The athletic brand and tech giant may come together in the near future+ READ ARTICLE
For those looking for wearable tech that’s significantly less nerdy than Google Glass and the Apple Watch, you may not be looking for long.
For those looking for wearable tech that’s significantly less nerdy than Google Glass and the Apple Watch, you may not be looking for long.
Fairly or not, teenagers are often seen as arbiters of taste in the tech sector. So it might be a little disconcerting for Apple that they’re expressing little interest in the company’s upcoming Apple Watch, according to a new survey by an investment bank.
The Piper Jaffray survey of 7,200 teens, conducted in person and online across 41 states, aims to find out about teens’ consumption habits and technological preferences. While Apple’s iPhone was popular among the teens surveyed—two-thirds said they had one—just 16% said they were interested in buying an Apple Watch, according to Re/Code. Currently just 7% of the teens surveyed own a smartwatch, numbers that reflect their slow adoption across the board. The Apple Watch’s price tag, which starts at $350, could be one factor muting teens’ interest.
There is some good news for Apple in the survey as well. 54% of teens said they own an iPad, compared to 16% with an Android tablet and 6% with a Kindle Fire. Beats by Dre headphones, a part of the Beats Electronics company that Apple is buying for $3 billion, are also growing in popularity among young people.
Overall, kids prefer to splurge on many things besides electronics. Teens surveyed spend 21% of their money on clothes, 9% on their cars and 8% on shoes, compared to 7% on gadgets.
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Apple isn’t in the business of inventing things, or at least not primarily. It practices a grislier trade: resurrection. The company’s modus operandi is to browse for dead product categories, looking for freshly dug graves that might contain carrion ripe for reanimation—digital music players, tablet computers. Sometimes it comes across the walking dead, like the smartphone business, which had died though nobody noticed.
When it finds a likely candidate, Apple dissects it and studies the various causes of death. Then it builds something so completely thought through, so seductively designed, so snugly embedded in webs of content and services and communications, that it not only lives again, it thrives to the point of annihilating memories of anything that came...
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For the full story, read this week’s TIME magazine.
With the unveiling of the Apple Watch Tuesday in Cupertino, California, Apple is attempting to put technology somewhere where it’s never been particularly welcome. Like a pushy date, the Apple Watch wants to get intimate with us in a way we’re not entirely used to or prepared for. This isn’t just a new product, this is technology attempting to colonize our bodies.
The Apple Watch is very personal—“personal” and “intimate” were words that Apple CEO Tim Cook and his colleagues used over and over again when presenting it to the public for the first time. That’s where the watch is likely to change things, because it does something computers aren’t generally supposed to: it lives on your body. It perches on your wrist, like one of Cinderella’s helpful bluebirds. It gets closer than we’re used technology getting. It gets inside your personal bubble. We’re used to technology being safely Other, but the Apple Watch wants to snuggle up and become part of your Self.
This is new, and slightly unnerving. When technologies get adopted as fast as we tend to adopt Apple’s products, there are always unintended consequences. When the iPhone came out it was praised to the skies as a design and engineering marvel, because it is one, but no one really understood what it would be like to have it in our lives. Nobody anticipated the way iPhones exert a constant gravitational tug on our attention. Do I have e-mail? What’s happening on Twitter? Could I get away with playing Tiny Wings at this meeting? When you’re carrying a smartphone, your attention is never entirely undivided.
The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets over-connected, to the point where the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers start to feel more urgent than those of your loved ones who are in the same room as you. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted. Ironically enough experiences don’t feel fully real till you’ve used your phone to make them virtual—tweeted them or tumbled them or Instagrammed them or YouTubed them, and the world has congratulated you for doing so. Smartphones create needs we never had before, and were probably better off without.
The great thing about the Apple Watch is that it’s always there—you don’t even have to take it out of your bag to look at it, the way you would with an iPhone. But unlike an iPhone you can’t put the Apple Watch away either. It’s always with you. During the company’s press event the artist Banksy posted a drawing to his Twitter feed of an iPhone growing roots that strangle and sink into the wrist of the hand holding it. You can see where he was coming from. This is technology establishing a new beachhead. To wear a device as powerful as the Apple Watch makes you ever so slightly post-human.
What might post-humanity be like? The paradox of a wearable device is that it both gives you control and takes it away at the same time. Consider the watch’s fitness applications. They capture all data that your body generates, your heart and activity and so on, gathers it up and stores and returns it to you in a form you can use. Once the development community gets through apping it, there’s no telling what else it might gather. This will change your experience of your body. The wristwatch made the idea of not knowing what time it was seem bizarre; in five years it might seem bizarre not to know how many calories you’ve eaten today, or what your resting heart rate is.
But wearables also ask you to give up control. Your phone will start telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat and how far you should run. It’s going to get in between you and your body and mediate that relationship. Wearables will make your physical self visible to the virtual world in the form of information, an indelible digital body-print, and that information is going to behave like any other information behaves these days. It will be copied and circulated. It will go places you don’t expect. People will use that information to track you and market to you. It will be bought and sold and leaked—imagine a data-spill comparable to the recent iCloud leak, only with Apple Watch data instead of naked selfies.
The Apple Watch represents a redrawing of the map that locates technology in one place and our bodies in another. The line between the two will never be as easy to find again. Once you’re OK with wearing technology, the only way forward is inward: the next product launch after the Apple Watch would logically be the iMplant. If Apple succeeds in legitimizing wearables as a category, it will have successfully established the founding node in a network that could spread throughout our bodies, with Apple setting the standards. Then we’ll really have to decide how much control we want—and what we’re prepared to give up for it.
A fundamental quest of the digital age has been to make our devices more personal. Steve Jobs was the Zen master of this, and he ingrained it into the DNA of Apple. That was reflected in the Apple Watch that current Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team launched this week, the latest leap toward creating a more intimate connection between people and computers.
The great pioneer of computer personalization was Vannevar Bush, an MIT engineering dean who oversaw scientific research for the U.S. government during World War II. In 1945 he wrote a seminal article titled “As We May Think” for the Atlantic that envisioned a personal information device that he called a memex. A person would be able to store all of his communications and information in it, and it would serve as “an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” The word intimate was key, and it was one that Cook used when describing the Apple Watch.
Other ingenious innovators enhanced the intimacy between computers and humans. J. C. R. Licklider, an MIT psychologist and engineer who best deserves the title of father of the Internet, helped design a massive U.S. air defense system that involved networked computers in twenty-three tracking centers. He created easy and intuitive graphic displays, since the nation’s fate might depend on the ability of a console jockey to assess data correctly and respond instantly. He called his approach “man-computer symbiosis.” As he explained, “human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly.” Douglas Engelbart, an acolyte of Bush and Licklider, invented the mouse as part of his mission to make the connection between humans and computers more personal, and at Xerox PARC, Alan Kay and others came up with friendly screen displays with folders and icons that users could point to and click.
For the Macintosh that he launched at the Flint Center thirty years ago, Jobs famously appropriated the graphical user interface from Xerox PARC, quoting Picasso as saying that “great artists steal.” He had an intuitive genius for making devices that established an intimate connection with the user. The iPod, for example, performed the simple but magical task of putting a thousand songs in your pocket. It harkened back to another great triumph of personalization. In 1954, Pat Haggerty of Texas Instruments was looking for a way to create a mass market for transistors. He came up with the idea of a pocket radio. The radio no longer would be a living-room appliance to be shared; it became a personal device that allowed you to listen to your own music where and when you wished—even if it was music that your parents wanted to ban.
Indeed, there was a symbiotic relationship between the advent of the transistor radio and the rise of rock and roll. The rebellious new music made every kid want a radio. And the fact that the radios could be taken to the beach or the basement, away from the disapproving ears and dial-controlling fingers of parents, allowed the music to flourish. Its plastic case came, iPod-like, in four colors: black, ivory, Mandarin Red, and Cloud Gray. Within a year, 100,000 had been sold, making it one of the most popular new products in history.
In the decades since Bush envisioned the intimate and personal memex, a competing school of computer science has set its sights on artificial intelligence, repeatedly predicting the arrival of machines that could think without us, perhaps even make us irrelevant. That goal has been elusive, a mirage always a few decades away. The Apple Watch, designed to touch our wrists and beat with our hearts, again shows the greater power of the approach that Bush and Licklider proposed, that of seeking an intimate symbiosis and deeply personal partnership between humans and machines.
Walter Isaacson’s history of the digital age, The Innovators, will be published in October.
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.
“The interview is vintage Horace,” writes Jackson. “So much to think about in so few words.”
A few excerpts:
For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.
Let’s say you plan to ignore the advice of most reviews and buy an Android Wear smartwatch right now. Even though more stylish designs are on the way, you’ve got money to spend and want to see what the fuss is about.
How do you choose between Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch? After using each one over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s pretty easy to decide. But first, let’s go through the pros and cons of each watch:
You won’t win a lot of style points for either watch, as they are both thick, square slabs that take up a lot of space across the wrist. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, the watch bodies, bezels and screens are almost exactly the same size.
Where Samsung’s Gear Live stands out, though, is the use of metal around the body and on the clasp under your wrist. The watch band also appears thinner due to its tapered edges, and the snap-in mechanism is less bulky than the G Watch’s more traditional buckle. The Gear Live is a bit gaudier, but it also makes a statement. That’s more my style, given that neither watch is understated to begin with.
Advantage: Samsung Gear Live
The Gear Live and G Watch have almost exactly the same features, as they are required to run the same Android Wear software. Samsung does include a heart rate monitor, but I had trouble getting consistent readings and question whether this is a useful feature anyway. (If you can check your own pulse, you can just as easily measure it with the basic stopwatch function on either watch.)
The G Watch’s best feature, oddly enough, is its selection of watch faces. It has a lot of sharp-looking ones that Samsung doesn’t, and while this will become less of an issue as more third-party watch faces hit the Google Play Store, it’s nice to have some quality faces out of the box.
Advantage: LG G Watch, slightly
As I mentioned above, the Samsung Gear Live’s watch band has a couple of pins on the end, which you snap into any two holes further up the band. The G Watch has a standard buckle that keeps the watch securely fastened, along with a loop of plastic for holding down the excess strap material.
I found the Gear Live’s band to be more comfortable overall, with ridges on the inside that let your wrist breathe a bit, and it’s nice not to have any excess material to deal with. By comparison, the G Watch’s flat, rubberized band seemed to make my wrist feel sticky and sweaty before long. Both watches do have removable straps, at least.
Advantage: Samsung Gear Live
This one isn’t even close. Not only does LG’s G Watch have a larger battery, it also has a better charging cradle that you can just drop the watch onto at night. It’s much more convenient than the Samsung Gear Live’s charging pod, which needs to be snapped onto the underside of the watch in a particular way.
You’ll likely want to charge either watch every night, which actually isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. (In a way, it’s better than having to charge every few days, because the nightly charge becomes routine.) But the need for a nightly top-up makes a convenient charging mechanism all the more important.
Advantage: LG G Watch
In theory, the 320-by-320 resolution AMOLED panel on Samsung’s Gear Live should be the winner over LG’s 280-by-280 LCD screen, as it provides sharper images and better viewing angles.
But the G Watch does have one advantage in its outdoor readability. While neither watch performs well in direct sunlight, LG’s watch does a slightly better job of fending off the sun’s glare at full brightness. It’s not a big enough difference to beat the Gear Live’s display overall, but it does make the displays closer in quality than they look on paper.
Advantage: Samsung Gear Live, slightly
Style and comfort are extremely important to me considering this is something I have to wear every day, and the Gear Live’s advantages in those areas outweigh its pesky charger and inferior watch faces. (If I was buying one myself, the Gear Live’s $199 price tag compared to $229 for the LG G Watch wouldn’t hurt.)
LG’s G Watch is still worth considering for some users, especially those who plan to swap in their own straps. But I’m not going that route, so the Samsung Gear Live will be my go-to smartwatch as I continue to get a feel for Android Wear.
If you want an example of everything wrong with smartwatch apps right now, just look at all the Android Wear calculators.
I currently count four calculator apps for Google’s wearable platform, and they’re all useless. You need pinpoint touch precision to enter each number, and none of the apps include a backspace key for when you inevitably mistype something. Using a calculator app on your phone would be faster and less frustrating.
These unnecessary calculator apps underscore the biggest challenge for Android Wear–and for that matter, all smartwatches–right now: Most people are happy to just take out their smartphones, so there’s little need for a watch that tries to do all the same things on a smaller screen.
For smartwatches to make sense, they need to go beyond what a phone can do on its own. That idea seems lost on developers who are creating weak imitations of existing smartphone apps, including games, drawing apps, flashlights and calendars.
Google has tried to discourage these kinds of apps, both in its documentation (“inputs requiring fine-grained motor skills are avoided”) and through Wear’s interface, which deliberately makes smartphone-like apps difficult to launch. But developers are undeterred. In fact, someone has even come out with a third-party app launcher for Wear that seems likely to encourage more bad behavior.
Even some of the highlighted Android Wear apps in the Google Play Store miss the point: Why would anyone want to browse Tinder on a smartwatch, when the smartphone version offers a better experience? How often are you really going to ask the Eat24 app for delivery when you can only get exactly what you’ve ordered in the past?
To make the case for smartwatches, developers need to think more critically about the apps they’re building. To that end, I think it might help to consider a few basic questions:
Android Wear does have a handful of apps that answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, and app makers should take inspiration from these good examples.
Last weekend, for instance, I played a round of golf with help from the Golfshot app. After using the smartphone app to select the course I was playing on, the watch provided a constant read-out of my distance from the hole. If I was any good at golf, this would have been tremendously helpful for deciding which club to use, as my phone was safely stowed away in my golf bag for the rest of the outing. (See question number one.) It’d be even better if the app let you enter a score at the end of each hole, but this is a fine start.
Delta’s Android app is another example of a wearable app done right. If you check into a flight on your phone, the watch provides up to date boarding information right on your wrist (question two) and presents your boarding pass to use at the gate (question three).
Similarly, Allthecooks’ Android Wear functions can save time by showing recipe instructions on your wrist. Having those instructions follow you around the kitchen makes a lot more sense than having to constantly look back to your phone or tablet for reference.
One of the big criticisms of smartwatches so far is that they only make life more complicated. They represent another device to carry, another screen to keep charged every night, another set of apps to deal with.
The thing that interests me about Android Wear is its potential to simplify, presenting information in a way that helps us think about our phones less often. That’s not going to happen if developers keep taking the easy path, turning Android Wear into another screen full of apps.
A funny thing has happened to me over the last week and a half, as I’ve been reviewing a couple Android Wear smartwatches from LG and Samsung: Instead of being the guy who takes out his phone at every opportunity, I’ve become the one who stands idly by while other people thumb around on their handsets.
It’s not that I’m always fiddling with the screen on my wrist instead; I’m actually spending less time interacting with screens in general. By having all my phone’s notifications in view, I can ignore the ones that aren’t important and quickly deal with the ones that are. And because the phone stays in my pocket, I’m not tempted to spend the next five minutes looking at Twitter or Facebook. Against all logic, tethering a computer to my wrist has been liberating.
But is that idea enough to convince people to start wearing watches again? It’s doubtful, especially in Android Wear’s current form.
Right now, there are two smartwatches that run on Google’s Android Wear platform. Samsung’s Gear Live costs $199 and is a bit gaudy with its metallic trim and slim snap-on wristband, while the $229 LG G Watch strikes a more utilitarian look with a rubberized band and all-plastic finish. In both cases, the aesthetic leans toward “geek badge of honor,” thanks to clunky rectangular bodies and thick black bezels around the displays. (I’ll compare the two watches more in a future post, as I’ve only spent a day with LG’s model. My quick impressions are that Samsung has the better screen and more appealing design, while LG’s drop-in dock is more convenient for nightly charging.)
Like other smartwatches on the market already, such as the Pebble and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear line, Android Wear puts your phone’s notifications on your wrist. But what stands about Google’s approach is how little effort it takes to view these notifications and take action on them with a swipe or voice command.
With Android Wear, there’s hardly any setup involved. Everything’s tied to the actionable notifications on Android phones, so once you’ve paired the watch over Bluetooth, you can immediately do things like manage e-mails, dismiss text messages, control the phone’s music playback, glance at sports scores and get traffic alerts from Google Now. The screen stays in greyscale mode until you tap it or tilt it toward you, at which point you can view each notification by flicking upward.
This can lead to some delightful moments as you get in the habit of glancing at your wrist for information. Last weekend, for instance, I made a quick trip to the grocery store to grab some breakfast items when I caught a notification from Todo Cloud, a free smartphone app that supports location-based reminders. It was telling me to pick up some pasta–something I’d reminded myself to do earlier–and I would have missed the message if it hadn’t been waiting on my wrist. Without any extra effort on my part, Android Wear saved me a return trip to the store.
It helps that the software is smooth and responsive, and generally runs without any glitches, but I do have a few nitpicks: It takes a little too long for the system to recognize swiping after the screen lights up, and I wish you could un-dismiss a notification if you accidentally swipe it away. It’d also be nice if the main screen had an icon bar, like the one on Android phones, so you could get a high-level view of which notifications are waiting.
Android Wear will also face some natural growing pains, as a lot of third-party apps still haven’t optimized their code for wearables. For example, Secret can notify you when a friend posts, but doesn’t show you the actual post on the watch. You can retweet or “favorite” a Twitter mention, but you can’t reply directly by voice. In WhatsApp, there’s no way to view full messages, reply to them or mark them as read. Because Android Wear is supposed to just work, it’s disappointing when these apps don’t.
That same kind of uncertainty carries over to Android Wear’s voice commands, which you trigger by tapping the main screen or saying “OK Google.” This is useful for quickly dictating a text message, setting a reminder or pulling up turn-by-turn directions, but most third-party apps don’t work with voice — and the handful that do require you to memorize specific syntax. Voice recognition also stumbles in some areas, always recognizing “Android Wear” as “Android Where,” for instance, and failing to interpret punctuation commands like “comma” and “question mark.” I quickly learned to avoid voice unless I knew exactly what I was going to get in response.
A lot of the above issues are annoyances rather than dealbreakers. But as Google tries to improve the platform, there’s a more fundamental dilemma that Android Wear needs to figure out: If most people are happy to whip out their phones, why would they care about a device that spares them from doing so?
The answer, I think, will come from functions that are not as practical on a smartphone–things you might not do at all if you have to take the device out of your pocket. Android Wear lays a foundation for these kinds of uses, but doesn’t provide nearly enough of them.
Going back to my grocery store example, while I was shopping I also saw another notification from Google Wallet, letting me know that I was close to the in-store Starbucks. The reminder alone wasn’t useful, but imagine if Wallet had gone a step further and put my Starbucks card’s barcode on my wrist. If every loyalty card, coupon, ticket and boarding pass could pop up in the right location, I wouldn’t even have to think about reaching for my wallet or phone. This is definitely possible with Android Wear–Delta is already doing it for boarding passes–but it’s not a centerpiece of the platform right now.
Likewise, Google has promised the ability to unlock your smartphone or Chromebook with a paired Android Wear device, and it’s easy to imagine this capability expanding to sensitive third-party apps in the future. But even the basic unlocking feature won’t arrive until the next version of Android comes out this fall.
What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Until the hardware and software are further along, saving yourself from your phone should probably wait.