While everyone’s fawning over the edge-to-edge display and facial recognition features on the iPhone X, I’m more interested in the battle for my wrist. The Apple Watch might not share the same must-have appeal of the latest smartphone, but it’s still the world’s most successful product of its kind.
This puts Apple in a strong position to spend time and money refining their vision of the future. I believe the new Series 3 Watch paints a clearer picture of the future than the iPhone X does.
Confused? Enraged? Bought a Samsung? Relax, this benefits us all (and you don’t even need to buy one).
The iPhone X Matters Right Now
This isn’t a deliberate effort to throw shade at the iPhone X. Considering the amount of attention Apple’s next-generation of smartphone has received, it’s clear that the next big thing has raised some interesting questions about the future of smartphone technology.
It’s not the first smartphone to include facial recognition, but it’s arguably the most daring implementation thus far. While no company is infallible, particularly Apple with its Maps fiasco and iCloud’s less-than-glowing reputation, Apple has a history of not rolling out technology till they’re confident it works.
The removal of the Touch ID scanner is a bold move, with the pressure on Face ID to take up the slack. The lack of Home button is also going to take some getting used to, but it’s a taste of the company’s vision for devices that don’t require traditional physical inputs. After all, the iPhone X is pretty much just a big screen at this point.
That big screen happens to be larger than that of any Plus-sized iPhone, though the device is only marginally larger than the existing non-Plus iPhones. It’s like Apple is tearing up the rule book as and when the technology allows, which is exactly what they should be doing in order to remain innovative.
These advancements are important right now, since we live in an age where interaction increasingly comprises of tapping on a screen. But how many of us expect to still be clutching an iPhone in 10 years time? How about 20 years?
Wearables Are The Future
The Apple Watch Series 3 isn’t the world’s first cellular wearable, but it’s the most notable example of a standalone smart watch that can operate independently of a parent device. It’s also the world’s most successful smart watch, and the world’s most successful wearable piece of tech (which includes simple fitness trackers).
Both LG and Samsung have released LTE watches, but Apple’s wearable is the only one in the industry to have made significant traction in the market. While the market’s demand for pure fitness trackers has declined, Apple has carved out a strong position and continues to place emphasis on health and fitness features. This is an area FitBit had all but sewn up a few years ago.
With a Series 3, you can make calls, send text messages, and have full access to LTE network speeds without needing to be tethered to an iPhone. In essence, it’s one of the world’s first wearable smartphones, and it provides a sneak peek into the future of communication devices. Unfortunately, it’s not quite ready to be cut loose and operate sans iPhone just yet.
There’s no telling how long it will be till we see an Apple Watch that doesn’t rely on an iPhone. There are some serious technological hurdles to overcome before the Apple Watch becomes the iPhone Watch — notably battery life, but also user experience.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is one of expectation, and our attachment to devices like the iPhone for staying in touch. It’s possible the future of connectivity isn’t limited to a single device that operates as a point of contact. What about a combination of wearables and pocketables that can operate independently of each other while still providing a unified user experience?
After all, that’s where Apple feels most comfortable. Their infamous iron grip over ecosystems, bullish rules, and the push for Continuity between devices put them in a good position to realize such a vision.
It Might Save Your Life
During the iPhone event of September 2017, Apple cited a Stanford Study that puts Series 3 technology to use in a bid to detect abnormal heart rhythms. The new watch can already detect resting heart rates, recovery times, and elevated heart rate patterns, which demonstrates a commitment to health technology that we haven’t seen from other consumer electronics manufacturers.
The improved heart rate monitor on the Apple Watch could potentially spot a heart attack before it happens. It's a big deal.
— Editi Effiòng (@EditiEffiong) September 13, 2017
Imagine a $400 wearable gadget that can not only take phone calls and manage your schedule, but also let you know of potential health risks. It’s not unreasonable to think that many of us would pay a few hundred dollars to potentially extend or improve our quality of life.
Speaking to Fortune, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:
“One of the things that we’ve learned that we’ve been really surprised and delighted about is this device [the Apple Watch], because of the monitoring of the heart, has essentially alerted people through the collection of the data that they have a problem. And that spurred them to go to the doctor and say, ‘Look at my heart rate data. Is something wrong?’ And a not-insignificant number have found out if they hadn’t come into the doctor they would have died.”
There’s clearly a lucrative market for technology that can prevent or predict a heart attack, but Apple has their eye on the bigger picture (and the financial opportunities it provides):
“There’s much more in the health area. There’s a lot of stuff that I can’t tell you about that we’re working on, some of which it’s clear there’s a commercial business there. And some of it it’s clear there’s not. And some of it it‘s not clear. I do think it’s a big area for Apple’s future.”
Apple isn’t the only company working on wearable health technology. They are however already producing a wearable that’s having a positive impact on its users health. The fact that they’ve sniffed out financial opportunities should surprise no one, since they’re one of the most valuable companies in the world.
never thought a cardiologist would use data from my Apple watch to track past heart rate activity
— MediaMK ??? (@MediaMK) May 12, 2017
They also happen to be well-versed in producing consumer electronics on a large scale, which lays bare the difference between a fledgling startup and a tech powerhouse. If we’re going to see this technology take hold in the next five or ten years, it’s likely to have an Apple badge on it. They have the means of production, a penchant for acquisitions, and the bank balance to do it all.
A Small Iterative Update, for Now
Despite the fast-moving nature of hardware improvements, change is often slow. Apple shoe-horned LTE into the Series 3 at a cost. It looks decidedly plain compared to the Watch that came before it, and I doubt a built-in SIM card was high on the wishlist of many Watch devotees.
At present, battery life is an issue. According to Apple, the Series 3 with cellular can manage “over an hour” of talk time over LTE, or four hours of physical activity. This isn’t the all-day “wristphone” of your dreams, and if you want it to last all day you’d better have your iPhone nearby for most of it.
Apple added a feature that few people expressed an interest in, at the cost of reducing battery life, with few other revisions that make the Series 3 seem like a worthy upgrade. It’s a bit like removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, a non-feature that necessitated the arrival of superior wireless technology to ease frustrations.
And despite complaints, the W1 chip and compatible headphones like the AirPods and BeatsX delivered the goods. Now that the Apple Watch is a cellular device, the next one will be, and the one after that, while the surrounding technology improves over time.
What’s Next for the Watch?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome will be that of consumer expectation. Will we eschew traditional smartphones in the future? If your Apple Watch had comparable battery life to your iPhone, would you be happy leaving the house without your iPhone?
There are still many usability conundrums that need solving. Typing on the Apple Watch is impossible, and Siri only goes so far. People still want pocket-sized screens for browsing social media and taking snapshots, but why can’t many of the smartphone duties be shared between devices?
There’s unlikely to be a “Eureka!” moment where the Apple Watch suddenly replaces the iPhone, but don’t be surprised if you warm up to the idea as it becomes a more viable option.
How long till we’re wearing smartphones, eating food in pill form, and piloting flying cars? What do you want from the connected devices of the future?
Image Credit: hunthomas/Depositphotos