When Tim Cook and colleagues introduced the Apple Watch this September I was pretty lukewarm about the device. As a runner, the lack of GPS seemed like a huge omission. And because most features of the Apple Watch only work while tethered to a nearby iPhone it can't do a lot on its own.
Do we really need to spend $349 on a device that is essentially another iPhone display to shave milliseconds from the process of pulling our phones out of our pockets, bags or purses to glance at incoming messages?
The truth is, we may not need a second screen for our phones in the way we really do need smartphones today to stay connected, but it could turn out that the wrist is a better place than a phone to conduct certain bits of mobile computing.
As I went about my day over the last couple of weeks I imagined scenarios in which it would be nice to just glance at my wrist or hold my wrist up to an NFC terminal. The savings in time or added conveinence are minuscule per instance, but over the course of the day, could add up to a compelling experience. These moments include:
- glancing at incoming messages
- making payments at a cash register
- entering the subway
- controlling music playback
- boarding a plane or Amtrak
- scanning a ticket for a movie, concert or live performance
- walking directions with haptic feedback to indicate when to make a right or left turn
- unlocking a car door, home door, ZipCar or Car2Go
Some of these features won’t be fully realized right out of the gate - just as it took a few iterations of improving hardware and app development to make the utilty of carrying a smart phone apparent to more than those of us self proclaimed gadget nerds.
It also remains unclear how many of the above interactions will initially take advantage of NFC - which is the real game changing technology that will make these experiences truly effortless. It’s already possible to hold our phones up to scanning devices to board planes and Amtrak, enter movies and make certain in-store payments.
But these scans are fairly primitive. If Amtrak or United release Apple Watch apps that merely produce images for scanning at their existing terminals there may not be a material time savings.
It’s going to take the widespread adoption of NFC for the Apple Watch to really show its full potential. But glancing at our wrists, rather than pulling phones from our pockets or bags, does seem like an improvement. And, in many instances, may be less distracting or even more polite, than how we currently interact with our phones.
I know not everyone is convinced just yet but, despite some of my initial misgivings, I am looking forward to Apple Watch.