catch the bus.
  3. Getting Texts/IMs: It’s super quick and has nice canned responses that you can customize. I find myself spending less time playing on my phone now.
  4. Checking Basic Information: checking the time, weather, date, and next calendar event at the same in 1 second is surprisingly convenient throughout the day. With all of the power of your phone, it’s not actually easy to just see these tidbits with a glance, and they probably come up a couple dozen times a day.
  5. Activity Tracker: I didn’t think I would care, but the gamified experience of seeing how much you walk, exercise, and if you stand from your desk enough is really well-designed and fun.

There are countless other apps that do a good job like Uber, Numerous, and the whole taking a picture from your camera without holding it. As of this minute, there are 5782 Watch Apps in the App Store, which is incredibly small compared to the 1.4 million iPhone apps. There’s still a bright future ahead, I hope.

The Future

I started thinking about powerful use cases for the Watch over the next few years, and I found myself projecting my hopes onto this product. Here are a few things I’m looking forward to:

  1. Phone-Free Experience: when the hardware, battery, and costs improve over the next few years, the phoneless experience has much promise. Maybe you’re exercising and don’t want to lug around your phone. Maybe you’re at the beach. Maybe you’re at a music festival. Maybe your phone battery is dead. Maybe you’re working a blue collar job where phone use is limited.
  2. The Keychain: I have 2 fobs on my keychain and 2 in my wallet. It adds bulk and is annoying. The Watch could provide a universal key fob for home, work, concerts, conferences, etc. How about all my stupid reward cards on my keychain? Don’t even get my started with all the crap in my wallet. Welcome back, pockets. I’m sorry I put you through that whole ordeal.
It’s coming for you, you bulky piece of crap!

3. Instant Answers: there is real power is in the simplicity of quick, structured answers. This is made possible by contextual data and better machine learning. Many apps making strides in this area.

“Uber Destination? (1) Home, (2) Work”

“Text Jon that you’ll be 5 minutes late?” (1) Yes, (2) No

“Leave a tip:” (1) 15%, (2) 18%, (3) 20%

“Blackhawks Game Starts in 15 minutes. Choose a nearby bar to watch:” (1) Highline, (2) Bull & Bear, (3) Boss Bar

“Taylor wants to meet for lunch. You have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday open. Which day is best?” (1) Wed, (2) Thu, (3) Fri

These are all things we could do with our phones, but they would be faster and simpler with the Watch. My guess is that wearables (Watch and others) will have a profound impact on app design, like smartphones did. The space constraints will encourage simplicity and make the interface disappear even more. Machines will be asked to do the heavy lifting and contextual data will absolutely critical.

When’s the Right Time to Jump Aboard?

If you’re like me and you waited years to see if technologies would prevail, you’ll be perfectly fine waiting another year or two to see how things pan out. You’re not going to miss anything major.

But, if you’re building a tech startup or hope to catch another macro trend in electronics, now is the time to dive in. A new paradigm is emerging, one focused more on contextual data, ubiquity, and replacing physical objects.

The Watch hasn’t quite stormed on King’s Landing, but they don’t call it the Narrow Sea for nothing. See you on the other side!