Apple's iWatch Will Measure More than Time

Harvard Business Review

Have you recently noticed all the journalistic detective work about the watch that Apple is developing?

Using unnamed company sources, patent filing analysis, and other sleuthing methods, technology writers have sketched a number of hypotheses about the appearance and material features of the soon-to-launch product. In particular, the NY Times and Wired suspect that Apple will use curved glass as a key design feature.

Apart from looking cool, how would Apple's watch really be different than a Timex? What new functions might it perform that create value for consumers? I've seen much less investigation of these sorts of questions. However, one doesn't need to be Dick Tracy — the comic strip detective with a penchant for futuristic wrist-watch gadgets — to note clues to the answer.

Using evidence and a bit of logic, I bet the iWatch will be much less a time piece and much more platform for auto-analytics and managing yourself. Three clues:

Look at that wall. Sneak past the the greeters and MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads at your local Apple store and somewhere toward the middle or back you'll likely to see a display like this:

store.png
(Photo with permission from Ernesto Ramirez)

At first glance it appears to be not much more than eclectic mix of items from various brands that feed the Apple ecosystem. But there's an underlying coherence to the display. Most items are so-called "wearable technologies." Here's a quick sample:

#3.Fitbit One and Zip physical activity sensors
#6.Scosche Rhythm heart rate monitor armband
#7.Jawbone Up physical activity and sleep sensor
#12.Nike+ Fuelband physical activity sensor
#18.Lark Life physical activity and sleep sensor
#19.iBGStar blood glucose sensor
#20.iHealth wireless blood pressure wrist monitor

Unlike other wearable technologies like, say, headphones, these devices allow you to monitor and analyze sleep, health, and fitness levels. In short, your well being.

Might Apple's proprietary sales data and in-store feedback on these wrist-hugging SKUs be informing what should go into an iWatch that consumers will pay for? I strongly suspect so.

What's less clear is whether Apple will eventually sell its watch right alongside the other options or if the displays are only temporary experiments meant to be replaced by Apple's own watch solution.

Look at what Apple knows. Complexity is one of the key challenges facing users of those devices on the wall. Today there are more than 500 commercially available tools available to the auto-analytically inclined, in three varieties:

  • wearable technologies, like the ones mentioned above can be sensors that "passively" monitor your body's systems; many new tools can also be used to help you monitor and analyze your own cognitive and emotional states
  • mobile phone apps often require a more hands-on (or "active") approach to data entry than wearable technologies
  • computer software passively monitors your usage activity to help you understand when you are most productive, how often you switch work tasks, and how much time you're really spending on Twitter.

Building on Apple's insight and capabilities across all three areas, an iWatch could seamlessly weave them together. For instance, with an iWatch you could simultaneously track your mood, monitor physical activity levels, and then wirelessly transmit your data to your MacBook or iPad.

On your laptop you'll likely use an app for aggregating, filtering, and visualizing your digital personal data collection. You'll also be able to look at correlations between data sets, like whether your lunchtime jog seems to boost your mood and work productivity.

Look at Apple products' aspiration. The ancient Greeks often made a distinction between two notions of time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is chronological time which flows ineluctably along by seconds, hours and years, unaffected by human interests. Kairos, etymological root of "care," is time laden with human meaning and activity. "Lunchtime," "a good night's sleep," and a "long and rejuvenating walk," all convey this sense of Kairos.

A Timex is mainly chronological. What Apple could be doing is making a "kairologocial" tool that tracks and monitors the data around the experiences you care about. How much you actually slept, when and how far you walked. Basic questions rooted from everyday experience might now be by settled by data on a "watch" — a "kairometer" — rather than guesswork.

Transforming the user's experience by making impersonal things more personal and intimate has long been at the core of Apple product's value proposition. For example, Steve Jobs positioned the iPad as a way for customers to "connect with their...content in a more intimate...way than ever before."

The Apple watch would likely build on this logic, aiming to make users' experience of time more intimate by tying it to who they are and what they care about.

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.