Last night, a post that I wrote in April about the iWatch got picked up and was run on quite a few websites. Because of this, I feel the need to clarify some of the things I wrote in that article.
I think we all accept that the iWatch will run some flavour of iOS, but there was some contention from the fact that my mockups portray it as a scaled down version of iOS as it currently looks on iPhone and iPad.
Since Apple announced iOS 8 and its interactive notifications, extensions, and widgets, many people think that an iWatch would be a receiver for views created by these, having little to no functionality if it’s own. This would mean the interface of such a device would be practically non-existent until an app on a connected iPhone or iPad provided it a view.
I wrote the article in April (2 months before WWDC), so I didn’t know about extensibility, and widgets let alone how those features would work. And knowing that now, I completely agree that those could be incredibly useful for allowing apps to push views to an iWatch without needing apps on the watch itself. But people are now thinking that this will be the main (or only) functionality that it will provide: views fed from apps on another device.
And I don’t think that’s the case.
The problem with the current generation of smart watches is that they’re not really smart: they’re “faking it”, by piggy backing off of a smartphone. Without being connected to a smartphone, they are nothing more than expensive, gaudy looking digital watches.
For an iWatch to be useful, it needs to be useful without having to be tied to a phone. It would need to provide some useful functions on its own.
Apple’s new auto layout features in iOS allow developers to easily (at least, relative to how it was before) create apps that run on devices with multiple screen sizes. Although pegged as being useful for developing an app that runs on both iPhone and iPad, it’s entirely possible that it could also be used to develop the same app for smaller screens.
If it runs iOS, and has third party apps, chances are it’ll look very much like iOS.
Now, I could be wrong about this: I’m just speculating on a future product that may or may not actually exist. But in my mind, it makes sense.
Regarding the on-screen home button, I’d make the the same argument that Steve Jobs made for an on-screen keyboard. When announcing the original iPhone, he said that an onscreen keyboard was better because it could be context aware — providing different buttons based on what you needed it for — and would disappear when not needed.
They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not to be there. And they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons, just for it.
The same is true for the home button.
And whilst Apple has kept a physical home button on iPhones, they’ve got a lot more space for one than a device strapped to your wrist would have.
Thinking about it again, though, I wonder if it will even have a digital home button. The 6th Generation iPod Nano doesn’t have any: to go back to the home screen, you use a pinch gesture. I think, now, that may be what Apple does.
Let me also talk about the somewhat infamous “piece of paper taped to my wrist”.
That image came from a tweet in March 2013. I was musing over how the watch would look and work, and came to the conclusion that a 2.5″ display at 240×320 would make sense for the device. At that time, I also felt that he iWatch would be branded as an iPod, and run a variant of whatever OS runs on the current generation of iPod Nano.
The picture shows a Photoshopped version of the iPod Nano UI as it would be on a 240×320 display, at 2.5″. Really, I just wanted to see how the size would look and fit on the wrist.
How did that image get picked up over a year later?
Well, MacRumors had linked to an report from Reuters suggesting that the iWatch would have a 2.5″ “slightly rectangular” display. The comments of the article were largely of people saying that 2.5″ would be too large. So I linked to my year-old tweet.
In retrospect, I’d have linked to the cleaner “piece of plain white paper taped to my wrist” photo, rather than the one with the crappily Photoshopped iPod Nano UI…