Apple Watch and intimacy

Apple / Design / User Experience

Many people are writing off some of the WATCH features that were demonstrated as pure novelties. I think this is a mistake, if understandable given that these are rather new concepts.

As shown during the September 9th keynote, there are a range of features included in WATCH that are designed to make the most of the intimate nature of wearing a watch-like device. These mainly novel features include sending one or more taps to somebody else’s wrist, sending small scribbled diagrams, sending animated Emoji and sharing your current pulse such.

Sharing pulse definitely seems very niche, but isn’t a new idea.

Apple Watch Keynote Liveblog Screenshot

What Apple are telling us but not ramming down our throats, is that these features are quite likely to usher in a new form of intimate communication. This kind of stuff is hard to demo on a stage, but run through some real-world scenarios like an Apple advert might:

  • A daughter is anxious about her school exams. Just before she walks in to them, her mother (at home) notices that it is time for the exam to start and sends a reassuring tap on the wrist to her daughter’s WATCH
  • A grandfather lives alone. A few times a day he gets a tap on the wrist from WATCH sent by children or grandchildren just to let him know they are thinking of him even though they can’t be there. He can ignore it or send a symbolic reply tap or Emoji
  • Lovers are separated by work. They check in with each other periodically because they’re still in that intense early period. A tap here, a scribbled heart there, a racing pulse.
  • People who work together on sales are in important meetings and send almost invisible signals to each other about how things are going

You can see that even these hastily conceived plot lines make great Apple ads. Contrast this with more obvious communication features other technology companies would sell us; tweets with “I just ran 2.4 miles!” or Facebook posts with “my post-exercise resting heartbeat is down to 68bpm!”.

The wider point is that these are incredibly “soft” human interaction stories compared to even mobile phones, and barely touch the surface of what is possible. This is very Apple in spirit.

If anybody tells me this isn’t going to resonate, I kindly direct them to texting and Emoji. They don’t “make sense” if you think of the period and possibilities that went before, but we need nothing more than the evolution from Email to Twitter to Yo! to tell us how wrong that thinking is.

Even the frankly horrendous 3D Emoji thing will be huge — perhaps most among kids and certain cultures — we’re in a world where my 70 year old in-laws send Emoji to us in the middle of text speak.

That’s without even talking about how the original iPhone seemed like a bizarre extravagance, which we now take entirely for granted.

Apple are on to something potentially very, very big. The killer challenge is making sure enough people out there with an WATCH have someone else out there with an WATCH with whom they can appropriately interact in this way. Two geek friends in an office might laugh about it for five minutes, but this is not about them.

Surely there will be some kind of “buy 2 get one for X” promotion — around Valentines if the device is out in time for that. That or bundling with iPhone contracts through operators, effectively providing easy financing options for WATCH. You can easily see a deal like “Pay an extra £10/mo for more calls and data and a free WATCH”, although Apple may not want to go with this initially.

The Author

Marc Palmer (Twitter, Mastodon) is a consultant and software engineer specialising in Apple platforms. He currently works on the iOS team of Concepts sketching app, as well as his own apps like video subtitle app Captionista. He created the Flint open source framework. He can also do a pretty good job of designing app products. Don't ask him to draw anything, because that's really embarrassing. You can find out more here.