The Apple Watch, Tog’s Feb 2013 Prediction

Two years plus before the release of the Apple Watch, I set out my expectations of its capabilities and features. This was at a time when  “smartwatches” ran little more than recycled feature-phone software tied together with cumbersome interfaces. The article is just as it was in February, 2013. All I have done since then is to change the title from, “The Apple iWatch,” to its release name, “Apple Watch,” to make searching for this article easier. If you wonder why my prediction was as accurate as it turned out to be, it was because I applied the same design methodology that we developed at Apple decades ago. I had no inside information whatsoever.

Main sections & select features

Overcoming smartwatch drawbacks

  • Wireless charging, so you never remove the watch from your arm
  • Smooth Apple design with no clunk-factor
  • Siri and your iPhone take the place of buttons and menus on your iWatch

The iWatch as facilitator/coordinator

The Killer Applications

  • Your iWatch vouches for you, so you’ll never have to type another passcode or password again.
  • Walk away from your iPhone and your iWatch will warn you.
  • Your NFC chip for making payments is in your watch, instead of in an easily-grabbed $800 phone. Just wave your hand over the sensor and you’re good to go.

Other Cool Capabilities

  • When your iPhone rings, you watch says who’s calling, and you can handle your response by touching the watch.
  • Sensors enable the watch to monitor you in sickness and in health, tracking calories burned, miles walked, steps climbed, restlessness of sleep, even advent of tremor and other early warnings of serious health conditions.
  • Your music may be on your iPhone or iPod, the sound may come from your Bluetooth headset, but your controller is on your wrist with the iWatch.

The Apps

  • Unexpected apps will afford unexpected capabilities, like KidCode
  • Expected apps like using the watch to pause, mute, or change the channel on your TV or alter your room temperature
  • Apple Maps fix. Crowdsourced pressure data from the watch could enable Apple to fix the 3D view in its Maps app.
  • “What’s that thing?” Point your finger to a distant object, and Siri will tell you what it is.


The Forum

  • Two-way conversation between readers and myself with a surprising number of good ideas for both features and applications.


The iWatch will fill a gaping hole in the Apple ecosystem. It will facilitate and coordinate not only the activities of all the other computers and devices we use, but a wide array of devices to come. Like other breakthrough Apple products, its value will be underestimated at launch, then grow to have a profound impact on our lives and Apple’s fortunes.

Steve Jobs’s true legacy lies not with his products, but his method, the way he would forge revolutionary products from cold blocks of creativity. I know. I was one of his earliest recruits and watched him develop the method. Steve applied it one project at a time.  My hope is that Apple now has teams applying it across many projects, shortening the historic six years between breakthrough products.

What will follow is not based on insider information but a solid understanding of Apple, its products, the problem, and the opportunity. The Apple iWatch development team I expect exists is likely already well ahead of the ideas I’m suggesting here. (Should they draw any new ideas from what follows, they are free to use them.  I’ve already reached my lifetime goal of as many patents as Heinz has varieties.)

Who’s talking?

Bruce Tognazzini was hired at Apple by Steve Jobs and Jef Raskin in 1978, where he remained for 14 years, founding the Apple Human Interface Group and designing Apple’s first standard human interface. He is named inventor on 57 US patents ranging from a intelligent wristwatch to an aircraft radar system to, along with Jakob Nielsen, an eye-track-driven browser.

Before delving into what an Apple smartwatch might look like, we need to understand why, right now, people not only think they don’t need a smartwatch, they flat-out don’t want a smartwatch.

The Smartwatch

I’ve found a traditional smartwatch’s extra functions neatly divide into those I don’t need and those I can’t find.

Traditional smartwatches are big and clunky.  They require charging. (I haven’t had to remove my “dumb” watch from my wrist in four years.) I can’t read a smartwatch at night without using my other hand to turn on the light.  I can’t read a digital watch at any time without the use of reading glasses, nor can most people over 45, which is why the big hand and the small hand continue to go around together on so many watches.  What’s worse, I’ve found a traditional smartwatch’s extra functions neatly divide into those I don’t need and those I can’t find. I can live without a smartwatch.

Recently, some startups have addressed a few of the smartwatch’s disadvantages.  They noticed that people are now carrying around a decent-sized screen with a whole bunch of virtual buttons—their smartphones—so smartwatches no longer need display everything and offer access to every option within the watch interface itself.  Bluetooth 4.0 enables low-power communication without draining the watch’s battery, making smaller size and longer running times possible.

The Cookoo watch, for example, will last for a year between battery changes. It doesn’t do a great deal, but what it does do is quite useful.

Cookoo Watch

The Cookoo Watch

The Pebble, while it offers much more than the Cookoo in terms of functionality, lasts about a week before demanding removal for charging. That’s longer than smartwatches used to go, but hardly compares to what people expect in a modern watch.


The Pebble Watch

Martian has combined the large, somewhat clunky styling of the traditional smartwatch (albeit in a great many color variations) to offer the greatest pass-through power from the smartphone.  The result is Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio:  Ask Siri to call someone, and you can talk with them through the speaker and microphone in your watch, all handled via Bluetooth by your phone.

The Martian Watch

The Martian Watch

The Martian sports two hours of talk time, although the watch itself will keep running after that. You’ll certainly need to get in the habit of charging it every night.

These and others of the new generation of smartwatches are certainly very attractive to early adopters, but don’t expect them to smash the market open.  That’s going to require an entirely different level of both functionality and perfection, just the sort of thing for which Apple is famous.

Overcoming Smartwatch Drawbacks

The first thing Apple has to do is address traditional drawbacks in smartwatch design, something they are qualified to do.

Charging. If you think about it, there isn’t actually a charging problem at all.   Never has been.  Instead, there’s a having-to-remove-the-watch-from-your-arm problem. What if you held a patent on a charger that could charge an object that is several feet away through the air wirelessly? Apple holds such a patent.

The usual drawback to remote charging is that it is not efficient, but if the watch doesn’t require all that much power to begin with and will shut down the charger when it is full, the process can be relatively inefficient and still not cost you much money or the nation’s infrastructure much energy. (We spend lots of money/resources on inefficient power sources all the time: One AAA cell for your TV’s remote control costs around fifty cents.  It holds around 1.4 watt-hours of energy.  Not kwhs, whrs.  You would have to spend $25 to $50 on AAA cells to equal a penny’s worth of the power you get out of the wall.)

Clunky design.  Two reasons clunky design wouldn’t be a problem for Apple.  The first and foremost: Jonathan Ive.  Second:  Apple’s recent patent on a low-cost method for creating curved glass for screens. Apple can create a smartwatch with revolutionary functionality that is drop-dead gorgeous.  Is there any doubt they will do so?

Buttons & menu trees.  Won’t be any.  Why?  One good reason: Siri.  Whatever the watch can do, you’ll be able to put in place by commanding it (with your iPhone and the Siri back-end handling the actual mechanics, of course): “Set timer for 22 minutes.” “Wake me at 6:15,” etc. Whatever the watch can display, you’ll be able to bring up just by asking: “How long before my plane takes off?” “What’s the temperature right now in Dubai?”

Siri will be accompanied by touch, of course, with touch handling the lighter tasks, Siri the more complex. There will be overlap, so you can use more complex touch maneuvers when you can’t speak to your watch, during a meeting perhaps or when there’s a lot of ambient noise. Many people will never learn the more complex maneuvers, nor will they need to as the iPhone, iPad, and Mac will offer simple alternative interfaces to the more complex tasks.

The iWatch as Facilitator/Coordinator

The iWatch will have a few functions it performs entirely on its own, chief among them being telling you the time.  It’s chief role will be that of office manager, facilitating and coordinating your use of your other iDevices and the Internet by gathering data, delivering messages, storing and forwarding, coordinating tasks, and carrying out functions that extend the capabilities of your other devices. The iPhone or other primary device will be the executive in charge, making the decisions, setting the strategy, and apportioning tasks. The watch will have the least energy resources available, so the watch will be used sparingly.  Still, as time goes on, more uses will be found for it, and it will receive increasing amounts of traffic.

The Killer Applications

The iWatch can and should neatly fix the two most serious problems we have with our current mobile devices, ones we may not even realize we have. Only Apple holds the necessary keys to address the first of these, so only Apple will.

The paradox of the “huge problem”: A problem that feels sufficiently insurmountable will appear the product of natural law, to be accepted rather than challenged.

The first two killer applications are neither sexy nor fun, but they will make our lives so much more pleasant.

Passcodes & Passwords.  The watch can and should, for most of us, eliminate passcodes and passwords altogether on iPhones, and Macs and, if Apple’s smart, PCs: As long as my watch is in range, let me in! That, to me, would be the single-most compelling feature a smartwatch could offer: If the watch did nothing but release me from having to enter my passcode/password 10 to 20 times a day, I would buy it.  If the watch would just free me from having to enter pass codes, I would buy it even if it couldn’t tell the right time! I would happily strap it to my opposite wrist! This one is a must. Yes, Apple is working on adding fingerprint reading for iDevices, and that’s just wonderful, but it will still take time and trouble for the device to get an accurate read from the user. I want in now! Instantly! Let me in, let me in, let me in!

Apple must ensure, however, that, if you remove the watch, you must reestablish authenticity. (Reauthorizing would be an excellent place for biometrics.) Otherwise, we’ll have a spate of violent “watchjackings” replacing the non-violent iPhone-grabs going on today.

If the watch would do nothing but free me from having to enter pass codes, I would buy it even if it couldn’t tell the right time!

Individuals or companies that demand a higher level of security can require both the presence of the watch and a passcode, aka, two-factor authentication. Even that could be made a lot less onerous, again optionally, if, when at work or within your own house, the security software would be allowed to lift the requirement for the separate passcode, only applying it when you are out and about.

Find iPhone. The current “Find iPhone” is a well-implemented solution wherein you can find your iDevice no matter where it has wandered on the globe, as long as it is turned on and no one has messed with it.  However, it is not exactly as simple procedure:

  1. Find yourself another iDevice or computer
  2. Log in
  3. Open Find iPhone or point a browser to
  4. Wait while signals are sent through the ether
  5. Select the device you want from the map or list
  6. Click “Play sound”
  7. Find the device you’re looking for & dismiss alert
  8. Delete the follow-up email

That’s a lot of steps! Better that your iDevices never get all that lost to begin with. Two additional capabilities, facilitated by the iWatch, can help ensure you never need that long-distance capability.

Local Find: As long as your device is close by, just scrawl a question mark on the top of your iWatch or perhaps ask Siri, “Where’s my phone?” and your phone will light up and start chiming. Of the eight steps above, you need perform only step seven. (You would find your iPod or iPad the same way, of course.)

Automatic Find: By the time you realize you have left your top-secret prototype iPhone sitting on the bar, some on-line tech blog will have probably already published an article on it. However, with the iWatch on your wrist, as soon as you move out of range, it will tell you that you’ve forgotten your phone, then help you locate it, as needed.  That’s a lot more useful than waking up the next morning to discover you seem to be missing something, only to then press Find iPhone into service. (The Cookoo watch already has at least the reminder part of this feature.)

Extending the range: Bluetooth Low Energy is supposed to have a range of 50 meters or 160 feet.  Presumably, that’s in an open field with a tailwind.  In your home or work place, your watch could end up driving you nuts if Apple doesn’t provide an intelligent means of expanding the virtual bubble so the alarm doesn’t go off anywhere in your safe environment. The system will need to “know” you’re in one of your secure areas, warning you only if you start to drive away without one of your devices. This could be handled, perhaps, by repeaters embedded in devices such as Apple Airports.  In homes and businesses with multiple repeaters, your watch could then also give you a local “read” on what repeater your device is near.

Near Field Communications for Payment.  The conventional, collective “vision” is that, soon, we will all pay our bills by simply reaching for our phone, a phone that, for around half of us, is lost somewhere deep in the recesses of a purse, retrievable in around one minute and thirty seconds. With luck. Think of the time those folks will save over paying with their wallet, a much bigger and more obvious object that they actually had to move out of the way in their effort to find their completely invisible black phone!

Oh, yeah, they won’t save any time at all.

Of course, we guys are a lot more clever. We’ll slide our phone right into our breast pocket where, heh, heh, we can get at it instantly. Or could have if we hadn’t then put on a turtleneck sweater before putting on and zipping up our jacket.

Next time, we’ll just pay cash.

And then there’s getting on the subway:  Instead of having to slide that paper card we buy once a month into the slot, all we’ll have to do is wave our $800 iPhone over the little sensor, except that nice gentleman we hadn’t noticed standing just to our side just grabbed our $800 iPhone and is now hot-footing it out of the station with us trapped on the wrong side of the turnstile.  Huh!  That didn’t work out so well!

Just last week, our kid had to struggle to get his phone out of his backpack to pay his bus fare using his marvelous NFC chip, only to have it stolen the same way! If only there were a better solution! Oh, yeah. There is.

The NFC chip belongs in the iWatch, not in the iPhone! That way we’ll know exactly where it is at all times, strapped to the end of an appendage expressly designed to be waved around at things.  How handy! Reach. Touch. Done.

Meanwhile, our iPhone, handling any necessary communication, will stay hidden safely away, and, if someone does manage to get ahold of our watch, it will require reauthorization, having been removed from our arm.  Net value to the thief: Zilch. Net loss to us: A whole lot less than an iPhone, with word on the street quickly making it clear there’s no point in stealing an iWatch.

Of course, not every merchant will accept NFC right away, so the watch, linked to Passport, will also display QR codes, etc.

Other Cool Capabilities

Phone call facilitator. Your iWatch vibrates. You glance at the watch and see who’s calling. You swipe up twice, indicating you want to answer (or some other standardized gesture). Your caller is asked to, “Wait one moment, please” while your watch instructs your phone to light up and start ringing to help you find it (or just lights up—your choice).

Many of us, of course, would like more, however, the iWatch as speakerphone peripheral for our iPhone is much less likely to happen. Of course, it would be cool: Let’s face it, Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio, and we want one, too! Imagine asking your imaginary friend, Siri, to call one of your real friends, Bill, then having a conversation, all without actually reaching into your pocket for your phone. However, the iWatch is going to be all about energy management. The Martian watch, for all its bulk, can squeeze only two hours of talk-time out of a charge. Martian will likely be left to pursue that market on its own.

Sensors. The iWatch will incorporate a variety of sensors. Certainly one thrust of these sensors will be sports/health data capture, inferring walking based on arm swing, detecting climbing or diving based on a pressure sensor, etc., etc. The more sensors, the better. A temperature and pressure sensor pressed against the skin could prove useful for medicine. A proximity sensor will let software “know” whether the watch is hidden in a sleeve or under a blanket. Whatever combination of sensors ultimately make their way into the product will inevitably lead to some very interesting new applications that people may have yet to consider. Other iDevices will combine the iWatch sensor data with data from their own sensors and from the outside world, such as weather data, to form a complete and complex picture.

Music. The Pebble is already handling music functions, which, of course, an iWatch would likewise be expected to do, just as the earlier generation iPod mini would do when embedded in an after-market watch-like case. The Pebble, however, is acting solely as a controller to—facilitator for—the user’s iPod or iPhone, rather than acting as a music device on its own, saving its battery life. The iWatch would be expected to follow this same path.

Telling the time. Yes, it will tell the time, likely offering a familiar Swiss Railroad watch face as an option, and it will tell the right time, too:  By communicating with the iPhone, it will update to changing time zones, etc., as the phone updates, eliminating—or at least reducing—the need for manual intervention, a major bother with current watches.

When Apple really gets serious about integrating Passbook, your watch will “know” when you’ve boarded that plane to London:  You were scheduled to board, the phone’s GPS locates you at the airport, and you just now turned off your phone.  Yesterday, the watch will have offered you an easy way to switch to split local/London time and, now that you’re aboard the plane, will be prepared for you to flip to just London time with a single touch.

The Apps

Most wearables to date have been dedicated devices.  The iWatch will be in the vanguard of devices that can work with 3rd party apps  There will be tens or hundreds of thousands of apps, few that either the designers of the iWatch (or I) will have anticipated. Almost all will actually run on the larger iDevices, extracting data from the iWatch, displaying data on the iWatch, or making use of the iWatch as facilitator.

Consider the iPhone, released on day-one with its handful of built-in apps.  Yes, it was exciting, but it was not nearly the tool that exact same phone had become three years later, as the breadth and depth of applications mounted and the system software matured.  We can expect the same curve to occur with the iWatch.

The Unexpected Apps

At least one or two evil apps will slip past the Apple watchdogs, launching a feeding frenzy in the press.  Apple will have already limited how much data a given app can access plus given us the power to offer and withdraw permissions. More steps will be taken once the breech occurs, and we’ll all soon get over it because the benefits we’re receiving will so far exceed the risks.

Then will come a different kind of unexpected apps. Consider SMS on cell phones. It’s a hack, a simple message system slipped in an underutilized space reserved for cell phones and towers to communicate with each other. It cost the cell phone companies nothing to offer it, and has made them billions of dollars, with total revenue expected to reach around one trillion dollars before the technology finally declines.  Grown-ups wouldn’t use it because you had to learn a secret code and phones are supposed to be talked into.  Kids took to it like ducks to water. (Only after Apple and its imitators made SMS accessible did the demographics creep upward.)

The iWatch, like every other Apple product, will have an interface made as simple as humanly possible.  However, human nature is such that, unless the designers work tirelessly to keep ahead or at least abreast of the users, it won’t stay that way forever.  Consider the following possibility:

KidCode. It might start out as an app designed with the best of intentions, to let people communicate via a brand-new gestural language-in, Morse-code vibration out, aimed, perhaps, at a few aging amateur radio operators. It it suddenly and unexpectedly taken over by school kids, sweeping the nation. No more being busted by teacher while intently tapping out text on phones. Instead, kids will be just innocently rubbing their watch faces. No more glancing at text screens, just feeling silent vibrations.  Tabloids and the evening news will simultaneously condemn it and  propagate it.  PTAsParent-Teacher Associations will decry it.  Civic leaders will condemn it.  Ultimately, teachers will learn to notice the trademark casually drooping arms of the senders, right hand over left wrist, along with the far-away stares of the recipients, and order will be restored.  However, by then, we’ll have an entire generation of kids that knows Morse code, just as an earlier generation learned that pressing the 4 button on a phone three times would get them an “K”.

YoungEmployeeCode. Kids grow up.  The young people you may be supervising in a few years will sit in your staff meeting strategizing against you in KidCode on their iWatches while looking at you with the most innocent of young, fresh faces.  You’ll learn to ply them with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and coffee to force their hands above the tabletop, omitting napkins to ensure that, should they subsequently decide to engage in skullduggery, they’ll end up sliming their watches with syrupy glaze. (No, it won’t hurt the watch, but it will make you feel good anyway.)

This kind of utterly silent messaging will have benefit as well. Consider:

TheaterCode. Young people will be able to communicate in crowded theaters to their heart’s content without disturbing anyone.  No talking, whispering, ringing, buzzing, illuminated screens, no nothin’. If you are neither sender nor recipient, you will remain completely undisturbed except for the occasional seemingly random guffawA short explosion of laughter.

SalesCode. ExecCode. LawyerCode. A wide variety of people will communicate with collegues using KidCode in meetings and even open court, sending cues, cautions, etc., without fear of eavesdropping or censure, giving them a clear advantage over their less communicative opposition.

If you grew up knowing that pressing the 5 button three times will generate an “N” and pressing the 7 button two times will produce an “S”, but the very thought of having to learn KidCode sent a chill through you, I regret to inform you that you have officially just turned old.  Welcome.  The good news is that you will be old for a long, long time.

SilentMessage. Having learned the code, users will be able to receive notification of people calling, appointment reminders, etc., all in complete silence without even glancing at their phones.  Gestures can start, stop, pause, and replay messages, as well as set up replies, with coded responses offering the user feedback the the system understands. SilentMessage, as with most apps, would be primarily handled by the phone, with the watch accepting input and providing output, vibration in this case.  SilentMessage would also be an option.  Everything it could do could be done using either the iWatch display or the iPhone itself.

The Expected Apps

Many apps just belong out there. In some cases, they’re already being done by other companies in other forms, like the fitbit, or even in other watches, as with the companies mentioned above. In other cases, the iWatch

Golf. Baseball. Bowling. Tennis. Critique your form based on data gathered from the accelerometers in the watch. Get distance to the hole in golf and pertinent data for other sports delivered to the watch, rather than having to glance at your phone all the time.

Running/walking. Store and forward to your phone/computer data on jogging/walking time and distance based on arm swings, altitude changes based on pressure sensor, etc., to your phone or computer for the appropriate app to compute and display your running achievements. Lots of competition there already, but with the iWatch, it’s all built-in so you need not carry any additional hardware.

Swimming. Time your swimming laps retroactively.  Your “swim coach” app has instructed the watch to store and forward repetitive arm movement times and intervals when the watch is in a wet or high-pressure (under water) environment, so when your arm starts flailing for an extended period of time, that data gets stored and forwarded to the cloud via your phone.  Nothing for you to set beforehand. The app just simply has that data available to it to display the workout you did earlier today or a week ago Thursday if and when you become interested.

Health.  Having the watch facilitate a basic test like blood pressure monitoring would be a god-send, but probably at prohibitive cost in dollars, size, and energy.  However, people will write apps that will carry out other medical tests that will end up surprising us, such as tests for early detection of tremor, etc. The watch could also act as a store-and-forward data collector for other more specialized devices, cutting back the cost of specialized sensors that would then need be little more than a sensor, a Bluetooth chip, and a battery. Because the watch is always with us, it will be able to deliver a long-term data stream, rather than a limited snapshot, providing insight often missing from tests administered in a doctor’s office.

Find other stuff. Finding doesn’t have to be limited to only Apple products. The watch could also tell you that your car keys just went out of range, that your hand-carry luggage is no longer with you, etc. by communicating with simple Blue-Tooth-plus-battery transceivers designed as key fobs or luggage tags. They would then light up and/or emit chimes upon command to aid retrieval. These would likely not be Apple products, but would fit well into the Apple ecosystem.

Watching TV.  The iWatch will empower TV watching in at least two ways.  First, it can serve as the remote control:  Whisper to Siri what channel you want or what recorded show you want to watch. That information is then handled by a non-hobby version of AppleTV. Just double-tap to pause the screen.  Double-tap again to continue. (It could be some other gesture. They will choose one that you won’t perform by accident, but one that is much more lightweight than required, say, to unlock an iPhone.)

Second, because the iWatch eliminates the need for a passcode, IOS can be changed to enable your iPod/iPhone/iPad, in the presence of both iWatch and a nearby, running AppleTV, to turn on and default to the Remote app as soon as you pick it up, for the very first time making the Remote app practical to use on a passcode-protected iDevice.

The More Ambitious

Temperature Control. It wouldn’t take all that much to let the watch interface with a room’s thermostat. Local Bluetooth repeater information would determine what room you are in and provide the communications link, enabling you to raise or lower the current temperature from your wrist. However, if the watch can, through its array of sensors, accurately determine local ambient temperature where you are in the room, an HVAC system with an intelligent controller could provide a microclimate that would follow you around the building, making appropriate accomodation when two or more individuals with different thermal tastes occupy the same space.

The same localization information could be used by an evil employer to track employee whereabouts and, by inference, activities. In the case above, the HVAC system only needs to know that a human wants a temperature of 72 F/22 C, not that Bruce Tognazzini, employee #66, wants that temperature and spent 22 minutes and 17 seconds in that room. Apple will need to ensure that it is inherent in the system that data is anonymized to as great an extent as practical at every step.  The press will need to ensure that Apple maintains such an architecture and practice.

Correcting Apple Maps. This is a good example of what could come about through crowdsourcing using iWatch data.

Google Maps has had a roadway literally running right through the middle of my living room since 2005

Contrary to press reports, Apple’s 2D roadmaps, supplied by TomTom, are pretty darned accurate.  However, because the initial Apple Maps presentation misled the world into believing that Apple Maps was the perfect app on its first day of release, it instantly became popular sport to point out every error anyone could find. Meanwhile, Google Maps has had a roadway literally running right through the middle of my living room since 2005, and no one has felt the need to send headlines screaming around the world about it. (Apple Maps, on Day One, moved that roadway off to the side of our property where it belongs.  I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to my wife and myself having reduced traffic passing between us and the telly these last months, with only Android users continuing to rumble past.)

What is less than stellar is Apple’s “3D View,” not “Flyover,” it’s quite wonderful. I’m talking about “3D View.” However, let’s start with “Flyover.”

“Flyover” is limited to the central portions of metropolitan areas within free and democratic countries.

Apple Maps Flyover View

This is not a photograph, but a texture-mapped model of San Francisco. The Flyover view, the envy of the computer world, covers far less than 1% of the globe and, because of its super-high cost, will never cover that much more.

Today’s “3D View,” seen below, superimposes a satellite photograph of the earth on a topographical map of the world. While the height of mountains, valleys, and lakes are accurately depicted, finer features, such as buildings and roadways, have no independent altitude information associated with them, resulting in buildings being uniformly flat and roadways being, at all times, assumed to hug the landscape, something that becomes quite comical when the “landscape” is a chasm dropping several hundred feet and the roadway is actually a bridge:


Note that both the actual bridge and virtual bridge, the semi-transparent broken segments of paving seen slightly lower and to the left of the bridge, are shown as melted into the river.

The Fix: Using pressure data from millions of watches, Apple could build a precision altitude map of the world. This map would indicate true altitudes everywhere that iWatch wearers travel. The granularity would be several orders of magnitude greater than ever before attempted for a wide-area map at a cost several orders of magnitude less than Flyover.

Because most of the time, most of the people’s arms will be within four feet of known roadways (or rail beds), one can, over time, correct for both local barometric pressure and current GPS error (the GPS, of course, being in the phone, not the iWatch—GPS requires significant power). Given that data, one can then look for where current map data and people’s actual locations consistently vary, specifically where people appear to be either diving below or floating above the surface of the earth. If everyone is dropping below nominal ground level, they must be in a cut.

The more interesting data will arise from where people appear to be floating. Consider the real results that would be detected on Highway 93 above: Motorists’ watches will consistently show no pressure change as they cross the river, ergo, they are staying at the same altitude, ergo there is a bridge. Apply that correcton and the roadways, both real and virtual, will no longer melt into the river.

The building-height problem would likewise be solved:  Data collected day-after-day might report four different pressure levels, spaced 12 feet apart at one given location, indicating that particular building has four occupied stories.

Would the resulting map look as good as Flyover?  No.  The image textures would be missing, perhaps to be applied through local effort.  The buildings would typically be rendered as extruded solids, based on their roof shapes, i. e., primarily clusters of rectangular solids. Would it be ahead of what’s there and way ahead of the competition?  Definitely. Such a world-wide micro-altitude map, applied to Apple’s current 3D View, would instantly correct millions of errors, turning Apple Maps into the map with the most finely-detailed vertical information ever.

Weather prediction. Sure, the watch will tell you the temperature outside and whether you’re going to get rained on, but I’m talking about another crowdsourcing application, one that can save lives. Once a true altitude map has been established, meteorologists will be able to gather barometric data at a granularity never before even considered.  That data, fed into supercomputers, has the potential to enable them to detect and correlate initial conditions very early in the process, predicting storm paths, strengths, and timing with considerably higher precision than today.

Turn-by-turn walking directions. The face of a smartwatch would be a poor place to display maps, but it can display an arrow just fine. As you approach an intersection, the arrow will become bent, etc., indicating a right or left turn, just as we’re used to with the arrows in our GPS. Except there’s one problem: As you rotate your arm, the arrow, fixed as it is on the display, rotates right with you. Or at least it would if you didn’t have a compass embedded in your watch.

Here’s how a compass-equipped iWatch would work: You start by asking Siri to guide you someplace in the city, and the Maps app on your iPhone works out the route.  The iPhone issues its first command to the watch:  “iWatch: Display a straight arrow pointing toward 22 degrees.” (Actual syntax more complex.) The iWatch “knows” which way is North from its compass, so it adds 22 degrees to that and displays the arrow pointing toward 22 degrees.  Then, it updates that image, say, 15 times a second, as necessary.  You can rotate your arm all you want, but the iWatch will always display that arrow just floating there, always pointing toward 22 degrees magnetic.

The watch might also display the remaining minutes until the bus you’re hoping to catch will arrive, along with an indicator letting you know if your pace is sufficient.

With people no longer needing to stare at their iPhones as they walk down the street, there will be fewer people run over and fewer people subjected to having their iPhones snatched from their hands.

“What’s That [thing]?” You’re standing in a forest clearing and a waterfall high on the mountain catches your eye.  You raise your hand, point your finger, and say, “What’s that waterfall?”  Your iPhone’s speaker responds, “That’s the upper level of Yosemite Falls.” Simple: The GPS (in the phone) establishes your position, the iWatch compass reports the direction your arm is pointing, its accelerometer reports declination, and triangulation in the app on the phone corrects for the offset between your eyes and shoulder joint. (Yes, finer resolution could be achieved by having the user start out by running a setup routine to determine each user’s dominant eye. A bit beyond the scope of this article, no?)

For just these last two apps alone, having a compass would be very cool, and I hope they’ll incorporate one in the first release.  If they don’t, then these last two apps will fall into the category of…

Future Releases

With subsequent product generations, the iWatch will take on more and more of a central role in your iLife.

Important papers. You know that sinking feeling when you realize you left your wallet at home?  It would be nice if having your NFC chip with you in the watch would, from day-one, remove most of that, enabling you to buy lunch, gas, and food for dinner, but how about if it also stored electronic copies of your driver’s license, your passport, etc., along with an access pathway to your medical records for emergency personnel?

Ubiquitous access.  Approach any Apple device, mobile or not when wearing your iWatch. Armed with the owner of that device’s approval and your passcode, make it temporarily yours.  If it’s a Mac, you will see your account just as you last left it.  If it’s a phone, it will, for as long as you’re holding it, be your phone, being billed to your account, showing your address book, etc. (This is a concept we showed in the opening scene of my 1993 film, Starfire.) To secure that kind of access, will require two-factor authentication, and, with the iWatch, that authentication will finally become available and simple.

First Release

So when will the iWatch come out? I need mine no later than a week from Tuesday, but Apple, when you look back, is never actually the first. They let a few others, sometimes many others, experiment first. (Tablets were out for more than a decade.) Then, they bring out the killer product. We may have to wait until next year, or around 7500 pass code/password entries from now.  Please, Apple, get a move on!

Postscript – One Week Later

It may seem like this watch has every bell and whistle imaginable, but if you carefully examine what I’ve proposed, I’ve really outlined proven technology that is here today, found in other wearable products.  It is packaged differently, to be sure, but that has always been Apple’s hallmark.  In fact, the iWatch I have outlined uses much simpler technology than products already out there.  It does not have a speaker, an earphone jack, or a camera. I do not anticipate that it will be a two-way wrist radio nor a two-way wrist videophone, at least not for a long, long time.

The reason that some reviewers have seen the article as extravagant is that it projects the iWatch into a mature future. Consider back in 2007 when you first heard that Apple was about to release a line of phones. At that time, sophisticated phones held perhaps a dozen apps, most of them simple games, all of them relatively difficult to use.  Suddenly, you read that this new phone would not only make calls, but soon users will be able to see geosynchronous satellites in orbit simply by raising the phone in the air, to deposit a check in their bank accounts just by aiming their phone at it, and to do, not another dozen things, but another 800,000 things that might interest them. People might have imagined the phone would have to be the size of a house and the complexity of an NSA supercomputer.

Visioneering is about looking at the way products will appear at maturity in order to design in the necessary elements that will enable that maturity to take place.  What sounds extravagant in this case arises from a conservative hardware design coupled with an open architecture heavily dependent on the existing Apple infrastructure.  It is the openness of the architecture and the ability of Apple to leverage its infrastructure that will offer Apple the advantage and make this vision possible. Don’t expect every feature and certainly not every app to be in circulation on day one, but they and many more will be there in a short order, much faster than with previous products.

Below, you will find extensive reader comments that include many good ideas for some of those future apps as well as follow-on designs.

The Forum

The lively discussion that followed first publication of this article produced a number of excellent ideas both for software that could make use of an initial release as well as follow-on products. (The discussion is now closed.)


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109 Responses to The Apple Watch, Tog’s Feb 2013 Prediction

  1. Sheep Dalton 13 Feb 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Nice concept!!!

    If the watch had tilt sensors another killer app would be using Vibrotactile feedback to help learning a task like playing the violin ( see Yvonne Rogers: Real-time feedback for learning the violin) many physical activities. If you could sense the patterns of the tendons your phone could interpt gestures as commands – for example making a phone shape with you fingers could activate a phone. If the watch as bluetooth/wiii then you could use it as a remote control (point at your TV and wave your hand up to turn the volume up). Point and make a locking with key gesture at your car to unlock your car.
    Naturally if you have always on tilt sensing you could have a step counter. Would the watch have a camera ? You might be able to have something which would figure out if your busy ( and not to be disturbed) or not busy ( and so your email comes back on).

  2. Paul Sellers 14 Feb 2013 at 6:37 am #

    Excellent article, Tog! Note to Apple: please put a camera in the device. Having your camera on your wrist means you would simply raise your arm (then maybe tap three times to bring up the viewfinder on the device screen) then press a button to take a shot. I’d expect the image to wirelessly transfer to the iPhone camera album (and thereby Photostream if enabled). Video capture may be more problematic due to power requirements.

    • tog 14 Feb 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      If they do add a camera, it would most likely have to be on the outside of the wrist, so you can raise your arm in front of you, look at the watch face as your viewfinder to aim, then touch the watch face or command the watch by voice to take the picture. I don’t know what that would add to the cost/complexity of the watch. Apple will also want to hold back some features so that you’ll be anxious to pass on the watch to your kid a year later and buy the latest and greatest, so a camera feature might fall into that category.

  3. David Leppik 14 Feb 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    It seems to me that battery charging is the biggest issue; I doubt induction (wireless) charging is a panacea; you still need to be pretty close to the charger, and the induction hardware (antenna) is likely to be bulky. (Induction charging was an option on the Palm Pre, though in a limited form.)

    As a result, I would imagine the first one would be a lot like an Apple-branded Cookoo– doing little more than the most compelling use cases. Unlike the Cookoo, it would have to be small and thin, to fit Apple’s design aesthetic. (Even if Apple can design a stylish, bulky watch, they’d hesitate to tinker with Apple’s brand image.) I’d expect it to evolve like the iPod: a limited device that gradually takes on more capabilities.

    One technology I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned in regards to an iWatch is networking via skin surface electrical conduction. There were a bunch of prototypes during the dot-com boom based on that idea. This is a low-power network that includes any device you are touching with bare skin: watch, earbuds, glasses, door handles, another person in a handshake. For example, a door which unlocks via physical touch, or a business card that is transferred by the act of a handshake. This is a more secure way to do authentication than BlueTooth or NFC, but no less convenient.

    Nor is this as scary as it sounds; the electrical signals would be similar in power to the electrical noise that already exists on your body’s surface due to neural activity (most notably the neurons that signal your muscles.) In fact, one of the biggest challenges is the noise from your body. But that could also be used for biometrics or bio-monitoring: you’d have a heart rate monitor permanently strapped to your wrist.

  4. Effron 16 Feb 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Hi Tog,

    Very thorough and thought-provoking article! Definitely made me feel old when I read that T9 bit.

    One area that you explored a bit, Passcodes and Passwords, in my opinion, may take this iWatch in an incredibly interesting direction.

    You talk about the iWatch relieving your passcode duties (which would be amazing). But here’s what I see – the iWatch is the user’s digital identifier, and an iPhone or iDevice is merely a generic piece of hardware. If the watch is identifying the user, why is the user limited to his/her own device?

    Many places, such as airports and high-end cafes, now have iPads and such available for use by customers. So here’s a scenario: I’m at the JFK airport waiting for my flight, and I sit down to grab a coffee at an iPad cafe. My watch identifies who I am, and relays information along from my iphone to the iPad on the table. I open the iPad, and read my email through the mail app without having to log in; safari has my bookmarks; I can FaceTime with my contacts, etc.

    Or another use, let’s say my iPhone’s battery has died. I borrow a friends phone, it reads my watch, calls up to the cloud, feeds it my identity, and pulls down my contacts, enabling me to borrow anyones phone to access a phone number I needed.

    I think this is obviously a ways away, as many uses would require both very high speed internet/wifi, and some strong computing power, but thought it might be worth a direction to explore!

    As they say (or will be saying soon): The wrist is the new pocket!


    • tog 18 Feb 2013 at 9:32 am #

      Your first idea we showed in my 1993 film, Starfire, another visioneering project similar to this in nature, but much broader in scope. At the start of the film, a man passing through a London airport approaches, in this case, a public terminal, rather than sitting before an iPad: (From the annotated Starfire script, p. 58 in Tog on Software Design) “When Adrian enters the Sun collaboration/conferencing booth (Sunbooth) and holds his watch (chronometer, memory, and authentication device) close to a reader, that booth becomes his office. His workspace is just as he left it.”

      Full and perceptually-instantaneous access to one’s entire cyberspace via a stranger’s device may be a ways away, but access sufficient to most needs can be accomplished today if the user’s main machine is set up properly, hasn’t gone down or into deep slumber, the matching app is in place on the calling machine, and fortune happens to be smiling that day. It may be slow, but one can still tease a file or two across the Internet. Apple has the means to fix the hardware and software problems that dog today’s solutions, and a token within the iWatch would solve the authentication problem. A high-speed solution could be at hand today for wired devices (which is why I showed a wired device in Starfire), but wireless is catching up. The iWatch closes the loop both for the short term and the long term by offering secure authentication.

  5. Yvan Lamontagne 24 Feb 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    Be it for health alone, the iWatch will be a revolution. Up until now Apple has focused on productivity and leisure devices that are all highly appreciated. This video from Eric J. Topol, MD demonstrates the kind of opportunities that health presents to Apple. We will see completely new applications and devices that interact with the iWatch to display and communicate health conditions that affect every human being. After all, how many people remain healthy till their last day?


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