With the launch of the iPhone 5s, we may have the heart of a new device: The much-rumored iWatch. Apple says the M7 coprocessor allows for incredibly sophisticated motion tracking - it understands whether you're walking, running, or even driving. It certainly sounds promising for powering a biometric-centered smart watch for Apple. It would need to be. Tim Cook's comment at the AllThingsD conference that the good wearable devices on the market right now only do one thing well, and that the devices that do more than one thing don't do them particularly well, points to an overarching goal for Apple: One device that does all of these things well.
But what are all of these "things"? For the iWatch, I break them into three big categories: optimize my life, keep my hands out of my pockets, and make me look good.
Optimize My Life
Most of the products on the market right now try to optimize our lives through health trends. Nike's Fuelband, Jawbone's Up, Fitbit, Misfit's Shine, Basis and others all work on the premise that we need to quantify our behavior, identify trends and adjust our lives to move more and sleep better.
- 24/7 Wearability. The first rule to optimizing my life is you have to live with me - while I sleep, work, shower, watch TV, exercise, read, do dishes, take out the trash, whatever. I don't want to worry about taking my iWatch off. Taking it off means two things: One, I'm not tracking my behavior, so I'm not getting credit for my activities, and two, I may forget to put it back on, so see No. 1. This means that an iWatch would need to be durable, waterproof and comfortable enough to sleep in. Plus, it would need a battery powerful enough to last for at least a few days on a single charge. I want to put it on and forget about it until I need it.
- Biometrics. The promise of the wearable devices on the market right now is that they can help us identify patterns in our behavior and improve them. I want the iWatch to track all my activity, just like Jawbone Up, Fitbit, Fuelband and others. But I want it to go further than these devices. The Basis shows a deeper level of biometrics. It tracks perspiration and pulse, accounting for cardio workouts, where many other wearable wristbands fall short. An iWatch would also need to track my sleep patterns: Light sleep, deep sleep, when I fall asleep and when I wake up during the night.
- Intelligent Activity Tracking. One of the biggest shortcomings of the current crop of wearable devices is their lack of intelligence. They track how many steps we take and extrapolate them into a point system or distance traveled and potential calories burned. But an intelligent device would learn my behaviors and help me not only identify where I can save time, but actively help me live a better life.
First off, it would know when I go to bed without me telling it (as you have to do with the Jawbone Up and Misfit Shine). It would know when I'm watching TV versus reading. How long I spend eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. How much time I spend on the train, at work, in the shower. It would distinguish between activities like running, walking and riding a bike. In short, it would give me a detailed snapshot of how I'm living my life and how each of these activities is affecting my overall health. If running helps me burn calories more efficiently than riding a bike, I should know that. If I spend five hours watching TV, it should identify that trend for me as well.
Going beyond simple activity tracking would mean an unprecedented level of insight into my behavior and provide me with opportunities not only to move more, but save time.
- Intelligent Alerts. With intelligent tracking should come intelligent alerts. If I watch too much TV, stay up too late, or if I'm running late in the morning, I should get an alert. Plus, my iWatch should wake me up at the ideal time by tracking my sleep patterns (like Jawbone's Up) and schedule.
But it could even go further.
For example, I take the commuter rail every day to work in Boston. Unlike the T, it arrives on a set schedule. But, it's a few minutes late a few times a month. Those few minutes are crucial to me because I run everything down to the last minute - and that means one last kiss from my wife and daughter. I want my iWatch to help me with this so I don't have to run a mile in dress shoes.
My iWatch should know how long it takes me to walk to the train (about 15 minutes), what time it is, when the train is scheduled to arrive, when I need to leave the house, and make adjustments on the fly when the train is running late.
Intelligent alerts would provide more sanity to my hectic life and go beyond simply identifying trends by actively creating new, better habits. (Apple is already scratching at the surface here with the Frequent Locations feature in iOS 7. And its recent purchase of personal assistant app Cue could provide even more support here.)
Keep My Hands Out of My Pockets
Given the screen size, there are certain things that the iWatch should leave to big brother iPhone. But there are a number of tasks that the iPhone does that could be replicated on an iWatch that would prevent us from having to dig into our pockets or purses looking for our phones.
- Payments. With the right level of security, perhaps even a fingerprint scanner like we have in the iPhone 5s, my iWatch would be a perfect payment device. Tap, scan, or simply just be close to a payment system, confirm the purchase and be on your way, all without having to grab your phone. Apps like LevelUp would work beautifully on an iWatch. (Mastercard's Watch2Pay is already up and running in the U.K.)
- Tickets. Whether it be for the MFA or the Red Sox, Amtrak or Jet Blue, all of my tickets should be on my iWatch. I should never have to pull out my wallet or phone again to get access to an event or transportation. Apple's Passport app is already moving in this direction and would be a perfect fit on the iWatch.
- Lists. There are plenty of great apps that help me with my grocery shopping. But using the iPhone to check the list is tedious. I have to grab the phone from my pocket, peck in the security code and open the app. Having the list on my iWatch, despite its limited size, would be a much better experience.
- Siri & Maps. While Siri may not be everyone's favorite personal assistant, I want her on my iWatch. With such limited screen space, there won't be much opportunity for searching or browsing, just answers. And to answer a message directly on the iWatch, Siri will certainly come in handy. I want Siri connected to Maps as well, so when I walk somewhere I have a super simple map on my wrist with no need to pull out my iPhone, enter my passcode (or fingerprint), and check on Maps. I would be happy with arrows, street names and steps or time to the next turn.
- iConnected. One of the most obvious features of an iWatch is being able to control your iPhone from your wrist. Increase the volume of your music, see who's calling, read messages, accept calendar invites, that sort of stuff. This is one of the least interesting features of an iWatch for me, but it's a necessary part of the smartwatch experience.
Make Me Look Good
- Style. There's quite a range of beauty for wearable wrist devices on the market right now. The Jawbone Up is a flashy sporty wristband. The Misfit Shine looks like some type of futuristic jewelry. The Basis looks like a wristwatch from the 80s halloween costumes plus size. Jawbone's Up, Nike's Fuelband and Samsung's Gear Watch have tried to provide some choice to the market by offering multiple colors for their devices. But a watch is a highly personal object and can make a statement about who you are, so the iWatch needs to go beyond color and provide, at a minimum, models for men and women.
And the price? Considering that most wearable wrist devices fall between $90 and $300, I would expect an iWatch to be in that range. The challenge Apple faces is that the iPhone has traditionally started at $199, which may have anchored the price for many people. Having an iWatch that costs more than your iPhone may not feel right to some. But with the iPhone 5c starting at $99, that price comparison may change. Regardless, $199 for an iWatch would be a huge win and make it an easy buy.