The Focus in Apple Watch

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When the Apple Watch was first announced, a popular critique in tech circles was that it showed a lack of focus, that it did too much, including things it was not well suited to do. One piece often referenced said this:

Messy.   Too many options.  This is such a huge blunder. Instead of a single, perfect product, we got a jumble of features and choices.   There should have been just The One.

For Apple that famously emphasizes focus, saying “a thousand no’s for every yes,” having so many options seemed odd. What had Apple said “no” to in the Watch? What could it not do? Why did Apple, a company so focused on focus, make the Apple Watch capable of doing virtually anything?

These questions are answered by deeply understanding what the product is: a personal, even intimate, computer. The more personal a product, the more its hardware and software together must reflect and adapt to the individual wearing the device.

On the one hand, Apple is staying true to its pattern of making technical hardware decisions for the users so they can just enjoy the product without understanding the tech specs. We will learn more next week, but I would be surprised if any internals were customizable, including memory size.

On the other hand, in terms of hardware appearance, Apple has created more options than there ever have been before: three collections coming in two sizes and two colors that are paired with dozens of bands. Never before has an Apple device been so customizable, but never before has an Apple device been so personal, so intimate, something that never leaves your body and is an extension of yourself on your wrist. If it is this personal, then it must be this customizable. As Apple puts it on their promo page:

Selecting a watch is very personal. As with all things you wear, how it looks is at least as important as what it does…Everyone’s style is different, as is everyone’s wrist.

So much is generally accepted. But given the intimate nature of the device, this customization must extend to the function and software of the device as well. In such a small and personal device, the lines between hardware and software are blurred. Recall Jony Ive’s interview with the New Yorker:

[Ive] went on to explain that an Apple Watch uses a new display technology whose blacks are blacker than those in an iPhone’s L.E.D. display. This makes it easier to mask the point where, beneath a glass surface, a display ends and its frame begins. An Apple Watch jellyfish swims in deep space, and becomes, Ive said, as much an attribute of the watch as an image.

If the lines between hardware and software are blurred, and if the hardware itself must be customizable because its personal, then so too must the software. This makes intuitive sense when you think of watch faces–where does the watch (hardware) stop and the watch (software) start? Apple’s promo page demonstrates they are thinking this way as it emphasizes customizability:

Most faces are extensively customizable — you can change colors, choose design elements, and add functionality. So one Apple Watch can have literally millions of different appearances. Including the one that’s precisely right for you.

Less intuitive, but just as real, is that the function of a device this personal must also be near-infinitely customizable to suite each individual’s personal taste and interests. Not everyone wants to be interrupted with tweets, but some do; not everyone wants walking directions on their wrist, but some do; likewise not everyone wants health tracking, emoji communication, heartbeat sharing, photos, Siri, movies, iMessage, and email, but some do. Each individual will personalize the device to be what they want it to be–after all, it is on their wrist, all the time. There is no one right way to use the device because there is no one right way to be human.

More than any prior product, the Apple Watch will be defined by its user, not simply in appearance but also in functionality. That is what it means for it to be the most personal device Apple has ever made. Apple enabled Apple Watch to do more than their previous products, not because they lacked focus or refused to say “no” but because they focused intensely on the personal, intimate nature of this wearable device.

The Apple Watch can be anything, because people can be anything.

Update 3/5/15

A different Apple promo page makes explicit that they want to blur the lines between the software and hardware:

Apple Watch combines a series of remarkable feats of engineering into a singular, entirely new experience. One that blurs the boundaries between the physical object and the software that powers it.

Thanks to Iconic: The Ultimate Tribute to Apple for sponsoring this site. bookcoverIconic is the photographic record of Apple’s products that Apple would make if they ever made a book. With stunning images and attention to detail, Iconic lives up to its name as a fitting tribute to Apple. Learn more here!

Related posts on Apple Watch by @MarkDMill:

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