I hadn’t worn a watch in 20 years of my working life- till June 2015. Since I got the company paid Max pager in 1995, I never felt the need to use a watch to tell time. After cellphones, it was pretty much useless. I decided to change this once the Apple watch came out! Fueled by professional curiosity to experience the new form factor, Apple’s reputation to deliver a game changing product and the obvious social oomph that a new Apple product adds to you- I spent the $700 on Apple Watch!
Well, 6 months later I can say that my life didn’t change when I started using the Apple Watch!
It was sort of a letdown when even Fitbit did that elegantly for my daily exercise routine, and the Apple Watch didn’t literally do anything to write about! This got me thinking, is it me, is it the product, is it the form factor or something else?
The real value of the watch form factor is the extent to which it can reduce time I have to pull my phone out and more importantly which new services can it bring to me- proactively. The Apple Watch does well in ensuring notifications and phone calls mostly don’t need the phone anymore. It does so intelligently so that I don’t have to look at the same notifications on phone and watch. Taking phones while driving from the watch is ok- but not earth shattering.
So what about apps? The native watch apps from Apple really don’t have much going for them. The fitness app doesn’t come close to the experience Fitbit delivers especially on the social and gamification front. Very few apps from other providers really are able to provide a unique experience. The HDFC Bank app really covers the most ground in my experience so far- getting you banking services on the watch at the tap of your finger. Tripit watch app does add that extra bit for a frequent traveler in a rush. So the watch apps is an emerging world, and developers and users are still figuring out ways to deliver a unique value added experience.
The Digital Personal Assistant- Siri on watch, by far is the most promising feature which could really add value to daily lives. The watch with voice interactions is a natural interface in a convenient form factor to the intelligent digital personal assistant. The assistant interactions need to be unobtrusive and intelligent. Siri interactions are natural and intelligent to the extent to which understanding instructions and replying coherently is concerned. The real value of personal assistants is in the real world intelligent suggestions and actions that can be taken- based on a good understanding of my world and needs. This is where Siri falls short. Siri doesn’t know much about me- where I work, where do I live, the laundry service I use, who are my close friends, who’s my boss and so much more. Frustratingly, there’s not even a way to teach Siri this! How much can you get done from fluent English speaking assistant sitting in a village in Uzbekistan who can only talk to you?
But does using the Apple watch have to be such a damp squib experience?
Look under the hood and you see a whole new story! The Apple watchOS apps can work completely independently of the phone and connect directly to wifi. The fitness app is based off a framework where health information can be shared across apps. The heartbeat, temperature, accelerometer and many other sensors are available which generate huge amount of data about your usage pattern and everyday life. Very few Apple and third party apps are making significant use of this ecosystem today.
Let’s imagine the watch as a portal for accessing all the services and value added services that are possible to implement today with the current technologies. I use popular appliances and services like the iPhone, Apple Watch, Facebook, Google Now, Fitbit, Office 365 at work etc. and much of my shopping is done on the internet on Flipkart, Amazon etc.- like many of us. Siri doesn’t know where my office and home is, Google Now does. Siri doesn’t know my family and close friends, Facebook knows. Siri doesn’t know my travel path and routine, my phone, Fitbit and Google have a very good idea of that. If I didn’t sleep well, Fitbit is aware of it. Apple watch knows if my heartbeat (or somebody in my family using watch) is not regular. Microsoft knows when I am off from work and how many back to back meetings did I do this week and hence my stress level, also evident from my heartbeats. Microsoft also knows who’s my boss and colleagues if my company uses office 365. Between Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Fitbit, Flipkart, Amazon etc. companies there’s so much personal data being collected – why not make use of it to enrich everyday lives of everyday people?
Can a digital assistant remind me to collect laundry as I drive past, or inform me the visitor for next meeting has arrived, or inform me that my friend is in town over the weekend? Google’s already reading my emails, can I be reminded when my teenage daughter’s prepaid cellphone needs a recharge? Hundreds of companies that provide services to me all have public APIs which could be used to set my personal rules and make my life easier. A framework to set personal rules and actions transparently is all that is needed. We don’t need IBM Watson class intelligence (definitely not till we are comfortable that it’s not going to go Skynet on us). Let me choose what data I share and tell me transparently how it will be used. Let me set actions based on the intelligence and stop sharing when I don’t feel like. I am sure a lot of us would want to see where this takes us and how this benefits our daily lives. A federated trusted collection of personal information which is controlled by the individual but mined by organizations to provide services like digital personal assistant is what we are looking for.
Companies collect hordes of personal data every day, so much that the governments want access to this citing security concerns. Only finding terrorists shouldn’t drive our analytics and public data collection concerns. Enriching daily lives is much more valuable pursuit where the innovation is still in it’s infancy and so much more can be achieved even with the current level of technology. What’s stopping us is the level of trust between companies and a workable framework of monetizing the information. For the technology giants how to monetize and share the data across the firms involved is the real issue here.
Instead of Facebook trying to sell Free Basics to counter Google’s hegemony, wouldn’t it be better to figure out how it can work on improving my interactions with my family and friends on their platform- developing more meaningful relationships, collaborate with Google if needed and making money in that process?
Wearables like the Apple Watch make much more sense and will impact our daily lives when the true potential of personal data mining is achieved and that needs a trusted federated environment. Real thought leadership is needed from the technology giants to come up with this. Nations and governments are not necessarily good at this!
Meanwhile, I am waiting for my $700 investment to give me some returns…:-)