I don’t claim to be any kind of Apple pundit, but I have some hunches about what their watch will be like if and when they release one.

The two factors I see as being vital are price and simplicity.

Price

The Galaxy Gear starts at $299, which is a lot more, I think, than the average person (i.e., non-Android zealots) are willing to spend on a watch that they have to charge every night. A successful watch, one that gets into the hands of millions of people, will have to be closer to the “Apple impulse buy” price of the iPods Nano — at most $249, but I think they could do it for $199. (The Pebble E Ink watch is $150.) To reach that price point, an Apple watch will lack, for instance, a camera and a speaker, which are included in the Galaxy Gear.

Photos taken by the Gear aren’t exactly impressive, and, in addition to cost, a watch camera adds bulk to a device that needs to be really, really svelte. I also imagine Apple may want to keep the band — where the Gear has stashed its camera lens — swappable for third-party vendors. A camera may come in some future iteration of Apple’s watch, if they could approach parity with the quality of the iPhone camera — iPhone users are too accustomed to taking great photos to tolerate anything like what’s on the Gear — but it won’t be there to start.

The speaker is also disposable, as most people will be listening to music or watching videos on their iPhone or iPod Touch, either with its superior speaker or with headphones. A headphone jack wouldn’t quite make sense, either, tethering the user’s hand to their face. On the other hand, a speaker may come in handy for alerts that otherwise wouldn’t be audible from a phone in a pocket, even if the speaker is never used to play music or video. Here there are more difficult trade-offs, but I don’t think the lack of a speaker would in any way doom an Apple watch.

Galaxy Gear’s $299 pricetag creates a roomy umbrella under which Apple can easily outprice them.

Simplicity

Aside from hardware, a first-generation Apple watch will lack a lot of software features that the Gear and other smartwatches boast; to some this will be more fodder with which to accuse Apple of failing to innovate, but to others it will be an example of Apple’s rare ability to say “no” to complexity.

I don’t know what app this Euro-bro is using to research wines in this uncomfortable and appropriately viral Galaxy Gear commercial, but browsing on a 1.6-inch screen is something no sane person wants to do, particularly when there’s a 4-inch phone literally a foot away. Similarly, I don’t see a place for Twitter, Facebook, photo browsing, or, God help us, Angry Birds. These are apps that we interact with deeply, for relatively long durations, and with a need for generous screen space, and the fact that we could put them on a watch doesn’t mean that we should. At first, at least, there will be no App Store for Apple’s watch.

Instead, the role that an Apple watch will fill is that of replacing all the micro-interactions we have with our phones; the things for which we take them out of our pockets for less than fifteen seconds: seeing who’s calling us; seeing if we have any new calls; checking the time; checking the weather; skipping a track on iTunes or Spotify. I wouldn’t be surprised if third-party apps weren’t allowed to send notifications to Apple’s watch, since battery life will be precious and the watch will be more in-our-face than our phones, making unwanted buzzings and beepings even more of a nuisance.

Essentially, Apple’s watch will be Notification Center plus Control Center. No FaceTime, no phone calls, no iTunes, no user-accessible internal storage.

 

One of the major things on which I don’t want to speculate is the presence or absence of Siri. For Siri to work on an Apple watch, it would need a microphone and a speaker, adding some bulk and increasing the price. But Apple is clearly proud of Siri, and it’s exactly the type of interaction for which a watch is perfectly suited: quick and without the need for any tapping, scrolling, or pinching.

Another wildcard for me is the M7 motion processor Apple introduced with the iPhone 5S. This would make perfect sense in a watch, functionally speaking, especially for types who have a use for things like the Jawbone UP. But it’s not clear to me how much the M7 affects battery life; of course it reduces the battery usage of apps that previously relied on the primary CPU for collecting this data, but if you’ve no use for that data in the first place, collecting it at all will (won’t it?) reduce the life of an already very limited battery.

 

The other possibility to all this, of course, is that Apple will “reinvent the watch” with something we’re not imagining (after all, we were pretty bad when it came to the iPhone), sell it at a price above existing smartwatches, and hope to dominate the market enough that they can bring the price down in future iterations. I don’t see this as being likely, however; the size and interface limitations make the possibilities pretty tame. What can you really do with a watch?

For an Apple watch to succeed, it doesn’t need to “wow” us with futuristic interactions the way the Galaxy Gear seems to be trying to do, or the way the iPhone did in 2007. It just needs to be a helpful companion to the iPhone, with a feature set that doesn’t overwhelm, a superior battery life to its competitors, and a price that will bring people into the stores (or catch their eye on the way out). Unfortunately, I think people are expecting different.

dead wrong

Jay · 17 Mar 2015

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