Due to Apple’s event last week, there is currently much discussion about the viability of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is the first new product category from Apple since the iPad, and the first since Tim Cook became CEO of Apple. Reaction to it is mixed, torn between those who have faith in a company who has successfully convinced us in the past that we really do need a product, such as the iPad, and those who see the Apple Watch with its complicated looking home screen and multiple buttons as very “un-Apple.”
The problem is, I think, that Apple has not clearly communicated why the Apple Watch exists and why one needs to own one. When it launched the iPhone, Apple told us it was the best music player that could also make phone calls, browse the web, and handle email; later thanks to the App Store, the iPhone became the device for doing whatever one needs (there is an app for that). Apple told us the iPad is really the only personal computer many of us need, marking the beginning of the “post-PC” era.
After watching the launch of the Apple Watch, do you know why you need one?
The problem is not Apple’s alone, before Tim Cook took the stage last week Google had already announced Android Wear and its first consumer incarnation in smartwatches. I can’t help put feel that smartwatches are a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. I don’t doubt that seeing notifications on my wrist may be convenient, but do I need it? In contrast, a smartphone is pretty much a necessity today. Why? Because for most the smartphone is their primary personal computer.
A smartwatch is always going to be an accessory, and I think the thrashing about that we are seeing is an attempt to make the product category something that it is not. Because it is an accessory does not make the smartwatch a bad thing, accessories are an important part of a lot of different markets. Think of the “regular” watches people own today, they are pieces of jewelry, some more pretty than functional, and jewelry by definition is an accessory. Indeed some people spend thousands of dollars on accessories.
The smartwatch is not a personal computer on your wrist, right now it is an input/output device for smartphones. Input/output devices like monitors, keyboards, and mice are called accessories. What I see is Apple and Google attempting to make the smartwatch much more than it is, most likely to justify their high price.
Should the smartwatch be a personal computer on your wrist? I do not think so, mostly because I don’t think it is feasible to make a personal computer in a form factor that looks good and is comfortable on a wrist. I do think, however, that one reason why I might want a smartwatch is to accessorize my personal computing.
Regular watches as jewelry are accessories for people, smartwatches need to be accessories in the same way and to become that they need to integrate with more than just smartphones, they need to integrate with the world around me. For example, it is widely accepted that userids and passwords are not secure, and with the seemingly endless stream of announcements of data theft, it is clear we need a more secure model of authentication. What if the smartwatch, while securely attached to my body, could be used as a factor in two-factor authentication? Here, I am thinking of something like how the Apple Watch will work with Apple Pay, but used in all instances of authentication and not just for payments.
In my opinion, the smaller the device the more specific its function, and the problem I see with both Android Wear and Apple Watch is that they both are trying to do too much. Right now, I think Android Wear is better on track with its focus on notifications, but both platforms attempt to incorporate applications that make it more of a general computing device, and as I said, a smartwatch is an accessory, not a personal computer.