Other Gadgets

Can the Watch conquer the wrist?

| Updated on: Mar 11, 2015
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Apple Watch has to be various things to prove itself worthy  

For an industry in which the magical is made real on an almost weekly basis, the anticipation and hype surrounding the Apple Watch has been enormous.

Perhaps this is because that unlike 2007— when it was nearly impossible to have predicted the resounding, game-changing success of the first iPhone— today we realize that we could be watching the future unfold before our eyes. There appears to be an immense amount of frustration amongst the tech community to get it right this time; a desperate need to understand whether we are spectators to a product that could drastically change the way we live.

This way of thinking, however, is erroneous: any analysis of the Watch that operates under the framework of the iPhone and its associated baggage is not helpful. Not only does it assume that the Watch is indeed the next big thing, and thus a failure if it doesn't reach iPhone-levels of popularity; it also doesn't take into account that smart watches are a new product category and fashion statement. 

Pay more to do less

A far better starting point and comparison is the iPad, and, to a lesser extent, the iPod. 

Much like the iPad, the Apple Watch has to persuade customers of the need for a new product category. The purpose of any new product is to find an owner by solving his or her problem: the iPhone never struggled since it scored high with its perceived functionality by being a phone, an Internet-device and a music player. The benefits of the iPad, when it was first launched, were not clear. Was it a big smartphone or a small laptop? At most, it could do a little bit of both.  And yet, the iPad was the first manifestation of a clear trend in consumer technology, namely that with each new generation of devices, technology becomes more of an enabler and less like a standalone product or tool.

The iPad, and indeed tablets in general, is not something that comes with a specific functionality. The iPad was a device of convenience; one that tapped into the way we function as human beings.

On paper, it made no sense to buy a $500 portable browsing gadget—after all, how difficult was it to drag yourself off the couch in order to get to your computer to do the sort of intensive browsing or video viewing you couldn't do properly on your smartphone? Turned out, quite a bit.

The Apple Watch comes from a similar starting point: as a number of analysts have pointed out, the Watch's immediate functionality is not to allow a user to do more, but to do less. As Kevin Lynch, Apple's Vice President of Technology, put it during the company's presentation, "using the Apple Watch during the day is really about brief interactions, many of these are just a few seconds long."

Some of the Watch's immediate lure—or in other words, the perceived purpose that will allow customers to rationalize its purchase—is in taking over a few of the functions of the iPhone; the Watch, for instance, will actually end up being one of Apple's cheapest and most user-friendly iPods. 

It is also simply more efficient in other ways: using Uber on the Watch is a much smoother and quicker process. Tasks that would have earlier required a certain amount of time and focus if done on a smartphone, can now be done using a fraction of your time and focus. This doesn't sound like much, but it is the accumulation of these "few second interactions" that will make the Watch a valuable companion.  How many times does one pick up a smartphone for the express purpose of looking at its clock, only to realize ten minutes later that they didn't register what the time really was?

As writer Matthew Panzarino puts it, the Apple Watch lets you save time. Its screen is an efficient filter; one that is an enabler and not really a standalone product or tool like a hammer that allows us to impose our will on the world. The fact that the company's presentation, quite noticeably, did not include any technical specifications only reinforces this. Viewing the Apple Watch as a notification device that comes with 'A x B' pixels or 'X' processing speed is not appealing or useful; looking at it as a device that peels apart the way we function as human beings makes more sense.

'Dil mange …'

And yet, is this enough? Is it enough to convince users to abandon their naked wrists for a glass screen? More importantly, does it pass the test of usability and fashion sensibility the way the iPod did with its click-wheel interface and silver-space grey attractiveness? After all, functionality is not king. If it was, we would all be wearing the Google Glass right now.

Unfortunately, it is simply too soon to tell whether the Watch comes with Apple's trademark intuitiveness and obviousness—early hands-on reviews tell us that the device's user interface appears to be mildly confusing and disorienting, which could prove to be a stumbling block. 

If these barriers are crossed, we come back to our initial question of whether the Apple Watch has the potential to revolutionize. While this doesn't help us in understanding the Watch as it is now, it does let us understand whether the Watch will end up suffering the same low-trajectory of sales that iPads and other tablets are currently going through. 

The most obvious answer here would be that the Apple Watch becomes the way in which much of the Western world interacts with their physical environment. By using the Watch to pay at retail stores, or as a key for your house and car, or as a means by which you authenticate your digital identity, it becomes an interface to the world.

The more interesting answer is that the Watch ends up drastically altering the way we communicate and interact: when the iPhone was launched, nobody could have predicted that it would be the foundation on which applications like Snapchat or Uber would be built. It would be enormously exciting, if a little wishful, to believe that the Apple Watch could do the same.

Published on January 24, 2018

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