Perspectives on Wearables

25 April 2015

For a few reasons, I'm considering whether or not I should be buying an Apple Watch.1

For many people I know, it's another useless gadget.

That's fine: most people are sceptical about new technologies, after all. It's in our nature: human doesn't like change (and new things) until it reaches a certain threshold and becomes acceptable. And to be fair, it might just be a fad.

The iPhone (and other touch-based smartphones) were also considered as useless gadgets in their beginnings too — almost everybody has a smartphone now, right?2

But like the iPhone, there's a chance the Apple Watch will succeed and become a thing (that's a big if, but I'm still more inclined to believe it will than not).

For the moment, I don't think there're many usages that make a watch (or other wearable devices) truly better than a phone. Hopefully, we are only at the beginning. To understand what we can do as developers, we have to use those objects daily.

That's not to say they are completely useless as of today.

The usages that intrigue me the most are:3

But not notifications.

I'm a huge proponent of disabling almost all notifications.

I restrict the apps that can send notifications to the bare minimum (SMS, calendar, reminders and that's most of it) because I think that notifications are a nuisance.

You don't need to know when someone followed you on Instagram or Twitter. You don't need to be interrupted when you receive a mail. That's also why I'm even more aggresive against sound for notifications (I do receive my mail every hour, but silently). I'd rather grab my phone and act willingly on something than being always distracted.

People who are flooded by notifications (like tech reviewers) and criticize a device because of that ARE the issue, not the device. A wearable will only make their problem worse, because they will also allow access to those nuisance to a device that is physically connected to their body. And which can tap them anytime.

What is really making sense is to have quick pertinent contextual information available at a glance.

Like, when your train is ready to leave — which platform, what seat? That's useful: you are in a urge, you walk quickly and taking your phone out of your pocket takes time and precision.

Having your itinerary directions given to you by a few vibrations? That's great too.

Having a full-fledged Twitter app on your wrist? Useless. Getting your Facebook likes instantly? Useless.4

I'm interested in wearables (when they are not socially awkward) because of what they might become. What they are today is just a glimpse of the potential of such devices.

Imagine the application in the health field: with sensors on your body, it could be really easy to know and track diseases. To go there, we need to start small. For the moment, that means a watch with an heartbeat sensor and 18 hours of battery life.

  1. I probably won't, for the moment. Priorities.

  2. Benedict Evans in “New Questions In Mobile”:

    Across all of this, and far more important, we are now well on our way to having some 3.5bn to 4bn people on earth with a smartphone. […] For the first time ever, the tech industry is selling not just to big corporations or middle-class families but to four fifths of all the adults on earth - it is selling to people who don’t have mains electricity or running water and substitute spending on cigarettes for mobile.

  3. The watch feature is probably the less important feature of a smartwatch. It's handy like it is on a phone. But like the phone feature of a smartphone, it's not the decisive capability.

    Go on people, make jokes about a watch that is only able to tell the time for a day before running out of battery. ;)

  4. But that's also true for the web or an app, to be honest.