September 9, 2014 – a day in history for Apple and the entire technology industry. Apple unveils the Apple Watch alongside the newest iPhones. 2010 saw the first iPad release which set the standard for the tablet market. 2007 it was the iPhone which again transformed an entire industry. And perhaps the biggest, 2001, the release of the iPod changed the music industry on a massive scale. Like it or not, Apple is a catalyst for change in the world of technology.
Looking back to 2010 the cries against the iPad were plentiful. I even said that technologically savvy people would find no use in an iPad since it was an oversized smartphone. I was wrong. Many people though refused to embrace what tablets are capable of simply because it was Apple releasing the product at the time. The iPad has allowed for computing in areas where laptops are too cumbersome. The iPad has allowed young children and those with physical disabilities access to a computing device. The iPad has forced developers to rethink what a user interface should optimally do by designing for a limited canvas. Finally, the iPad provides a nice bridge for those who are wary of technology to get onto the internet and experience technology for the first time.
In 2007 the iPhone was released and there were doubts that it would be selling a year later. The first version of the phone was not available with contract subsidy which meant that early adopters would have to pay the $699 up front for the phone. The first iPhone was competitive selling more than the other smartphones of the day. At the time smartphones were reserved for businessmen and normal consumers had no idea why they would need such a device. A year later the iPhone 3G hit it out of the part becoming the best selling phone in 2008. The iPhone’s dominance was solidified with the release of the App Store creating an ecosystem that developers love to program on.
The iPod was a relatively obscure MP3 player when it released in 2001 because it was initially only usable on Mac computers and had an obscure Firewire interface. The iPod itself wasn’t amazing in terms of hardware, it was the music that sold the iPod. Combined with the release of the iTunes Store, an iPod that worked on Windows and an increasingly large number of music labels putting content on iTunes ensured that the music industry would be changed forever.
Upon release of the iPad, iPhone, and iPod there were very few people that anticipated the seismic shifts these devices would cause in their respective markets. The belief at Apple is not to simply ship a product first to be first or because their competitors or doing it but to do it because it makes sense to the core beliefs of the company. This was exemplified in the opening minutes of the presentation last week. It’s why I reside on the various Apple platforms and believe the Apple Watch will be a success.
The Apple Watch is a fashion accessory and Apple has done an excellent job of ensuring there’s a variety of styles available for all tastes. As we have come to expect from Apple the materials used in construction are top tier. Where the Apple Watch offers a nod back to traditional watches is the “Digital Crown.” The Digital Crown is one of the main ways to interact with the watch in addition to the touch screen. While we have become accustomed to touch screens the addition of a physical crown is valuable for so many reasons.
First and foremost the Digital Crown creates a link between the watches from the 20th century and this 21st century technological watch. This is important to allow users to have a connection with something that they know. One of the core principles in a successful user interface is creating a sense of familiarity with the user. This will also lower the barrier of entry to a piece of advanced technology for a user who may not be comfortable with technology.
The Digital Crown also signifies what is special about the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is Apple’s first experiment with haptic technology. Haptic technology is simply technology that provides physical feedback to the user in a smart way. Haptics are incredibly interesting to me as in the future they have the promise of offering the visually impaired new ways of accessing technology, but more on this in another article. The Apple Watch can currently transmit pulses that feel like a tap on your wrist for a variety of purposes. These include but are not limited to receiving notifications of a text or email, receiving a friend’s heartbeat, or just receiving a friendly tap on the wrist to get your attention. Is this limited now? Yes, but it shows much promise for the future. The Digital Crown says to the user, you can access this device in a physical way.
The Digital Crown also offers to developers what the iPhone and iPad offered to developers, a new way of designing applications. The watch is by far the smallest interface that has been created thus far, applications need to be meaningful to occupy such a space. It’s sufficiently clear that you will not be playing a full version of Angry Birds on your Apple Watch or editing a movie. This means developers of early launch applications such as Facebook or Twitter will need to come up with new user interface conventions for the Apple Watch. Developers crave for this, the chance to create something new from the ground up. It’s because of Apple’s dedication to both hardware and software that developers on the Apple platforms are willing to put in extra time to ensure their applications work flawlessly.
We have already seen wearable devices such as Android Wear but Apple will clearly have the lead once the Apple Watch ships. Apple’s hardware is familiar, it actually resembles a physical watch with the addition of the Digital Crown and is pleasing to the eye. Apple leads the race on the haptic technology front since Android Wear simply uses vibrations as a means of notification, the Apple Watch uses them as a form of intelligent communication. And finally, the Digital Crown will enable developers to create applications of the quality that we have come to expect on both iOS and OS X that are unparalleled on other platforms.
Trailing off from what we already know about both the iOS App Store and Mac App Store it’s fair to say we’ll see an amazing uptake of the platform. What is often underestimated about Apple devices in general is how tightly the ecosystem integrates the devices. Right now we are at a stage where data created between devices can be synced almost instantly. Later this year once iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite release this integration will be [taken one step further]. With the unveiling of the Apple Watch, Apple is very close to being able to present a unified computing experience from desktop, to couch, to on the go, and finally to quick on the glance computing. The ecosystem is often overlooked or looked down upon by those without an Apple device. This is because there is a fear of lock in and not being able to do exactly what is wanted or they simply don’t know how well the ecosystem behaves. The ecosystem works beautifully almost all the time for almost all users. Since iCloud was released I have only had two major outages where I was unable to get the services to work properly. The ecosystem is great and will only be strengthened by the release of the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch is also going to be an accessible device, the first accessible smart watch. Much like when the iPad was released many were surprised that it did not use OS X. This decision was one of the clearest ones that Apple has ever made. We saw what happened when Microsoft released the first version of Windows 8 for desktops, it didn’t work out quite as well as hoped for many users. This is because Windows 8 was designed for a hybrid laptop/tablet piece of hardware (the Surface). This is precisely why the interface on the Apple Watch is nothing like we’ve seen before. As stated it can be interacted through the digital crown or by panning around the clusters of applications on the screen. There’s also no digital keyboard. Responding to text messages is done by either predictive text (which is pretty accurate on iOS 8) or voice dictation. The watch is not trying to be a smartphone on your wrist, it’s supplementing what the smartphone gives you, hence why an iPhone is a requirement.
Finally I think it’s clear that it takes a big industry shake up in order to inspire innovation in technology. Whether we would be where we are today without the influence of Apple is debatable. But let’s be clear, the iPod, the iPhone, and iPad have all influenced their markets in profound ways. Apple’s Watch will do the same and is waiting to be seized upon by developers and technology futurists worldwide. Going back to the video that I showed earlier, the idea that the world can be improved ever so slightly by a technological leap is what has me accepting the Apple Watch as a relevant device going into 2015. The advancement of computing technology from the 1980s through the 1990s and 2000s until now has been shaped by radical changes. Every major evolution has been the result of radical change whether it be the first graphical web browser or Firefox speeding up the web after Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome taking applications to a new highly interactive web.
I’m fairly certain that the Apple watch will be one of these devices to create a seismic shift in computing. This shift will benefit everyone on all platforms and maybe, just maybe spur a new generation of applications. This is all going to be possible simply because Apple sees things differently and wants to have a positive influence on both the world of technology and the world as a whole. We live in exciting times, who knows what kind of applications we’ll be interacting with this time next year…