Additional Thoughts on iWatch and Android Wear

A few points of follow-up on last week’s piece Android Where?:

So What About iWatch?

I only mentioned the iWatch tangentially in last week’s piece, which is just as well, for it gives me an opportunity to link favorably to this piece on Techpinions by industry veteran Tim Bajarin about the (alleged) iWatch:

I actually think the ID aspect of any wearable Apple brings out is probably central to its future functionality. This is speculative on my part but, after using the Disney band for seven days and seeing its incredible functionality, Apple has to be crazy not to make this part of any of their wearables. The ramifications for Apple’s future with this one ID implementation alone could make it a huge hit. Imagine going into a Starbucks and just touching your iWatch or iBand to the terminal, entering a PIN number and it is charged to your Apple account. Or to enter your house, you just touch the Apple wearable and enter a PIN number and your are in. Yes, you can do this with an iPhone now but that means taking it out of your pocket or purse and it is only single authentication at present. In a wearable, it is much easier to use for entering the home and for all types of interactions and transactions. Its convenience factor would be very compelling. I believe something like this would be very “sticky” and keep users of these tied closer to Apple’s ecosystem…

I believe when and if Apple does launch an iWatch or iBand or what ever form of wearables they bring to market, they will initially lead with the health and home automation apps first and over time add the ID features. As you can imagine, using an iWatch or iBand for ID that can be used to do transactions, lock doors and even handle proximity functions could be controversial without them first convincing people they can trust them even more than they already do today. That could take some time.

I agree almost completely with his piece, and encourage you to read the whole thing. In fact, it’s exactly what I was driving at in Android Where? when I said:

I question, though, if Now will turn out to be as meaningful to most people as Google thinks it will be. In other words, how many people actually want a personal digital assistant? There is an alternative view of computers in which they are more akin to a tool, something you pick up and use to do a job, and then set down when you are done with it. To be sure, that tool is incredibly powerful and capable of doing a great number of jobs, but it still operates in service of something outside of computers…A digital assistant, on the other hand, is simply a more efficient way of interacting with your computer – or your computer interacting with you – and I question how much that vision that will ultimately resonate with people.

The potential problem with Android Wear I see is its focus on being a conduit for your phone – a more efficient distraction from the real world, as it were. I suspect the iWatch will go in the opposite direction: it will be a means of pulling the real world into your phone (think sensors) as well as a means of projecting your phone out (think payments, proximity, etc.)

Interestingly, neither of these use cases necessarily even need a screen. And, if that’s not a requirement, the range of possible objects increases exponentially. It could be a ring, or a bracelet, or a clip, and so on – or all of the above. It would also be great for battery life, and for price (touch screens are the most expensive component in phones and tablets). Remember the Wall Street Journal article from a week-and-a-half ago:

Apple is planning multiple versions of a smartwatch—dubbed the iWatch in the media—later this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

One more thing: a portfolio of wearables certainly would explain hiring someone like former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve as head of special projects. Regardless, I think it’s very safe to say whatever Apple releases will look nothing like the devices shown by Google last week.

Android Wear/TV Can’t be Customized

One interesting detail about Android Wear (and Android TV) is that Google is prohibiting OEM’s from customizing the look-and-feel. From ArsTechnica:

One thing about both of them sticks out: their software behaves pretty much the same way no matter which device you have. There are small differences that Google has outlined here, but interacting with each watch is exactly the same, and digging down into the settings shows that they’re both running the exact same Android versions and build numbers. This would be unusual for Android phones or tablets, which generally come with OEM-controlled UI skins, hardware and software flourishes, and pre-installed apps.

Talking with Google engineering director David Burke confirmed that all of the new Android initiatives announced at the keynote this week—Android Wear, Android Auto, and Android TV—will have user interfaces and underlying software that is controlled by Google, not by the OEMs.

“The UI is more part of the product in this case,” Burke said to Ars of Android TV in particular. “We want to just have a very consistent user experience, so if you have one TV in one room and another TV in another room and they both say Android TV, we want them to work the same and look the same… The device manufacturers can brand it, and they might have services that they want to include with it, but otherwise it should be the same.”

So here is my question: if “the UI is more part of the product” when it comes to Android Wear devices, does that mean the UI is not part of the product when it comes to Android phones?

Obviously that is not the case in a strict sense – UI is incredibly important in a phone – but looked at broadly Burke’s statement does have a grain of truth. The fact Google does not lock down the UI for Android on phones is not because they don’t think it is important, but rather that the context in which Android was launched was a far different one. As I wrote after last year’s Google I/O, Android was originally developed not as an iPhone alternative, but as a Windows Mobile alternative. Google wanted to ensure that Microsoft did not dominate mobile in the same way they dominated the desktop.

To that end, they needed to have a “better” offering than Microsoft, where by better I mean an offering that was more appealing to OEMs (remember, back then Microsoft was using their PC business model for mobile – OEMs were their customers). Part of this was “free,” but part of it also was the promise that OEM’s could create unique experiences. Microsoft had been seeking to lock down PC Windows for years at this point, and had taken a much stricter approach to Windows Mobile.

What’s interesting, of course, is how that last sentence perfectly describes Google’s approach to Android and Android Wear. Increasingly locked down, and, now that they are dominant, their new platform can’t be customized at all.

(As an aside, while I have said this multiple times, it’s worth repeating: Android was a strategic masterstroke. It’s not just that Google now controls the platform on the vast majority of the user’s phones and all the power and data that come with that, but also that mobile’s emphasis on apps over the browser would have severely magnified Microsoft’s chokehold had they been as dominant as Google feared.)

Parenthood iPhone Ad

Back to the iWatch, there is a great new iPhone ad by Apple. From Recode:

Today is the seventh anniversary of the very first iPhone release and Apple is celebrating it with a new ad touting the device’s role in the Internet of Things and its ability to support parenting and foster family interaction. Showcased in the spot are all manner of family-friendly peripherals: the WiThings baby monitor, the Belkin WeMo plug, the ProScope Micro Mobile microscope, the Tractive GPS dog collar, the Kinsa thermometer and Parrot’s Flower Power wireless sensor for plants, as well as a bunch of related apps.

A few weeks back in my Daily Update (members only) I wrote that Apple’s new fitness ad, while being nominally about the iPhone, probably ought to be viewed as the beginning of the iWatch marketing campaign:

As countless commentators have noted, one of the central challenges of the alleged iWatch is that it’s not super clear how big of a need there is among the general population. What, though, is advertising? In many respects the best sort of ads make you aware of a need you didn’t realize you had. This sort of effect, though, is not achieved with a one-off spot or campaign. Rather, it’s a long slog that only sees results over time.

To put it more bluntly, it’s very possible that we just saw the first iWatch commercial. Oh sure, there is no iWatch to be seen, and there are benefits depicted in the commercial that accrue to the iPhone today, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Apple starting to set the table amongst the broader consumer market.

To my mind this new ad confirms that thesis. Apple is working to set the expectation that your iPhone is better with additional peripherals, and golly, wouldn’t it be something if Apple had a peripheral of their own to sell you?

Beyond that, as a parent I really did enjoy this ad, and felt it hit the right notes. That said, they did manage to skip over the “use-an-iPhone-playing-YouTube as a sedative” angle. :)