What is the Apple Watch? On Complications, Complicated Marketing, and Creating a Better Watch.
It's a beautiful device, the Apple Watch. Or just Watch as Apple refers to it, helping technology redefine what yet another everyday word means.
It's yet another gadget you'll want to own as soon as you touch it. Even the cheaper aluminum body and fluoroelastomer band are lovely, finely crafted futuristic-feeling products. And, once again in a decade, it's a brand new device category that has developers crowding to make the next big app for it.
It'll change the world! One can only imagine what developers will do with it!
That's the problem, though. Everyone can't quite decide what they want it to be. Is it a watch, or a tiny computer, or something totally new?
The iPod made sense. It was a better music player, and that's it. You could play any song in 3 clicks, and carry a thousand songs in your pocket. Expensive, unnecessary—people called it all those things, too. But it fit a particular need, and even the naysayers ended up buying it.
The iPhone made sense. Jobs called it 3 devices in one—a phone, a toucscreen iPod, and an internet communicator—and it was great at those three things at first. Apps came later—that first version was best when you were showing off visual voicemail or the iPod app's Cover Flow scrolling or Safari's web rendering. It was better at all those things—so much better it changed the entire industry.
So what is the Apple Watch? Check Apple.com/watch today, and it's two things: a modern timepiece, and a tiny screen filled with the apps and infinite possibilities.
Those possibilities are tantalizing, and no wonder the App Store update queue has been clogged of late with Apple Watch updates for every app imaginable. Let no app be left behind. Surely you'll want your news and social networks and photos and games and reading and so much more on your tiny wrist window into the world.
And yet, it's the former idea—that of a modern timepiece—that I find most fascinating. Just trying the Apple Watch on reminded me I liked watches, liked the ability to tell time at a glance So imagine what a better watch could be, a watch+ if you will. The best mechanical watches can tell you the time, date, moon phase, and perhaps the time in another land; the best digital watches might even include a calculator. And a smart watch? The possibilities are endless—and they could still be something instantly recognizable as a watch, by updating those "extras" in traditional watches.
Those extras beyond telling time, or complications as Apple has taught those of us who weren't already watch geeks, are to me the most tantalizing possibility of making a truly better watch, not just another smart gadget that runs the same old apps.
There are 10 complications today, with tiny extras that you can add to watchfaces (up to 5 at a time in the Modular face, 4 in most of the others, and none in some of the fancier faces like Motion). You can add your calendar, stocks, weather, and activity, say, and whenever you look at your watch face, you'll see that info at a glance.
Think about all the times you pull out your phone today, just to check the time—or perhaps the weather, or your next calendar appointment. Add the complications to your watch face, and you can in a couple seconds get all of that info at a glance. No information overload, nothing to suck you in for an accidental half-hour of browsing—it's quick info, then you go on with whatever you're doing.
Today, Apple Watch Complications are solely Apple's game, just as the iPhone's notification center widgets originally were and the Command Center still are today. There's enough to give you a taste of a smarter watch face, a device that gives you info automatically without jumping into a half-dozen apps.
For everything else on the Watch, you'll need to swipe up to see "glances", or full-screen widgets with bits of info from your apps. Or you'll need to tap the crown to see your apps, with that tantalizing full-screen potential.
I get it, why Apple opened the ability to add full-screen apps right from the start. The press would have gone crazy if there weren't full apps.
But imagine if the watch face and complications where all there were. Imagine if complications were opened to 3rd party developers, so you could have your next OmniFocus task or most recent Slack message show up in a watch face. Better yet, imagine a smart notifications system that, instead of showing the most recent notification, would figure out which are your most important notifications and would show them right at the bottom of the watch. You'd glance, see the most important info, and be able to trust there's nothing else you've got to know right now.
You'd use it a lot less time each day, but each glance would be far more valuable.
Then you could define what Apple Watch is. It's a better watch. It tells time, and the other bits of info that are so necessary for modern life. You still could say that today, with the current Apple Watch, but that's not the full story, and without the focus there's no focused story to tell.
Maybe Apple Watch 2 could have full apps, then, if Apple had gone that route. Maybe they'd keep the two on the market together—here's one that just has at-a-glance info, and one that has apps.
Maybe that focus could keep the original Watch from ever slowing down—after all, a watch that's slow is useless, and every Apple Watch owner today has got to be silently hoping their Watch won't get slower over time as every other gadget inevitably does with new updates and features and apps.
Of all the "real" apps I tried in my Apple Watch demo, Maps stood out as the most uniquely useful—as one I'd actually use if I had an Apple Watch. And it, too, is based on quick glances. You start directions, then drop your wrist. It'll pulse when you need to turn, so you'll lift up your wrist, see the next step on the map, and keep going. In, out. Quick info, and you're good.
Maybe one day 3rd party apps can be that good. But for today, for the sake of battery life and our own attention spans and being a device that does something truly unique, I wish there was a bit more you could do with the watch faces and complications. Just a few more options and app integrations and smarts, so you could use the watch face and nothing else, and feel like your device was truly a valuable addition to your life.
Because if it's just another place for the same apps we're already using, we already have a Mac and iPhone and iPad to run them on. It's hard to want another device just for that.
But a better timepiece?
Thoughts? @reply me on Twitter.