Apple came out with a watch, and it will be released soon.
Let’s consider this “watch.” Or more accurately, a wearable computer that also often tells the time. But they’re really focusing on the watch part.
What’s interesting here isn’t that it happened; Samsung and others had already been acting in the wrist wearable marketplace for a while, and Google is trying to augment your reality with Google Glass. Apple, looking at the increasing attention paid to wearables, carefully considered entering this market.
Now, what’s interesting here is the device they came up with. Out of all the products released by Apple over the years, arguably the Apple Watch will be the one you can tailor to yourself the most. Judging from its promotion at the Apple Keynote event, it’s got a wealth of different digital watch faces you can employ, as well as a ton of different bands, from colourful rubber sporty ones, to sleek executive metal links, to a jewelry chain that seems like it could come from Tiffany’s, to a classic leather strap.
What Apple brought to the wearables party was DESIGN.
This is directly related to this type of product versus the products of their past; this one will be worn by its users constantly, and will often be visible at times where even the iPhone would be in a pocket. Because of its visibility, the Watch has to become as versatile and personal as the choices we make in our clothing.
That said, all of these options have been carefully curated and integrated into the whole, so the user can retain the general sense of calm that Apple engenders; things ‘just work.’
Since Apple came late to the wearable party, they had to rely on their aesthetic brand and corporate flair to distinguish themselves, and all that extra attention shows. They’ve innovated or refined new ways of using the device, thinking ahead and solving the kinds of usability problems that Samsung or Google work through by releasing many variations straight to market.
This is where Apple stands out – their design is meant to be pleasing, to integrate into your life. The other companies focus their design around what a certain kind of tech does or around solving a particular problem, and so the final product is a result of those designers solving that problem, instead of thinking about the life the user leads around and outside that device.
It’s been argued that Apple doesn’t truly innovate, they integrate and improve the technology around them in ways that become a standard. (Many have said the creative process is exactly this.) Examples are iPod click wheel, and the iPhone touch and multi-touch screens. The ‘crown’ on the iWatch is in that same mode, and its name hearkens back to a lineage of mechanical watches, evoking both a long history and an image of precision. The crown’s usage evokes the same simplicity of the iPod’s click wheel, while also solving the problem of interacting with such a small device.
The one thing that truly seems innovative or new, is the touch-sharing technology. The ability to send taps, drawing, and even your heartbeat to another Watch user feels like a platform that is just waiting for someone to utilize in a way we’ve never seen.
There are still going to be a few challenges… since Apple creates its own ecosystem (iWatch developers are quickly emerging), invariably Watch users will encounter problems interacting *outside* of that ecosystem. When they’ve created a device this personal, their users may chafe if they feel they are being limited not by technology, but by corporate interests.
The other issue is that normal watches can often last for many years, yet the lifespan of a digital device is often three or four years at maximum. It’s one thing to upgrade your phones and computers, but will users be as interested in swapping for a new watch every few years?
That said, considering how tightly designed the Apple Watch is, it’s safe to guess that Apple has some answers to those questions with some surprises in store when it hits stores soon.
Disclosure: This post was co-written with Jason Mehmel. Ideas contained were discussed collaboratively; and Brian F. Singh had the final review/edit.