TIME Innovation

Apple Hasn’t Solved the Smart Watch Dilemma

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the new Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Smart watches use up far more energy than dumb watches, and there’s nowhere to store that much energy in something the size of a watch

LinkedIn Influencer Felix Salmon published this post originally on LinkedIn. Follow Felix on LinkedIn.

There’s a decent rule of thumb, when it comes to anything Apple: When it introduces something brand new, don’t buy version 1.o. Wait until the second or third version instead, you’ll be much better off.

Does anybody remember OS 10.0? It was a disaster, and even people who installed it spent 90% of their time in OS 9 instead. The very first MacBook Air? An underpowered exercise in frustration. The original iPad? Heavy and clunky. The original iPod? Was not only heavy and clunky and expensive, it was also tied to the Macintosh, and didn’t work either alone or with a PC.

The best-case scenario for the Apple Watch is that the product we saw announced Tuesday will eventually iterate into something really great. Because anybody who’s ever worn a watch will tell you: this thing has serious problems.

For one thing, Apple has been worryingly silent on the subject of battery life, but there’s no indication that this thing will last even 24 hours. A watch’s battery should last for months; even watches which don’t have batteries will last for a couple of days, if you have to wind them manually, or indefinitely, if they’re automatic and all you have to do is wear them.

Watches might be complicated on the inside, but they’re simple on the outside, and they should never come with a charging cable. (To make matters worse, even though the Apple Watch only works if you have an iPhone, the iPhone charging cable will not charge the Apple Watch; you need a different charging cable entirely.)

Of course, the Apple Watch is more than just a watch. But it’s also less than just a watch, which is a problem. It probably isn’t waterproof, for instance — don’t take it swimming, or use it during any other watersport. Its battery life means that you can’t take it camping, and that you’re going to have to remember yet another charging cable any time you leave the house for more than about 18 hours. (And yes, if you end up unexpectedly spending the night somewhere, your watch will be a brick in the morning.)

Behind all the shiny options (sport! gold! different straps!) the watch itself is always pretty much the same: thick, clunky, a computer strapped to your wrist. Which is great, I suppose, if you’re the kind of person who likes to strap a computer to your wrist.

Here’s my main beef with the Apple Watch: Apple has always been the company which makes products for real people, rather than gadgets for geeks. It’s the Less Is More company, yet the Apple Watch is overloaded with features. It pays for things! It measures your heartbeat! It controls your TV! It stores your airline boarding pass! It can show you a picture of where you are on the planet, in glorious high-def Retina resolution! Etc, etc.

Any one of these sounds quite clever: I like the idea, for instance, of being able to take a photo from my phone remotely. Useful for group selfies. But we’ve had watches which do lots of things for decades, and I can tell you that almost nobody actually uses those functions. By allowing thousands of different apps on its watch, Apple is buying into the More Is More mindset: make sure that the watch offers something for everybody. And in order to get there, it has had to create a whole system of twiddles and taps and swipes which you’re going to have to learn before you can really start using the watch. Put it this way: no one who only has one wrist is going to be wearing an Apple Watch.

Apple’s website is now full of language saying things like “to pay with Apple Watch, just double-click the button under the Digital Crown and hold your wrist up to the contactless reader,” or “Swipe up from the watch face for Glances that quickly show you information you care about, such as your current location, stocks or your next meeting.” This isn’t easy: if you need to swipe with your opposite hand, what you’re doing is much more than a Glance. Indeed, we need to take it on trust that you’ll be able to simply tell the time just by looking at your watch. To save battery life, Apple has engineered the watch so that it’s off by default, and only turns on when you turn your wrist a certain way.

In other words, Apple hasn’t solved the basic smartwatch dilemma, which is that smart watches use up far more energy than dumb watches, and that there’s nowhere to store that much energy in something the size of a watch. Indeed, Apple has made the problem worse, by combining a powerful computer with a very bright, ultra-high-resolution, full-color display. Either of those things would require a lot of energy; both together require a very thick watch and a limited battery life.

It’s possible that in an iteration or two, Apple will have solved this problem. It’s possible — but, I’m not holding my breath. The problem has been around a very long time, and no one seems to have come close to solving it yet. So my best hope is for some kind of NanoWatch: a thinner, less fully-featured version of the Apple Watch, with a much less versatile display.

If Apple manages to come up with a thin, waterproof watch which I can wear comfortably under a shirt cuff, one where I can tell the time just by looking at it, without having to recharge it twice a day, then I’ll be interested. I’d want it to measure my activity like the Apple Watch does, but I’d be happy with the visual feedback to come from my iPhone. Similarly, if my watch vibrates to alert me of something, I’d be OK with checking my phone to see what exactly it was. But what I don’t want is to start having to deal with as many watch charging cables as I have iPhone charging cables. Because that would drive me bonkers.

Felix Salmon is a senior editor at Fusion.

TIME Innovation

Early Apple Designer: Apple Is Now a Marketing-Driven Company

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the new Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The company is moving into the fashion-minded luxury market to protect its profits

As expected, Apple’s upgraded iPhones – finally rounded again for nice touch – and the Apple Watch are meticulously designed and continue Apple’s design strategy of elegant simplicity and fine materials. The software user interface of both product lines provides logical interaction and is visually appealing. And as expected, Apple makes things and solutions like wellness monitoring or wireless payment better, even when invented by others.

However, the absence of fundamental innovation also shows that Apple is becoming a marketing-driven company, which now has to follow market pressures. As even the most advanced technology in the wireless space Steve Jobs pioneered is becoming a commodity within the shortest period of time, the company is moving into the fashion-minded luxury market to protect its profits. The money and the talent for this strategic shift is there, however Steve Jobs probably would have preferred the Apple Watch in stainless steel — the authentic material real watches are made of.

Hartmut Esslinger is the founder of Frog design. His book is Keep it Simple: The Early Design Years of Apple.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 10

1. Could a Saudi Arabia-Iran alliance be the key to stopping ISIS?

By Lina Khatib at the Carnegie Middle East Center

2. Microsoft may buy Minecraft for $2 billion. Why? Because the game provides creativity, community, and a unique learning experience.

By Robin Sloan in Medium

3. Apple Pay – the least glamorous of yesterday’s announcements – could upend and vastly expand the mobile payment world.

By Maggie McGrath in Forbes

4. With extraordinary social media use and Internet access, Egypt may yet have a chance at saving itself.

By Enas Rizk at the Elcano Royal Institute

5. The Department of Education is making a smart investment by giving states with strong parental involvement in education an edge in a new grant competition.

By Lauren Camera in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Apple Is Killing the Joy of Personal Style

Apple Inc. Reveals Bigger-Screen iPhones Alongside Wearables
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the Apple Watch during a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. Bloomberg—Getty Images

The new watch could be the first in a series of products that help Apple determine how we dress and express ourselves

Apple has long been known for its aesthetic approach to tech, but with this week’s announcement of the Apple Watch, the company is taking on fashion—looking to impose structure on the very unstructured concept of personal style.

“It’s incredibly customizable, so you can find one that reflects your personal style and taste,” Apple’s CEO Tim Cook assured the audience at Tuesday’s announcement—an occasion for which he wore a normcore ensemble, unironically. Considering that the Apple Watch comes in only three near-identical face styles and half a dozen band-types, his commentary is not so different from Henry Ford’s reassurance that “people can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.”

Yes, the Apple Watch offers more customization than the company’s products have in the past. But when you consider its potential social footprint, as well as Apple’s take-no-prisoners approach to product introductions, the device’s shape, colorways, and embellishments become a mandate, rather than a personal choice.

From an aesthetic perspective, the Apple Watch is reasonably attractive, if unremarkable—not too different from traditional sport watches, but with the air of a fancy Tamagotchi strapped to your wrist. But its combination of cachet, tech functionality, and millions of Apple fanatics who consistently drink the company’s Kool-Aid lays the groundwork for what is likely to be a runaway success.

And that is a shame. In a worst-case scenario for fashion, Apple will not only attain a monopoly on the timepiece market, but also the confidence to wield a larger impact on how we dress ourselves each day. The watch is no doubt an indication of how Apple will approach future fashion products, offering the masses a constrictive framework in which to dress themselves, all under the guise of customizable “self expression.”

And that places personal style in its purest form at risk—inhibiting a consumer’s right to varied choices. It’s not melodramatic to say that while it’s a watch today, it could be a whole, technologically optimized wardrobe in two decades’ time. The company now boasts Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s former shape-shifting CEO, as a senior vice president.

Every additional fashion creation from Apple will inadvertently create a less diverse shopping landscape. Sure, we could chalk it up to innovation—but if our timepieces become as uniform as our cell phones, the loss of the Rolexes, Seikos, Breitlings, Patek Phillipes, and Swatches of the world would be an even sadder loss for fashion as a whole. And that’s not to mention how if Apple continues down this path, clothing brands – from Gucci to Gap – could face similar impact.

The more Apple invades the fashion market, the more it will look to create a robotic consumerist culture (something it’s already done with tech)—in turn manipulating the greatest enjoyments of style and personal expression.

Misty White Sidell is a fashion, style, and culture journalist residing in New York City. A Boston native and Fashion Institute of Technology alum, Sidell has also contributed to ELLE, The New York Observer, The Daily Beast, Newsweek and Fashionista, among others.

TIME technology

Three Ways Smartwatch Upstarts Can Survive the Apple-anche

Apple unveils new gadgets
Left: Pebble watch Right: Apple watch Oscar Galvan Felez—Getty Images; Monica Davey—EPA

The little guys who were on their way up the mountain now have to fight for air

The wearables market is technology’s latest battleground with small upstarts like Pebble and Omate, as well as early entrances from big players like LG, Samsung, and Google. Today, with their announcement of the Apple Watch, Tim Cook officially entered the race and upped the ante with Apple Pay. With Apple in the game, can a young, upstart company like Pebble, maker of the popular Pebble Steel smart watch, go the distance? Or will the small players with early leads get trampled?

In the technology world, the winners are rarely those with the best product, but rather those who have created the most ubiquitous platform. However, established companies that offer the advantage of experience often operate from a defender mentality – protecting their market leadership and brand. Small companies like Pebble offer a challenger mindset. Less tethered to existing platforms, they are free to push boundaries and explore new possibilities.

Consider the differences in how newcomers vs. veterans tend to think and act. I studied over 400 workplace scenarios inside corporations, comparing how inexperienced versus experienced professionals approach a particular type of work. My research shows that being a rookie – facing a new problem or a challenge for the first time – can provoke top performance. In knowledge work, rookies often outperform experienced players, particularly in the realm of innovation and speed.

Rookies tend to be unencumbered, with no resources to burden them and no track record to limit their thinking or aspirations. Because they face a daunting challenge, a desperation-based learning kicks in, causing them to work both hungry and smart. They reach out seeking guidance and feedback. They operate in lean, agile cycles and learn through experimentation and improvisation. While veteran players are pacing themselves for a marathon—rookies are sprinting.

Pebble CEO, Eric Migicovsky exemplifies much of this mentality that I call “rookie smarts.” When venture funding fell short of their need in 2012, he launched a Kickstarter campaign securing a record-breaking $10-million in crowdfunded cash. Migicovsky quickly ventured out of his native Ontario to scout for talent and build a network of advisors across Silicon Valley. When the company faltered from an early bet on the Blackberry platform, he quickly course-corrected and rebuilt the device to pair with Android and iPhone handsets. Through scrappy, fast, but smart action, Pebble boasts over 400,000 users.

Rookies can certainly outperform the incumbents, but they can also flame out fast or fail to marshal the resources needed to sustain victory in the long haul.

Newcomers like Pebble have several options:

  1. Find a new game. Rather than to go head-to-head with the bigger, established players, upstarts like Pebble may be better suited to continue playing the challenger role but in a different corner of the market.
  1. Stay in the race and compete on innovation and speed. With their small size and agile cycles, start-ups may be able to move faster and build a loyal fan base for their device and platform. But, even if they can out-innovate a proven innovator like Apple, it is only a matter of time before Apple produces a more distinctly wearable device and ubiquity beats out ingenuity. Without a partner to achieve scale, they will likely become another casualty along the path of technology evolution. They will have labored to loosen the lid, and then the veteran player will move in and open the jar.
  1. Play on a larger team. By partnering with or being acquired by a big infrastructure player, a start-up like Pebble can combine their fast-cycle innovation and rookie smarts with the critical mass of an established company. As the market continues to consolidate around platforms, the final victors are likely to be the established companies who can acquire the upstart leaders and then embed and nurture this rookie thinking inside their own company.

With today’s announcement, it is tempting to assume Apple will repeat its winning streak and will dominate not only the e-payment market but also the wearable technology market that allows users even greater ease and visibility to these transactions. But it’s too early in the race to dismiss the challengers. If companies like Pebble are in it for the long haul, they will need to do more than just think like rookies and sprint for 26.2 miles. To win big, they need to draw on the strength of the peloton and pair their capability with the power, savvy, and resources of industry veterans – those who are defining the rules. The challengers may stand ready to change the world, but they will need the help of those who know how this world works.

Liz Wiseman is the author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work and is a former executive at Oracle Corporation.

TIME Companies

Watch the Apple Products Launch in Less Than 2 Minutes

Apple fans and engineers gathered in Cupertino, Calif., for a hotly anticipated announcement Tuesday, which turned out to include not only the latest version of the iPhone (the iPhone 6), plus a larger version (the iPhone 6 Plus), but the much-rumored Apple Watch.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also took the opportunity to reveal the new mobile payment system Apple Pay.

Check out the best of the hip tech event in under two minutes.

TIME Innovation

Apple Watch: We Are Now Literally Handcuffed To Our Computers

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Apple's watch could be as revolutionary as the first clocks

Many of us already feel as if we’re handcuffed to our computers. With its new smart watch, unveiled today in California, Apple is hoping to turn that figure of speech into a literal truth.

Apple has a lot riding on the diminutive gadget. It’s the first major piece of hardware the company has rolled out since the iPad made its debut four years ago. It’s the first new product to be designed under the purview of fledgling CEO Tim Cook. And, when it goes on sale early next year, it will be Apple’s first entry in a much-hyped product category—wearable computers—that has so far fallen short of expectations. Jocks and geeks seem eager to strap computers onto their bodies. The rest of us have yet to be convinced.

Apple has some experience in taking a lackluster new product and turning it into a must-have for the masses. When it released its iPod in 2001, there were already plenty of MP3 players on the market. None of them, though, had garnered much interest. The iPod, with its simple interface and copious capacity, broke the market open—and revolutionized the music business in the process. With the elegantly designed, eye-catching Apple Watch, the company is hoping to pull off a similar feat for wearables.

But there’s a bigger story here. If the Apple Watch proves popular, it will not just mark “the next chapter in Apple’s story,” as Cook described it. It will change our relationship to computers, weaving the already ubiquitous devices and their apps even more deeply into the fabric of our lives. The personal and social ramifications could be far-reaching.

For a precedent, we need only look back to the development of the last great arm-mounted technology: the wristwatch. The early history of time-keeping machines bears a striking resemblance to the recent evolution of digital computers. Both are stories, at a technical level, of miniaturization and personalization, and both reveal how changes in the design of a common technology can alter not only its function but also the way it influences personal behavior and social norms.

Mechanical clocks started out as large, institutional machines. Installed in cathedrals and town halls, they were the mainframes of their time, and they had a profound effect on the way people lived. Time, which had previously been experienced as a natural, cyclical flow, began to be experienced as a succession of discrete, precisely measurable units. Hours, minutes, and seconds ticked away with industrial exactitude, and people quickly adapted themselves to the new, martial rhythm. Society became more productive and predictable as well as more regimented.

That was just the start. As inventors discovered ways to build smaller, less expensive clocks, the devices moved into people’s homes in the form of wall clocks and floor clocks — the equivalent of the bulky desktop PC that in the 1980s became a fixture of the modern home. With further engineering breakthroughs, clock mechanisms continued to shrink, leading to the creation of the pocket watch. People started carrying time-keeping machines around with them all day, just as we do with our smartphones.

Then, finally, came the wristwatch. People no longer had to pull their time-keeping machines out of their pockets to consult them. The technology was now always in view, becoming, in effect, an extension of the human body. Affixed to the wrist, the watch, as the late historian David Landes explained in his book Revolution in Time, became “an ever-visible, ever-audible companion and monitor.” By continually reminding its wearer of “time used, time spent, time wasted, time lost,” it served as both “prod and key to personal achievement and productivity.” The wristwatch, Landes argued, played a major role in spreading the ethic of individualism throughout Western culture.

At $349, the Apple Watch is pricey, and the device’s success remains uncertain. It does seem likely, though, that the gadget’s arrival will open yet another chapter in the story of personal computing. The watch, as today’s demos revealed, is the most solicitous computer yet. It taps you on the wrist whenever a new message or alert comes in. It formulates answers to questions you receive from friends. It reminds you where you parked your car. It tracks your health. It even allows you to broadcast your heartbeat to others.

That’s all very exciting, but some wariness is in order. As the history of clocks reveals, strapping a technological companion and monitor onto your wrist can alter, in ways that are hard to foresee, life’s textures and rhythms. And never before have we had a tool that promises to be so intimate a companion and so diligent a monitor as the Apple Watch.

Nicholas Carr is the author of the forthcoming book The Glass Cage: Automation and Us.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 9

1. Energy poverty isn’t about climate change. It’s about powering innovation in energy distribution.

By Jigar Shah in LinkedIn

2. With the investigation in Ferguson, the U.S. Department of Justice has an opportunity to revive its poor civil rights record.

By Michael Selmi in Politico

3. Young people aren’t getting enough sleep, which can lead to poor academic performance, depression and worse. We should start school days later.

By Jessica Lahey in the Atlantic

4. In the Internet age, we must enact new laws protecting sexual privacy.

By Mary Anne Franks in Brookings Institution

5. Tunisia – where the Arab Spring began – is a working model of a post-revolutionary Arab state. The world should take notice.

By by the Editorial Board of the Christian Science Monitor

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Smartphones

The Rise of Mobile Phones from 1916 to Today

Here's how portable telephones -- and the ways we use them -- have evolved over the past century, from the front lines of World War I to selfies with the Queen

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 8

1. To calculate the value of vaccines, we must imagine the economic cost of a world without them.

By Michael White in Pacific Standard

2. Apple may change everything again, this time by finally killing the credit card.

By Marcus Wohlsen in Wired

3. Local government – often heralded as the best kind of government – is actually America’s most broken and oppressive.

By Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine

4. “Instagram for doctors” can help solve medical mysteries.

By Sarah Kliff in Vox

5. A policy of realism, tempered with humanity, is good for people and nations.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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