The Future of Apple Watch (WWDC and beyond)

This is part 4 in ongoing series of reflections based on my experience with Apple Watch. Previous pieces are: Week 1: You Can’t Put Delight In a SpreadsheetWeeks 2-3: Its Form Is Its Function, Week 4: A Foundation for the Future.

It’s that time of year again, when Apple critics, analysts, and skeptics release their expectations, analysis, and wish lists for WWDC. In this piece, I hope to approach the pre-WWDC ramp-up somewhat differently. These other approaches are based, typically, off of rumors or personal frustrations with the software. I hope to present a more timeless list of strategic wrist-centric ways where Apple Watch should mature in order for its long-term potential to be reached.

In my previous piece on Apple Watch, It’s Form Is Its Function, I argue that a watch, due to its form of being on the wrist, has inherent advantages and disadvantages. A wrist-worn device, by definition, will and must be:

– Visible, to the wearer and to others
– Wrist-sized, being small, light, and cool enough to be on the wrist
– In constant contact with one’s skin
– Persistent, always available in a convenient spot

A mature product, then must leverage those unique advantageous while simultaneously avoiding the disadvantages. I’ve argued that Apple has done so, laying a strong foundation from which Apple Watch can mature. However, there is tremendous potential, not just for refinement, but for category-changing growth. Here is my vision of how Apple’s platform should mature:

Constant visibility

Apple Watch is always visible to the wearer and to the outside world and thus has potential to mature in the following ways:

First, further personalization in fashion. Apple has already taken huge steps towards growth through their 3rd-party band program, but for the product to mature, Apple needs to take some more steps. In the short-term, it needs to offer more bands itself, in more colors, more watch faces of both analog & digital varieties & with more colors, more control of complications, and an easy way to manage & reorder faces (so you don’t have to delete & re-add every face to get them in the order you want). In the long-term, Apple Watch needs to open this up to 3rd party developers. There is simply too much diversity in the world and too many fashion trends for Apple to try to meet everyone’s style themselves.

Second, more discreet functioning of Apple Watch. I’m finding that my desire for notifications often changes based on the environment I’m in. While I’m working at my computer, for example, I want some notifications (such as Twitter @-replies) to come in that I absolutely don’t want in a meeting. In a meeting, I basically just want notification from my wife and nothing else, but during the rest of the day, I want more. What if you could arrange different “contexts”–say, “work” “meeting” and “home”–and could choose what notifications you want for those different contexts? Then, when walking into a meeting, instead of hitting “Do Not Disturb” in the settings glance, you tapped a “meeting” context that would adjust it for you? Or, long-term, what if Apple Watch pulled in your calendar and suggested or automatically changed its notification context based on your schedule?

Third, better leveraging of glanceable information. Frequently, in conversation with someone, I am unable to instantly look down at a notification coming in, but by the time I have time to glance at the notification, it’s gone into into the notification center (requiring using the other hand to see it). There needs to be a way, possibly through a wrist gesture, to tell an incoming notification that I want it to appear on my screen next time I raise the wrist, even though I can’t see it immediately. Similarly, when a notification comes, I don’t want to dismiss it by hand. A wrist gesture to dismiss it would make the information that does appear far more valuable at a glance.

Fourth, 3rd party complications. Casey Liss wrote about this ably, so I won’t say more, but there is immense potential for these.

Fifth, actionable glances. The Apple “Now Playing” glance is one of the most useful glances out there because it doesn’t just display time but allows one-tap actions (which shine on the wrist). The platform will mature immensely when apps like Overcast, Hours, MacID, or Workflow have one-tap access to running actions from the wrist.

Sized for the wrist

A maturing Apple Watch will also grow in its adaptation to the wrist:

First, long-term, Apple needs to reduce the bezels. In something this small, that extra space is extremely valuable.

Second, navigation via Force Touch needs greater clarity. It is an excellent adaptation to a wrist-sized computer, but it is hidden to the user. The best advice I have for someone trying to know when to use Force Touch or not is to try it on every screen. Unfortunately, some screens have it, others don’t, some apps support it, and others don’t–and that is quite a mental load for a user to remember. If it requires this much experimentation and mental recall, I believe there is a missing UI element. I’m not sure how to fix this precisely–a visual/taptic indicator when Force Touch is available, a preview the first time the app is used, etc.–but on something this small, a hidden interface element is both necessary and a challenge.

Third, Siri is absolutely foundational to the device. Apple needs to open at least a limited Siri API for 3rd party developers. Without Siri access, Apple Watch apps will always be hamstrung. I understand there are massive technical challenges with doing this, but it is the future input mechanism of the device. The sooner Apple begins addressing those challenges, the better.

Constant skin contact

Regarding skin contact, there’s some clear areas for future growth to take place:

First, more workout options. I’m sure these are in the works, but there are many more workout options than those generated by the Workout app. Perhaps, with 3rd party access to the heart rate monitor, this will be less necessary as each app can fine-tune its algorithm to the particular exercise that app specializes in. Still, there’s clear room for growth in workouts.

Second, better battery. This is not because the battery is insufficient for current use–I regularly go to bed with 30-40% battery left–but it is not sufficient for all-day use and tracking sleep overnight. As 3rd parties get access to health sensors, there will be greater use of the battery, especially for sleep trackers (like Sleep Cycle, my favorite) that need battery all night. Apple needs to get battery life around 26 hours in order for these apps to exist well.

Persistent convenience

Since Apple Watch is always on the wrist, there are huge potential use cases, not just for glance able information or health tracking (see above), but also for things uniquely enabled by a device that is constantly with you and that identifies you to other electronics. Here are some areas where Apple Watch can mature (keeping in mind, of course, that these require other parts of Apple’s ecosystem to mature).

First, hyper-locale location awareness. There are a multitude of use cases where this might be valuable, so let me just give you a few. Imagine if Apple Watch was able to identify that my hands are at my Mac or my iPad & so automatically serve notifications, alerts, and reminders there (and not to other devices). There’s no reason why every device needs to ring when a FaceTime call is received, since Apple Watch can know what is closest to you and silence all other devices but the one closest to you.

Second, inter-device authentication. I’ve written previously about a fantastic app, MacID, that unlocks my computer via Apple Watch. This kind of authentication ought to be built into Apple products. As amazingly convenient as TouchID is, imagine a world where your Mac, iPhone, and iPad all unlocked without even a touch because Apple Watch knew it was close & unlocked them before you accessed them. There is immense potential for this kind of future, enabled by a device constantly on the wrist.

Third, IoT & smart home. It’s not a surprise to me that, since Apple now has a device that knows your precise location, it’s rumored to make a concentrated push into home automation. There is incredible potential here and no company has even scratched the surface of what it can be. I await this WWDC with eager anticipation of a major play in this area.1

Conclusion

While I have written extensively about my delight in Apple Watch, how it is adapted to its form, and has a solid foundation for future growth, there are huge  unexplored opportunities that are uniquely suited to a wrist-worn device. No article, this piece included, has captured the full potential this device has to change the way we envision the future of the world and computing in it.

This is part 4 in ongoing series of reflections on my experience with Apple Watch. You can read the other pieces here:

You can follow MarkDMill on Twitter or subscribe to posts via RSS or Tumblr.

1. One prediction for the record, if AppleTV is the hub of the home–which I think likely–it will include an iBeacon that enables this location awareness.↩️

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13 thoughts on “The Future of Apple Watch (WWDC and beyond)

  1. I’d think “constant proximity” instead of contact. Tight wear is likely to increase the risk of irritation as it did for some fitness bands and happened many years ago for me. (I’ll probably never wear a watch again due to the sensitivity and irritation.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. But I do see a difference in that my phone is in near-constant proximity to me (why it works pretty well as a step counter), but it can’t give you hear rate because there’s no skin contact. But, you’re right, it’s not constantly on the skin either.

      Like

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