iWatch is a Proxy for Wearable Computing

I don’t know anything about Apple’s plans regarding iWatch. From my perspective the interesting questions aren’t around what Apple will do, and when they will do it, but rather around the opportunity for products in a new computing modality that is more available and more personal than the phone.

That there is an opportunity is quite obvious because computing is such a long way from being available in all situations. Consider…

Carry Options

Before smartphones (in the mainstream this means “before iPhone”) you needed a bag in order to take your computing with you. Now that we have smartphones, we only need a pocket.

But what about situations where we don’t have a suitable pocket or bag? On the beach in a speedo or clubbing in a little black dress.

How much functionality would you forgo if you could have a device that took computing from 95% of your daily situations to 99% of those situations?


If you destroy your iPhone and you aren’t paying for insurance, then it will cost you hundreds of dollars for a pre-owned replacement. That’s a lot of money to the overwhelming majority of people, who will think twice before taking their indispensable device boating, cycling or bar hopping. Or taking it somewhere where it might be stolen.

Many people won’t think about this much until they destroy their first phone, and then after that they will think about it every time they use it on an escalator.

How much functionality would you forgo for a device that was disposable, in the sense that if it was lost or destroyed it would be no more inconvenient or costly than losing a disposable camera?


Have you ever found yourself using your iPhone when your iPad is less than 10 feet away? Or using your iPad when your MacBook Pro is in the next room?

Yes, we’re much lazier than we might have imagined. But the more generous, and probably more accurate explanation is that the value of immediate access to computing without interruption outweighs the need to see something in higher fidelity on a larger screen.

When there is a computing modality more ubiquitous and more immediately accessible that the phone, the iPhone will find itself on the other side of the trade off.

For many people telling time is NOT sufficient value to outweigh the inconvenience of reaching for your phone, as evidenced by the trend to lose the watch and use one’s phone to tell time. But this is not evidence that the watch form factor is a loser, it is evidence that time alone isn’t enough functionality to justify wearing one based on utility alone.

The hard, but necessary thing to do when thinking about iWatch is to forget about watches as we know them. For example, forget about telling time. Whatever this new thing is, it will give us the time. But that will represent a negligible fraction of the overall value that the device offers. Similar to the way the voice calling phone app only represents a small fraction of what the iPhone offers, but much more extreme than that.

Also, don’t assume that an iWatch is necessarily a wristwatch. That might be the best form factor, but it might not be.

Rather think about it in terms of taking the value of connected computing — all the value one can get from using apps and websites while connected to the Internet — and making that value available in the life situations where it currently isn’t available, and more conveniently available in the ones where it is.

How can iWatch be more wearable, more disposable, and more accessible than a smartphone? What smartphone functionality will we forgo for this increased availability?

Then, given a modality that is more personal and more ubiquitous than even the smartphone, what new opportunities will this open up? The early smartphones took traditional computing functionality and jammed it on the phone, but the greatest smartphone innovations are all about the new opportunities of immediacy and location that were created when the computer became something that was with you most of the time.

What new opportunities will emerge when the computer is with you ALL of the time, and is perhaps even physically connected to your body?

From this perspective Google Glass should be seen as one of Google’s forays into the space that an iWatch will enter. It is probably too delicate, too expensive and a little too creepy to be the mainstream success story in this space, but it is an interesting experiment nonetheless.

Microsoft’s SPOT Watch (later Smart Watch) was also interesting. At least a decade too early and a marketing impossibility, but the SPOT UI was excellent and the watches weren’t bad either. I was a watch snob back then and I was happy to wear a Suunto smart watch.

Recently we started to see watch-type devices that pair with smartphones. These are interesting, but the configuration complexity of needing two devices to get one thing done isn’t great. And of course, if you need your phone too then you’re not really getting any carry or disposability benefits.

The point of all this is twofold…

First, predicting that Apple will at some point do an “iWatch” of some sort is equivalent to predicting that they will still be in business when these new modalities roll around. Those making the predictions will be wrong until they are right. Just like iPhone.

Second, don’t think of this new thing as a watch. They might call it a watch, because “watch” is a word we know, one that conveys a lot of information (small, technology, personal), and one that doesn’t scare us with newness. Put differently, use of the word “watch” would be a marketing decision. Arguably a very smart one.

But this new thing represents something much more profound. It is a continuation of the trend to connect us more deeply to technology, and to each other via technology, with all the opportunity, wonder and potential for abuse that goes along with that.