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The Apple Watch conundrum revisited

Michael deAgonia | Feb. 9, 2015
The soon-to-be-released device faces a modern audience for whom watches have become increasingly irrelevant.

The Apple Watch has a display capable of sensing touches and swipes, but the display will also recognize the force with which the screen is pressed, which will execute contextually appropriate actions. The additional input method helps keep the interface free of clutter; given the limited space on the Watch's display, it's a smart decision.

Apple execs were quick to point out that the touch-based methods used for the iPad and iPhone wouldn't be enough for a smart watch; gestures like pinch-to-zoom are problematic because fingers block the small display. To circumvent this, Apple engineers devised what they call the Digital Crown. It's used to zoom in and out of apps and to scroll through customization options without blocking the watch face display. And pressing the Digital Crown brings up the Watch's Home screen -- it's just like pressing the Home button on an iPhone or iPad - while pushing and holding the Crown activates Siri.

With that combination of software and hardware, Apple engineers have delivered a level of interaction that's unique to the Watch, and they did so by taking a traditional watch feature and reimagining its use in a way that seems obvious only in retrospect.

Fashionable and functional
As fashionable as the Watch design may be, and as clever as the Digital Crown is, what's to prevent it from becoming another gadget that collects dust in a drawer? What real-world problems have Apple engineers cracked?

To be successful, keeping time needs to be the least interesting of the Apple Watch features. Two years ago, Bajarin explained where an Apple Watch would fit in: It would be an accessory to the iPhone, body/activity sensors would play a key role in its feature list and notifications-at-a-glance would be important.

He was exactly right. The Apple Watch requires an iPhone to work and is being positioned as an iPhone accessory. For at least the first generation, Watch apps will be an extension of the apps stored on the iPhone, and the Watch will use the iPhone's GPS to measure distance and speed to track daily activities. As it tracks activity, footsteps and the user's heart rate, it will be on the iPhone that the data is consolidated and tracked.

Bajarin was also correct about notifications and at-a-glance data. At the time, I undervalued the usefulness of receiving notifications on a wrist device, but my time with the Microsoft Band has shown me that this truly will be a key feature. Being able to glance at alerts cut down on the time I spent on my phone in social or work situations. With notifications on my wrist, the curiosity factor is instantly satisfied -- I already know who it is, and what they most likely want -- which is enough information to decide whether or not I need to drop what I'm doing to answer.


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