Understanding the Promise of the AppleWatch

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Somewhat ironically before I bought a Microsoft Band I didn’t really understand the promise of the AppleWatch. Now that I’ve worn the Band for a week I can’t wait to get my hands on an AppleWatch.

At the introduction of the iPhone, Steve Jobs famously said (and history has confirmed) that the iPhone was five years ahead of the competition. With their entry into the wearable market Apple doesn’t appear to have the same head-start. The various entrants seem from the outside to be building from a similar cupboard of technologies. Instead of winning on features, Apple is instead leveraging the platform their iPhone lead has built.

Over the last few years there have been two very distinct families of wearable products.

On the one hand there are persistent sensors. Devices like the traditional FitBits and Jawbone UP fall into this category. These are devices you wear on your body and collect data about you all day. To extend their battery life they have generally featured very little in the way of connectivity and display. Their primary purpose is data collection.

On the other hand there are communicators. Devices like the Pebble and Google Wear would fall into this category. These are devices you wear on your wrist that piggy back on your iPhone to provide ready access to notifications, alerts and bite-sized information. To maximize their battery life they typically had very bursty use models, with long periods of idle with short periods of interaction.

It would seem that the base technologies that enable these devices have recently matured to a point that you can finally get a convergence device. Something that combines both persistent sensors with communication and interactivity.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this last few months have seen an onslaught of devices of this type (FitBit Surge, Microsoft Band, AppleWatch to name a few). It seems we have recently crossed into technological territory where you can make a device capable of both long term measurement while still also interactive and connected.

It is in that context that I am now thinking about the AppleWatch. I bought a Microsoft Band because it is the closest device I could find to an AppleWatch that is currently for sale. Wearing it for a week has been incredibly enlightening. I must confess that when I saw the AppleWatch promos I was intrigued on a geeky level but wasn’t sure how useful I would actually find it. Having now used a device with similar goals I am now pretty confident I’ll love it.

The Microsoft Band does an admirable job at what it tries to do. The data collection it does seems on par with other fitness trackers I’ve used. The physical design is utilitarian but acceptable. Its integration with my iPhone is basic but still useful. But it is a fundamentally restrained device. It sits right at the cusp of being truly transformative for my daily activities.

Only a device that is deeply integrated with the operating system it connects with will be able to radically change my use patterns. I love seeing a text message from my wife on my wrist, but if I can’t reply to it that is only half useful. I love being alerted that a new episode of my favorite podcast is available but wish I could tell my iPhone to start playing to it. These types of actions are likely only possible when the two devices were designed and built with the other in mind.

Right now the Microsoft Band is simply pointing me back to my iPhone again and again. An AppleWatch will be capable of keeping my iPhone in my pocket.

I’m more excited to start developing apps for the AppleWatch than I have been for any platform that I can think of since the original iPhone SDK back six years ago. I really hope Apple allows 3rd Party developers to really take advantage of what a tightly integrated, wearable device could allow. So let’s get started.

David Smith