Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Needs Must

Number of instances of selected words and phrases from a 1,560-word article by the Verge’s David Pierce, entitled “7 Things the iWatch Needs to Do if Apple Wants to Win”:

  • need: 29, excluding title
  • should: 12
  • has to: 2
  • have to: 2
  • going to: 10
  • could: 2
  • think: 3, two instances of which are from a quote
  • believe: 0

But you know what? Perhaps there’s some substance to this. Let’s take a look at the seven things the iWatch “needs to do” if Apple would like to “win”. Whatever the hell that means.

It has to be a watch. First, tell the time. That’s the ballgame. It’s why the Pebble Steel, despite its remarkable lack of functionality, is the best smartwatch currently on the market.

Even the Nike FuelBand — Pierce quotes Tim Cook’s praise of it at the top of the article — tells the time. But the iPod Shuffle has been super successful without a screen. I think it’s more likely than not that the hypothetical Apple wearable will sport a display and will tell the time, but who knows?

My iWatch should be MY iWatch. As time goes on, Android Wear’s inability to let developers build custom watch faces frustrates me more and more. Apple should take note: any watch made mostly from a screen ought to be infinitely customizable. If I can’t choose my own watch face or download one from the App Store, Apple blew it.

Actually, I’m a little stumped on this one. After all, it was acceptable to launch the iPhone without a native SDK because it was an entirely new platform.1 A wearable product would be something new, but it might not be an entirely new platform (that is, it could conceivably run an iOS variant).

But if you were only able to use, say, a selection of ten watch faces that came with the device and there were no additional faces available for download, would that be blowing it? How many sales would Apple forego if that were the case?

Personalization is about more than just software, too. Apple needs to conform to standards: include swappable watch bands or get out.

Yeah, Apple’s known for ensuring that they stick purely to existing standards. They’ve never had any success with introducing their own standards.

It has to be part of a bigger connected picture. Apple’s always been uniquely good at building devices that work well on their own and better together, and the iWatch needs to be the best example yet.

No, Apple’s not going to make an iWatch that plays nicely with your Android phone or your Windows PC. That’s fine. What it needs to do is build a device that is powerful and useful in its own right, and becomes even more so when it’s paired with other Apple devices.

This, I agree with. It makes complete sense. Remember Apple’s early-2000s “digital hub” strategy? As much as the proverbial cloud is the replacement for that, the iPhone is the new local hardware hub. It’s your instant messenger, your news reader, your iPod, your casual gaming machine, your satellite navigation unit, your camera, and your phone. And it’s always on you.

At the same time, I’d think that an Apple wearable could stand on its own. Joggers would appreciate not needing to take both their iPhone and wearable with them.

I should be able to use Evernote for taking notes, Lyft for calling cars, Spotify for music, Google for maps, and anything else I choose. A watch is personal; it’s not good enough if it doesn’t work the way I do.

Good luck with that, Pierce.

It needs a killer app — and a lot of other ones.

[…]

But at first, the iWatch also needs a single primary raison d’être, a reason for being in the first place. […] The iWatch needs a single revolutionary story Apple can tell about what it is, why the world needs smartwatches — and why they need this one.

Agreed. That’s what Apple’s really good at, which is what Pierce appears to be hinting at:

No other manufacturer has figured out how to sell their smartwatches, how to convince users they need one. Apple needs to get it right.

But this is entirely backwards. The meeting for any product like this wouldn’t start with Schiller standing up and saying “Hey, guys, let’s build a watch!” but rather a problem. For example, that could be a question of whether fitness tracking devices are as good as they should or could be. Only after the product goals are established does it take shape.

Take the development of the iPad, too. Steve Jobs:

It began with the tablet. I had this idea about having a glass display, a multitouch display you could type on with your fingers. I asked our people about it. And six months later, they came back with this amazing display. And I gave it to one of our really brilliant UI guys. He got scrolling working and some other things, and I thought, ‘my God, we can build a phone with this!’ So we put the tablet aside, and we went to work on the iPhone.

This is an idea that can be traced back to a speech Jobs gave in 1983:

Apple’s strategy is really simple. What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes. That’s what we want to do and we want to do it this decade. And we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers.

The iPad was born from this idea; the idea was not grafted to fit a 10-inch piece of glass. It’s a subtle but critical difference.

It should do things for me, and make it easy for me to do things too.

I like things. And stuff.

Whether I’m opening apps, making phone calls, or just turning on Airplane Mode, I’ve come to rely mostly on Siri.

Siri’s cool, but you rely upon it to open apps? Really? Okay.

Apple can’t win without good battery life. There’s only one spec that can singlehandedly prevent the iWatch (or any smartwatch) from ever being mainstream: battery life. A device that lasts a day or less is going to be forgotten on the bedside table one morning, the habit lost, the device returned.

I agree that it should have great battery life, but I disagree that it needs more than a day of typical battery life. Most people I know who wear a wristwatch take them off before bed, including myself. Remember that cellphones used to last a week or more on a single charge; now, we’re accustomed to plugging them in every night or so.

Most of the time, the iWatch should do nothing. It should sit forgotten on your wrist, alerting you only when there’s something worth paying attention to. And that won’t be every notification, every alert, every message. The iWatch needs tools to be finely tuned, and needs to be smart enough to tune itself to show me only what I need to see right now.

Entirely agreed.


  1. It wasn’t, however, acceptable to launch the “sweet solution” Apple promised at WWDC 2007. By the way, if you haven’t seen that keynote recently, check it out. It’s, uh, not great, to say the least. ↩︎