In the 21st Century the future seems to always be just around the corner. Every other week there seems to be another breakthrough or discovery in science and tech that’s promises to change our lives. The break-neck pace of technology and the popularity of science-fiction makes it much easier to imagine what should be technologically possible in the near future. Advancements in wi-fi, Bluetooth, batteries, and the increase in power and reduction of price of mobile processors over the past 5–7 years are unlocking many experiences that were considered science fiction just a decade ago.
So the idea of having an ecosystem that uses hardware, software and services that all works together seamlessly doesn't seem too far off. Being able to easily move from computer to computer, depending on the task needed just makes sense. The next logical step is to make our computers (no matter the size) all talk to each other and are able to listen, respond and even predict our needs via notifications, voice or simply your proximity to other devices seems like a natural evolution.
One of the only companies that controls the entire stack (hardware, software, services) also happens to be the most successful company on the planet, Apple. I imagine the culmination of ideas, technologies and content deals leading up to this moment have been in play for years now, some happening sooner than others. Each new device, software update and acquisition was another brick laid to building that future. While we’re not there yet, zooming out a bit it’s not hard to imagine Apple being a part of nearly every aspect of there most loyal users lives in the near future. Apple Pay, HealthKit, Carplay, TV, Music, Photos, HomeKit all tied together with beautiful hardware, a voice activated interface (Siri) and all secured using biometrics (Touch ID, Apple Watch) and the secure enclave of their SoC.
Macs. iPhones. iPads. These three devices have been the cornerstone of Apple’s hardware strategy. All serving slightly different roles in their users lives, depending on the task. As the march of technology continues, computers have become smaller, more mobile and more personal. So it’s not a huge surprise that Apple’s next personal computer would be one that is worn. Sure people carry their mobile phones on them all the time in some aspect. But having a computer actually on the body that can not only read and measure the movements, location and health of the user but also happens to be located on a part of the body that is always readily accessible is the obvious next evolution of the personal computer.
Thus the Apple Watch.
For now, the Apple watch still relies heavily on an iPhone (the mainframe) for most of its number crunching. That’s however a small inconvenience that most won’t mind in the first couple of years of the Watch’s life for reasons stated earlier. Just as the iPod, iPhone and iPad once needed a computer to be activated or to manage content, the Watch will eventually be a stand alone device.
Wearing a computer is not only about glancable notifications and heartbeat monitoring, it unlocks an entirely new way for us to interact with the physical world and each other. The Apple Watch will not only act as a window to micro information from the digital world but as a form of identification in the physical world. One of the lesser known features of the Apple Watch is that once it’s paired with an iPhone it’s authenticated. This authentication remains intact, even without an iPhone near until the Watch is removed from the users body. This ensures your information and access to things unlocked by the Apple Watch stay secure.
One of the most overlooked, if not mocked features of the Apple Watch is it’s unique way to communicate to other Apple Watch wearers. The ability to quickly send doodles, animated emoji’s, your heartbeat and something Apple calls “Digital Touches” will be huge in my opinion. To be clear, a “Digital Touch” allows users to send a gentle “tap” to a friend via the Apple Watch using the “Taptic” feedback in each Watch. These quick, somewhat intimate ways to communicate may seem trivial on the surface but I suspect will be one of the early driving forces that will sale the Apple Watch via word of mouth.
Getting the rest of the world to hop on board with Apple’s vision of the future won’t be easy but they may be the only company that can do it. Using the leverage of their customers enthusiasm, loyalty and buying power, Apple is in a unique position to get other companies to help create an ecosystem that makes a wearable computer more useful in the physical world and even a necessity at some point. If Apple has their way, we’ll be unlocking doors (cars, hotels, homes) with our Apple Watch, passwords could all but go away and friction-less mobile payments will be the norm. This in turn lifts the value of all wearable computers. As we’ve seen with Apple Pay, since technologies like NFC and Bluetooth are standards, Android Wear Watches probably wont be left out of the fold.
The rumors of a new music streaming service and updated Apple TV with internet TV subscription service could be the last missing pieces to Apple’s lifestyle brand transformation. A music streaming service that’s integrated into Apple’s ecosystem isn’t a huge deal in of itself. But with talk of exclusive timed releases from big name artists, Apple could retain it’s dominate role as gatekeeper of music. Though rarely mentioned, I believe music plays in important intangible role that reverberates throughout the entire companies brand, coolness and cultural relevance.
A new Apple TV with App Store opens up entirely new possibilities and interactions with existing devices. Gaming is an obvious one, but a subscription service for TV allows Apple to finally be able to control the entire experience of watching TV. Being able to watch TV on any Apple device and pick up (hand-off) where you last stopped is a gimmie for early features to be expected. Not to mention a better UI than your cable box, the integration and universal search of native internet content (YouTube, Netflix, Video podcast, etc) using Siri and being able to control other aspects of your home via HomeKit. My guess is the TV subscription service and updated UI will be added to the recently price dropped ($69) Apple TV 3, but the rumored Apple TV 4 will be needed to enjoy apps and other hardware related features.
Sure there are other set-top boxes now with some of these features, including an App Store. But as we’ve seen before, Apple brings with it a ton of advantages other companies can’t compete with. Not only do they bring an army of some of the most talented developers in the world, but a user base that is ready and willing to spend money. We can only imagine the type of software an App Store on the TV will bring. How about a Twitter app that overlays related tweets with whatever TV show you’re watching? Or interactive games/apps that multiple users of iOS devices can participate in at once? Interactive learning apps? The sky is the limit.
Whatever the case, what’s certain is that Apple is a company that’s evolving. Evolving from a not so traditional technology company into a lifestyle brand that aims to touch (and possibly enhance) every aspect of your life. I’m sure a lot of geeks are rolling their eyes at the mention of “lifestyle brand”, but I see it was a natural step of technology. Sure Apple may be the first but it wont be the last. As technology matures it’s only natural that it becomes more human so to speak. I don’t think it was an accident that Apple’s latest push of the Apple Watch spends far less time on “speeds and feeds” and more on style and convenience. It’s as if the future of it’s functionality should be a given, the hard part is getting people to want to wear it.