So, do I Actually Have to LOOK at an iWatch?

| Analysis

There are two new, next generation technologies being discussed these days: smart glasses, notably being pursued by Google and wearable computing devices which Apple may be considering with its rumored iWatch. Are they equivalent ways of achieving the same thing? Perhaps not.

The more I read about and think about the idea of an iWatch, the more I believe that it is orthogonal to the idea of smart glasses. By that, I mean that smart glasses are a way of overlaying our visual field with information while wearable devices, like the rumored iWatch are a way of achieving a goal or activating a process -- perhaps physically.

Along those lines, this is really Part II of "For Apple, the iWatch Will be Just the Beginning."

Another consideration is that the Google Smart Glass project can be a way for a company to leverage from what we are doing or to offer us opportunities. For example, instead of a smartphone app springing to life to announce that we are within 100 meters of a really good pizza restaurant, smart glasses could, conceivably, measure our blood sugar, then use a blinking arrow in our visual field to point to a "really good" pizza restaurant. (Of course, that assumes that carbohydrates are just what the doctor ordered.)

I cite that extreme example, to make a point. Perhaps it's extreme to some of us and may introduce undesirable personal, privacy and social issues.  To others it may be the path to riches.

The smartwatch, on the other hand, may be thought of as the baton of an orchestra conductor. It exploits not the visual field, but rather, the natural movement of the human's arms to launch a process. I'm thinking here of the fabulous list that Bruce Tognazzini presented in his tour de force article "The Apple iWatch." That article, and the 109 comments, discussed everything that could be discussed about this kind of technology.

What intrigued me, as I studied it further, is that the key features of an iWatch really don't involve looking at an iWatch. That is, the essential purpose of an iWatch, in that discussion by Tog, is not the idea of starring at a 3 cm display for long periods. Rather, it involves presence or movement that would be inconvenient or risky for an expensive iPhone. For example:

  • Encrypted authorization. The ability, by its electronic presence, to act as an electronic pass key, much like some modern car keys that allow you to simply press a "Start" button on the dashboard. Sit at your Mac, the iWatch talks to the Mac, and you never, ever have to enter another passcode. If the iWatch is removed, it has to be re-authorized using biometrics. No need for a nearby iPhone actually.
  • Automatic Find. We tend to always wear our watch, some even when they sleep. The iWatch beeps if the iPhone wanders too far away. Or we lave it on the bus. Or try to leave the house without it.
  • NFC Payments. Wouldn't it be great to grab that cup of coffee at Starbucks at the counter, wave our arm, and the coffee is paid for? It beeps when payment is made, and shows the authorized amount in red LEDs. Just a glace is all we need. No need to display what brand of smartphone resides in the pocket or purse.
  • Sensors. An iWatch on the wrist will be an excellent sensor for body temperature, pulse, and even some atmospheric conditions. Some sensors may be in the smartphone and relayed to the wrist. After all, there are some times when we don't want to be constantly pulling out the iPhone just to monitor some of these variables.
  • Pointing and waving. We shake hands with someone, and business card info is exchanged. We wonder about how to find where we parked our car, and discreet arrows can show us the way, without the need for special glasses.

What intrigues me about this kind of list, and it's not nearly exhaustive, is that the actions are natural. We are accustomed to looking at our watch for the time. We are accustomed to waving and thanking. If Apple were to cleverly select from a set of activities that serve us, some of the essential activities of our lives could be accomplished in a perfectly natural, human way, without necessarily seeming like a Borg, a social outcast, a nerd wearing smart glasses.

Of course, smart glasses will get less and less obtrusive, and some day, one might not be able to distinguish regular prescription glasses from smart glasses. But for now, I am intrigued by Tog's list of natural human motions as opposed to the wearing of glasses that seem to pose additional problems. For example, one might have prescription lenses, but what about the transition to sunglasses? And what about the potential distractions when driving?

A smartwatch, properly implemented, might have a stronger near-term appeal, especially for kids, and avoid some technical issues that smart glasses have. How each company solves the related problems, given their philosophy and patents and the subsequent implementation will be critical.

One thing is certain. If Apple is working on an iWatch, it will likely be in the context of a very practical, useful extension of the smartphone in our pocket in a characteristic Apple way. Something that delights rather than affronts. That's why I like the smart bracelet concepts seen at Kickstarter. They are more of an alert system that a Terminator-like overlay of the visual field, which while exciting, has its own set of human factors and social issues.

When I first started thinking about the iWatch, I started wondering why I would want to look away from the world, or my gorgeous iPhone display, for extended periods of time. Now, as I think about it more, I can see that a smartwatch has much greater potential than I originally thought. It's not a super wrist watch to distract us, but, rather, an conductor's baton. How that plays out instead of or in addition to smart glasses will be fascinating to watch unfold.


iWatch concept via Yankodesign.

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Mike Weasner

Good thoughts, and with some things I hadn’t considered.  But…  I rarely wear my Casio solar-powered atomic G-Force watch anymore.  There just isn’t the need anymore (for me) as I can always check the time on my iPhone. 

The one use described that intrigued me was NFC Payments.  It would be great to make payments at the restaurant, gas station, hardware store, grocery store, etc, by just waving my arm.  But does that require me to wear a “watch”?  Why not an “iRing” on my finger or an “iPin” on a jacket sleeve?  (Yes, there are likely a few technical issues today with things that small.)

Watches (and rings) are considered by many to be jewelry and so need to have a certain look.  Would an iWatch (or iRing) have that look?  Or would it look more like my Casio G-Shock watch, coming only in basic black?  Maybe someday we’ll know.


I’m not excited about the possibilities of an iWatch, like I am for an iGlass.

The huge problem that I see with a “watch” design is that one hand can NOT touch it at any given point in time.
Maybe I would consider it if the iWatch is as wide as an iPhone and slaps on around my wrist in a quick fashion such take I can take it off in a second and lay it flat on some surface and then use it like a fairly large input and/or display device.

As a meager “notification” device, I’m NOT impressed or interested.  It doesn’t add enough value to having an iPhone.

The possibilities of Glass have me excited in a way that I used to only think Apple had the potential to create. 
I see this as a problem for Apple and they had better be working hard on this issue! 
I’d rather see them try to join this ship, than try to compete with it!



Interesting article, John, and while I remain excited about the possibilities of an iWatch, I do have one major issue with the idea of it being a conductor’s baton, as you put it.

Using one of the examples from your article, let’s say I’m at work and shake hands with someone. Will business card information be able to be exchanged? Not likely. For the bulk of people out there, hand shakes are performed with the right hand, while watches are worn on the left. So assuming two business people meet and shake hands, their right hands will be shaking while their smartwatch-wearing left hands will be at their sides and perhaps too far apart to communicate.

I see most other uses panning out, despite this limitation, though. Just remember that when planning on uses for an iWatch, most people will usually be right-handed, while wearing it on their left. That needs to be accounted for.


Not really excited about either technology; but will wait to see what comes out. One thing that is absolutely not going to be a part of my life are smart glasses on my head feeding information to Google. That sends warning shivers up my spine.

Lee Dronick

See this Joy of Tech comic from a few weeks ago


Glass is exciting from the point of view of a prospective owner.  But from the point of view of a person who has to interact with a Glass wearer, not even interact, but just be within his field of view, Glass is a creepy proposition.  Too many Excited Ed’s are drooling over Glass without thinking about how a roomful of people would react when someone wearing Google’s Creepy Stalker Spectacles walks into the room.

When someone walks around wearing Glass, it’s exactly like someone walking around aiming a camcorder everywhere he looks.  It’s worse because you don’t know if he’s recording or not.  The list of people and establishments that will object to this is too long to lay out.

Glass will be like another famously overhyped product.  Segway seemed like a great idea until people realized that they don’t want city sidewalks filled with people zipping around in space age scooters not only annoying, but posing potential injury, to pedestrians.


iWatch has to be a fashion item as well as a tech device to succeed.  And Apple’s big advantage is that it is the only tech brand that has the cachet with the fashionista set to pull this off.  But they have to execute flawlessly.  They have to have iconic designs that the fashion set would embrace, they have to be visible on the wrists of runway models during fashion week, they have to advertise in fashion magazines and websites, etc.  Their business model should be as much Swatch as traditional Apple.  The iWatch certainly should not look like a Casio or Pebble, which sad to say, will be swept away into oblivion when the iWatch comes out.


I love it!!  No one knows for sure that Apple is even working on a watch, and yet Samsung is working on a watch too, to rival Apple’s!!—finance.html


I wonder if the inevitably increasing computing power along with miniaturization will someday lead to wearable combinations of devices for personal assistance that might for example, upon meeting someone, listen to their name and our conversation, and when I see that person the next time give me their name and some info such as summary of previous contact(s) with that person. 

This would be certainly great for folks with impaired memory—and why not for folks with healthy memory?. It could add to courtesy and pleasant recognition. Who is not pleased to be remembered and appreciated for some things we said last time or previous to the last time. We’d have optional control to have a short resume of what we’d be willing to share about ourselves that could be transmitted like a business card.

We’d learn new skills in communication—talking and listening while managing the distraction of having the supplementary info available in our vision (G Glass or equivalent).

It sounds scary and distracting, but it may be a socially evolutionary progression that we learn like touch typing over time. We’ll develop/evolve new social contract courtesies and mores and have assistance in executing those social contracts.

It probably requires a repository of a tremendous amount of information that is fraught with risk to privacy, but has the potential to make social exchanges richer and even quite pleasing with this assistance. Perhaps we will develop firewalls to confine access to this data to only an extension of what an excellent memory would provide.

I know this certainly would be helpful for folks like myself with mild cognitive impairment. 
I think this is just scratching the surface of personal assistance that is possible in the future. 
Sometimes vision of the future informs us of the path we will be on to get there, e.g. this discussion of a smart watch and Google Glass or equivalents.

I am an optimist. Optimists and pessimists will have to weigh the risks and discover ways to mitigate risk. We have done this throughout history with disruptive change. E.g. Dynamite is useful in construction and destruction and played a part in a peace prize.

Don’t we have the right to remember who we meet and our discussions using our senses and memory? In civilization we have almost always opted to extend our senses with things like telescopes, microscopes, microphones etc. And we extend our memory with language, abstractions and generalizations, and with the written word and recently with recordings (100+ years for audio and with film and video for vision).

I think it will be a bumpy and complex evolution, but follow it in some manner, we will.

Lee Dronick

“When someone walks around wearing Glass, it’s exactly like someone walking around aiming a camcorder everywhere he looks.  It’s worse because you don’t know if he’s recording or not.  The list of people and establishments that will object to this is too long to lay out.”

A few weeks ago I read a news story about a bar up in Seattle banning the wearing of a Google Glass.

John Martellaro

mrmwebmax: I wasn’t thinking that the iWatches would have to be that close to each other.


mrmwebmax: re Right-handed shake:
Well maybe Apple would think (again) that “it knows best” and just expect society to change to fit its implementation.  We’d go to a left-handed shake…..or a two-handed shake…..or a high-five click of the left wrists.
(sarcasm intended)


Glass creep:
Glass does sound like it could be a bit creepy and invasive at times.  I think social protocols would develop. 
Maybe taking Glass off the face, except when explicitly needed to check information.  Like putting/keeping your phone and ear bud in your pocket, until needing to check it.
Or like propping Glass up on top of your head (which is where I sometimes keep my sunglasses).
Or perhaps they’ll install a little red light to signal when the camera is ON.
However, my prediction is that there will be no “red light” and that Glass WILL be a bit more invasive.
Cell phones themselves have changed our social environment and people have been “forced” to change.  Sometimes it’s been the “turn your cell phone off” message in movie theaters.  Sometimes it’s been the annoying guy talking loudly to his ear bud in the checkout line or while your trying to eat lunch.
Ultimately, rather than quash the new technology, we will change to fit it.


For me, Google glass is nothing but a weird curiosity until they figure out a solution for those of us with less than perfect eyesight, esp those of us who need some optical assistance to read.  The iWatch (presumably) is no different from my iPhone in that regard, so for us “more mature” tech-geeks, our vision is a non-issue.

The other issue which is not discussed enough is the amount of mischief that is likely to be perpetrated with Google glass. Remember when people were (and still are) taking inappropriate photos with cell-phone cameras?  Now, you can do it even more covertly with your glasses!  Are glasses going to have to be “inspected” before you can enter bars, clubs, or even the locker room at your local gym?



Some very good points here, as well as some thoughtful following comments.

I too feel that the trajectories and end effects of the iWatch (or whatever Apple end up calling it) and the Google Smart Glass are not only orthogonal but are core-strength driven by these two very different companies, and speak volumes, should either be released in the wild, about the futures of these two companies as they envision it.

The one, particularly as articulated by Bruce Tognazzini, is not only ecosystem-integrative, but moves the platform substantially forward in ways that will exploit Siri’s nascent strengths and in ways that no one today can fully imagine (think back to the introduction of the iPod; who would dare claim that they foresaw all of the industry revolutionising effects that one device and its supportive systems would wreak on an effete and sclerotic industry that was haemorrhaging within from lack of innovation, and without from piracy both corporate and private); the other takes search, sales and services truly mobile and realtime, providing whole industries, services, researchers, social networks and behaviouralists with insights and opportunities that will exceed Google’s undoubted profits.

The only thing these two devices have in common, again assuming that either will see the light of day as consumer products as currently described, is that they are both wearable. One can say the same thing about a ring and a raincoat. Without doubt, both devices will share some common features (e.g. search services and device integration to varying degrees), and continue to fuel competition between the companies, but the opportunities they potentially create and the directions in which they will propel their end users no less than their manufacturers could not be more different, in my view.

While I have little doubt that I will get an iWatch (first gen, pre-ordered), my one regret is the effect it will likely have on my Breitling Aerospace - a med school graduation gift from my wife that has been my fast companion for years.

Indeed, the Swiss watch industry itself (and watches of all makes) could be in for a fair amount of disruption ahead. I should think that opticians will still sleep easily at night, despite runaway popularity of Google glass.

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