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Apple Watch and Hands-Free Computing

The most convenient screen is the one we can see at all times.

Joy of Tech

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

After approximately a month using the Apple Watch, a few things have stood out to me that have me thinking about the role of wearable computers. I’d like to make a broader point about wrist-worn computers, and use my month with the Apple Watch to do so. I had a sense the Apple Watch would deliver on few particular use cases, even prior to using it. Here is an excerpt from my “Smart Watch Opportunity Report”:

A popular saying surrounding smart devices is: The most convenient screen is the one we have with us at all times. The screen we have with us at all times is the smartphone. However, perhaps the smartwatch evolves this to say: The most convenient screen is the one we can see at all times. Cracking this value proposition is key for the category’s upside.

As I suspected, this use case in particular has been delivered by the Apple Watch. This is why I pointed out in my article about my first week with the Apple Watch that, essentially, the Apple Watch has untethered me from my iPhone — in a good way. Perhaps even in a behavior-changing way. What has stood out to me the most about this experience is how the Apple Watch allows me to be “hands-free,” but still get value from the digital world.

On this point, I believe an important framework is worth establishing. To get value from the digital computing world with devices like a PC, tablet or smartphone, you have to be looking at and engaged with the device. In the case of the smartphone and tablet, you are likely to be holding the device in at least one hand but frequently both. This means your hands and full attention are on that screen.

There are absolutely times for these experiences. But if the average person spends about two hours using their smartphone daily, how does one get value from the digital world in all the other hours of the day? This is where I think a wearable screen begins to establish its value proposition.

For me at least, the hands-free freedom of the Apple Watch is one of the more compelling areas. It is one I think signifies the potential of all wearable screen-type devices. I can set my phone anywhere in the house and not have the fear of missing out on something important that would compel me to keep it near me at all times. I can play tennis, work in the garden, cook, do the dishes, shave, drive, and a host of other things that require my hands not to hold a smartphone, and not miss what I have deemed is the important stuff.

The value of curated wrist-based notifications allow me to interact with the digital world — or maybe even better stated, they allow the digital world to interact with me, without having to be captive to a screen in my hands. Of course, you still need to use your hands to operate the watch, but the interactions are designed to be short and quick.

Interestingly, I got my wife an Apple Watch, which arrived on Friday. After a weekend of using it, her value placed on notifications may be even higher than mine. She runs a side business buying and selling goods on Facebook, so it’s essential that she doesn’t miss messages from potential buyers, since they are timely. But she can’t always be staring at or captive to her phone, since she is also busy as a part-time teacher and full-time mom.

She is also a runner, and loves the health features, but, to my surprise, the notifications are what makes the Apple Watch indispensable to her. She is able to spend her time being truly free from her iPhone, yet still get value from the digital world. I suspect this will be common with women who keep their phones in their purses or bags and likely set the bag down when they get home and leave their phone in their purse. There is value here in not having to worry about where your phone is and still not miss the important stuff.

The most convenient computer screen is the one you can see at all times. If one thing my month with the Apple Watch has demonstrated to me it is this point. Of course, I still need my Mac and my smartphone. But thanks to the Apple Watch, I no longer need to be captive to it to still get information that matters to me when I need it or want it. I can let my eyes and hands be free to do other things, yet still yield value from the digital world. This, in my opinion, will be the area where wrist-worn computers of all shapes, types and sizes will compete and move computing another step forward.

Ben Bajarin is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., an industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Reach him @BenBajarin.

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