In an interview with The Telegraph Friday morning, Tim Cook made a very important point about the upcoming Apple Watch.
“This will be just like the iPhone: people wanted it and bought for a particular reason, perhaps for browsing, but then found out that they loved it for all sorts of other reasons.”
This really struck home for me.
I’ve never worn a watch. I have no interest in fitness trackers, which seems to be the biggest use for the Apple Watch that we’ve heard about so far. I don’t particularly care if my iPhone apps can send notifications to my wrist — it’s not that hard to pull my phone out of my pocket when it vibrates.
In other words, I can’t think of a reason why I’d buy one.
But that’s what I thought about the iPhone, too.
The first time I saw an iPhone in 2007, I marveled at the engineering that went into the glass touch screen and the thought behind the adaptive on-screen keyboard. It was amazing, like something from the future.
But I didn’t need one.
I had a Motorola Flip phone that worked fine for calls. I had a laptop for everything else. If my boss really needed to reach me, he could call me and tell me to turn on my computer. If I wanted to watch a YouTube video, I’d turn on the computer. If I wanted to watch a movie, I’d turn on my TV. That was just the way things were.
Then the use cases started creeping in. My wife mentioned it would be great if we could use an iPhone in the car to help find our way to a friend’s house way out in the Seattle suburbs. I ran out of space on my iPod — wouldn’t it be nice to have music on my phone so I didn’t have to carry two little gadgets everywhere? All my friends were starting to send texts, which wasn’t very fun on the Flip phone.
So, like almost half a billion other people, I finally bought an iPhone. Now I almost can’t remember what life was like before it.
Here’s the deal. The iPhone was basically a pocket computer. Like most people, I had never owned a really good, multipurpose pocket computer before — I owned a Palm Pilot in the 1990s, but that was basically a glorified address book. At the time the iPhone first came out, most of us couldn’t imagine what we’d end up doing with it.
But, over time, the perfect use cases for a pocket-sized computer revealed themselves.
So what would be useful about an even smaller computer that’s on my wrist all the time? We don’t know yet. But here are some random brainstorms I came up with:
- A way to unlock my car without touching the keys. (Which Cook brought up this morning.)
- An app that connects to little beacons attached to my keys, the TV remote, and other stuff I lose all the time, so I could walk right to them.
- A universal remote control for my TV, stereo, computer, the lights in my house, and other gadgets.
- Turn-by-turn walking directions, with different vibrations to send me left and right.
- A little vibration that indicates when one of my friends is nearby, or at the same huge party I just walked into.
- A metronome and tuner for when I play music.
- An app that guides me to the nearest open parking space, based on information collected from other Apple Watch and iPhone users nearby.
- Summon a server at a restaurant so you can change your kid’s order from a cheeseburger to a hamburger. Or order food without a server at all.
- Using Apple Pay to buy drinks as you pick them up from the bar, rather than fiddling with cash or giving the bartender your credit card.
- Identify landmarks by holding the watch up in front of them; it wouldn’t need a camera, it could just use your position and body position to figure out what you were looking at.
Maybe some of these things are totally unrealistic. And there are probably plenty of great ideas that you could come up with that are more relevant to your life.
But that’s the point. It’s impossible to predict whether the Apple Watch will be a flop because the best use cases for it haven’t been invented yet.