Human Touches Computer, Computer Reacts

We all see pictures & commercials about smartphones. Some of us read specs and/or post opinions on the internet about the phone market. But very few study how we interact with the machine. People studying human-human interaction probably outnumber people studying human-machine interaction 1000:1.

Right now in the “smartwatch” (or wearable, or wrist computer) market there are 2 early interface models: Google’s Android Wear and the subset of iOS running on Apple Watch. Google went with very simple displays and relies on a combination of touch and voice to operate, for a total of 2 input methods. Apple took a more ambitious path by giving their Watch 2 more input methods: haptic (movements/touch+) & scroll/click using the wind dial, which Apple is calling the “digital crown”.

I don’t agree with this concept that Google’s simplified Wear interface is better than Apple’s upcoming WatchOS. My bet is on Apple using past experience and marketplace victories to develop a more cohesive, useful, and friendly wrist interface.

Apple Watch combines scroll/click, single home button, & multi-level touch gestures – three input methods perfected by Apple over the last 15 years and accepted by millions of users of all ages and types. To that they’ve added Voice control and Haptic input (rolls, shakes, vibrates). It will be interesting to see how much the user can do with each method.

Apple Watch OS input methods:
Input method 1 – Scroll & Click Dial
Input method 2 – Multitouch screen with 2-layer clicking
Input method 3 – Haptic (movement like shake or turns)
Input method 4 – Voice, interacting with Siri

Some mixing will be required for total operation, but will the user be able to pick an input method that suits them at that moment and use it for their entire task? The perfect UI would have all of those options completed, or at least have 1-2 input methods that allow you to control the entire device without relying on other methods.

Some example task chains:
Task1 – control Apple TV
Task2 – read and reply to a message or email
Task3 – read and interact with twitter feed and facebook timeline
Task4 – google something that leads to directions
Task5 – view calendar, accept invitation to meeting then get directions
Task6 – monitor your workout and sync workout data to your running totals
If the user needs to mode-change between the input methods to accomplish these types of tasks it could be clumsy, or worse, unusable. Imagine having to touch the screen, then scroll the dial, then touch the screen again, then click the dial button to get something done. No thanks.

To achieve pain-free human-computer interaction requires the software and hardware working together to make task completion simple and stable. This is Apple’s specialty and they will keep their methods a secret until it ships so we will just have to drive it ourselves in a few months to answer the usability questions. I bet they are deciding some of those things now, and the WatchKit API they announced is incomplete at this point.

Battling screen size limitations (about the size of a fingertip), 1 hand operation, plus major battery and space limitations is making designers on this new platform cut corners. The google watches look like beta’s to me, and Apple’s watch looks very version 1.

Look back at iPod version 1 and iPhone version 1 for the model. Apple is following their script perfectly. That watch platform will probably get more updates in the first year than AppleTV has gotten in 5 years.

IMHO The smart watch could be the 21st century object of choice if it’s designed properly. We have predicted it coming for decades. A phone is still just a phone, and a tablet is great but it’s basically a digital book which is different than your personal sensor array on your body.

This could become our communicator pin, and it will become our safety net, our recorder of choice, our interface to the cloud when not in front of a large screen.

I think the concept of a “phone” on every person is long in the tooth. Robot calls, telemarketers & bill collectors that don’t really want to be paid are on the phone lines. Business is more and more done over text, email, facebook, maybe with a quick voice confirmation that VoIP can handle.

BTW — do Google watches really only have touch & voice for input? Touch is nearly useless when the screen is the size of your pointer. I would think the dial would get the most use. I wonder if Apple’s dial will accept 2 types of clicks, like a select click and then the home click? I don’t want to talk to my watch and I don’t want to have to move my finger out of the way every time to read something to click. That’s crazy if that’s how they work, i’ll have to watch some demos of the android watches.

Watch The Script & Watch the Apple Watch Become A Hit

The Apple Watch 1 follows the script perfectly for Apple’s version 1 products. If you look at their bottom line over the last 15 years, it’s a great script to follow.

First iPod — They said it couldn’t hold quite enough songs, couldn’t do enough other things than play music, and you needed a new mac with firewire to sync it. It was nearly useless on it’s own. People accused it of being a toy for rich kids, and without more features or capacity it would not compete against the existing MP3 players. Besides, Apple knows nothing about music so of course Sony will crush them.

So easy your grandma could use it.

Yet many overlooked it’s actual differentiating feature – the scroll-wheel interface. This is hardware and software working together seamlessly, something Apple focuses on. This simple round scroll wheel interface (an ancient interface brought to the digital age) meant anyone could manipulate the hardware, regardless of hand size, finger strength, or steadiness. It worked at all angles and fit perfectly into your hand regardless of what you were doing. A single thumb could do most of the operation.

The software end of the early iPod was a simple drill up, drill down mechanism that slid left and right. I’d say 90% of users figured out the whole operation in 2 minutes or less. That’s huge for a new product. Easy hardware. Easy software.

The advertising message — dancing to headphone music like a walkman, except this time, digital with a higher capacity (and white plastic instead of black!). Simple: “All people like music. All people like to dance (at least in private). This little object is the best, fastest, most obvious way to play music.”

Anyone argue that iPod wasn’t a mega successful product line?

First iPhone — couldn’t touch-type, couldn’t add any more apps, and you needed a decent mac to sync it. People accused it of being a toy for the rich. Without more features it could not compete against the Nokia’s and Blackberry’s of the world. Plus Apple knows nothing about mobile so AT&T or Sprint will crush them. Sound familiar?

Huh? Where’s the keyboard?

Yet many (less this time) overlooked the key differentiating feature: the touch interface running an actual touch OS. Touch and gestures – another ancient interface brought to the digital age.

The hardware: a dramatic black/silver slab with a chrome ring and what appeared to be a single button. It looked nothing like a phone. It was a “huh?” moment for most of us. Then the finger starts driving that huge bright screen, we notice there are a few extra buttons for pocket needs, and OMG I want one starts. Instantly all competition looks dated. Nearly everyone copied and today, 7 years later, probably half the phones on earth look like that first iphone.

The software was a shrunken OSX designed for touch input only. Companies like Microsoft had been demoing tablets and touch interfaces for a decade but hadn’t bothered to actually design a touch OS. The UI is dependent on the input mechanism so Apple did the work, in top secret, to develop an actual touch OS that worked on small screens. It had the stability of unix with the home button being the best Escape key ever made. You just always went home first, and the icons were always in the same place. Easy software to go with the Easy hardware.

So easy your grandma waited in line to buy one.

>Now there’s The Watch.
[Small-eyes have been left behind after a good run of what, 18 years of things starting with “i”?  #iWillMissU.]

Nice watch.

iSee nice watch.

The first watch – just an iPhone touch on your wrist, plus you need a new iPhone just to use it. Just a toy for the rich. The hardware – it looks like a watch, we were expecting that. No big surprise it’s a very generic looking watch with what appears to be 1 button and a winder knob for authenticity. It does have the most important new iOS chip – NFC payment chip. All the new weird health sensors and charging stuff is on the bottom, hidden while wearing. Easy to dismiss, but even easier to accept. Easy.

3 Apple UI's on 1 Device - Touch gestures, scroll-click, and single home with apps.

3 Apple UI’s on 1 Device – Touch gestures, scroll-click, and single home button/screen

The software is a lighter version of iOS, and actually relies on a full iOS nearby for some functions. I suppose this is very much in development over the next 6 months.

But that UI uncovers hardware features that aren’t obvious at first glance – besides the expected touch screen, the wind knob is actually the iPod scroll wheel and the iPhone home button in one! Win+Win could be sweet. That obvious button below it goes right to the contacts/social app – that’s new, but I get it. Why wake up, go home, and then select contacts each time? This is your communicator! There’s not even a dock/shelf to put favorites on the watch. [I bet they eventually let that button hook to other apps ].


Your away party.

Your away party.

The other feature hidden from the naked eye is the haptic IO – input and feedback. “Haptic” is when the machine physically shakes or moves to contact us, and we can shake or poke the machine to contact it. The watch screen knows how hard you are pushing it so it can do another layer of functions per touch. Then, like game controllers, the watch can do all sorts of fancy vibrates including left/right, heartbeats, and even relay tapped messages from another watch.

Haptic screen. Haptic vibrations. Sensor array on your wrist.

Haptic screen. Haptic vibrations. Sensor array on your wrist.

Overall, the input and UI for the watch is a new model. It combines 3 of Apple’s UI stalwarts into a single device: the touch screen gestures, the scroll wheel interface, and the single home button model.
Assuming it works nearly as good as the first iPods and iPhones, it should find similar success. By version 3 you won’t need an iphone or constant charging, and the competition will probably have adopted versions of the scroll-wind interface and haptic features. Welcome to the future, space cadets!

iWatch, iBuy?


Will Apple put out a wearable? The Android makers are going full speed into Android watches, regardless of reviews and actual ship dates. They want to appear to be flooding the market but I haven’t seen a single one out in the wild yet. But if Apple does iWatch you will start to see these things everywhere.

I’ve written some thoughts on wearables before, here and here. As we get closer to the possible announcement next week, I was thinking about this opportunity for Apple to define the market again. Remember, the iPod was not the first DAP, the iPhone was not the first smartphone, and the iPad was not the first tablet, but each of them came to define those markets within the first year.

A wrist-worn computer is a very different form factor than a phone, tablet, laptop, TV screen and desktop. This requires a completely different UI model. When working with new form factors it is critical to focus on core functions. It’s never enough to resize existing interfaces to the new screen. There are many things a watch can do that the others can’t. There’s also many things you can’t or shouldn’t do on a watch.

Apple’s design restraint should really be an advantage here. While other makers are going to put entire Android smart phones on your wrist, I fully expect Apple to define it’s own space with a very focused product that, at first glance, doesn’t “do as much” as the android wearables.

But much like the iPod and all subsequent iDevices, the advantage will be that Apple says “no” to all sorts of features that distract from the main functions.

Apple has probably determined 2-4 core features for iWatch, and will remove any other features that delude or counter those core functions. The first iWatch will be quickly attacked for what it can’t do, while those living with it will more than likely start to understand Apple’s design decisions as time wears on (badump!). Simple, consistent operation is the key to a smart watch, and that plays to Apple’s design strength.

I found Apple products to be designed for long-term use, while many other makers design things for the sales portion of it’s life. They appear to have lots of flashy features, more than the Apple, and at a lower price! What a deal! But much of what draws you in is fluff, crud, and marketing, and the day to day use of the device often lacks the “polish” of the Apple device.

Jon Ivey also likes going back in time to classic designs. The iPod was a melding of a 1960’s transistor radio and a 1980’s walkman. With his comment about Swiss watchmakers needing to take notice of Apple, that tells me they will push forward with a design that takes from some classic watches of the past.

If the simple iWatch v1 is successful, Apple will take 3-4 iterations to slowly add more power features and complexity. They smartly don’t compete on the feature checklist chart, they play the long game of daily use, enjoyment, and ultimately continued purchases in the Apple ecosystem.

IMHO you shouldn’t have to touch a watch very often, and when you do it should not require focusing on a small touch screen sort of thing. If it tries to do everything my phone can do but on my wrist it will fail. I want a new concept that might ultimately replace the phone (especially since I’m down to about 1 real phone call needed per day). I also have 2-3 fully capable screens near me at most times, and I don’t want that on my wrist 24/7. If my watch is constantly blinking and buzzing about every email and tweet I think they missed an opportunity to simplify.

I’d like to see time, weather, calendar and notifications on the main screen, with quick access to Nav, Messages, and Health tracking. I’d like to see it pair with a wireless headphone/mic so you can do some voice control and dictation of messages. I’d like the whole thing to to be very quiet and unassuming, using custom vibrations and maybe slight color changes to the frame to indicate.

The best UI mockups I’ve seen so far are the column-wristband types — where it’s iOS app icons in a single scrollable column on a narrow rounded band. 1 flick either way slides you into that app, maybe with a dock sort of concept that keeps the critical time/date info in front. It looks a little feminine to not have a big bulky watch head and I can imagine the jokes about everyone wearing Apple jewelry, but keeping that UI simple and brand new (it’s not a small smartphone) could be the key to Apple’s success.

iPhone as Medical Tricorder

The future is all around us. Our cars will probably never fly, but man we are getting some interesting tech in the last 5 years, driven largely by the worldwide adoption of iOS devices loaded with sensors and the software framework to exploit those scanners. Apple themselves are about to push their “HealthKit”, an API (application programming interface) to access and share health data as collected and processed by the iOS device.

The interesting twist isn’t on the tech side, it’s on the business side. But before delving into that, can you imagine the various advantages to tracking your body health datapoints in real time – how is your sleep this week, your protein intake, your blood sugar, your physical activity? I think we all inherently understand alcohol hangovers, but most of us don’t further tie our moods to our diet & physical health. If my device monitored 5-10 daily levels and I was really having a shitty day, I’d be curious to know what that looked like to avoid it in the future. Think sugar crashes, how much spicy food, hours sitting, lactose intolerance, miles pedaled, acid reflux, body fat, and more serious stuff like peanut allergies, HIV, and other human issues that some of us must manage.

The twist is that Apple, flush with money and influence, is trying to modernize the health insurance market in the US by working with major health providers and insurers. They have made key hires from that industry and have been working for years laying the groundwork. The end result being that HealthKit apps might actually share data with your healthcare providers, allowing them more accuracy, efficiency and hopefully better care.

If you are outside of America, this must be obvious. Who needs your health data more than your doctor? But in the states nothing medical is shared. Everyone has a data silo (which translates into a revenue source), backed up by a federally enforced rule known as HIPAA, and the patient is left to suffer. Yes, we often receive decent care and plenty of scans by expensive cameras, but it comes at a HUGE personal cost, much frustration, and there are many cases of misdiagnosis because of the lack of data sharing.

Apple knows “the iPod model” will keep working – make a device easy and portable enough, add features that actually work at a core level (not marketing me-too fluff like samsung), market it properly, and watch the thing take off. This healthkit thing, if done right, will make our iOS devices our medical iPods, and perhaps the waiting room dance will become as easy as checking into a flight with your iPhone.

I think we are about to get alot more physical with our phones, which is why I think I want a wrist iPhone instead of a pocket iPhone.

Now we can all scan B’Lana. I know I was scanning up and down back then. Hottest Klingon?


iWatch Your Health

Finally, mainstream consumer technology has noticed the health of the consumer. Instead of computers just making us fatter, lazier, and more spoiled than ever before, there’s some pushback in the form of wearable health tech, and it looks like Apple might be the driving force here.

Last week they announced their HealthKit API to developers, which is a nerdy way of saying “Here, build things”. Healthkit is a set of frameworks to track, share, and communicate calorie consumption, sleep activity, blood glucose, blood oxygen levels, and other health metrics.

Any mobile iOS device (not AppleTV) will be able to act as your sensor array and primary tracking system. Macs will probably be able to track but not monitor, as they do not have the same mobile sensors as iOS devices. This is not revolutionary but evolutionary, as the iPod has been helping people track their jogging performance for almost a decade now, and of course GPS is used for tracking your travel by bike or foot. The health section on Apple’s App Store has been buzzing.


It gets really interesting when you factor in a possible new mobile iOS device – the iWatch. If you shrink down the key elements to the iPhone5 and put them behind a curved glass wristband, well then you might have something.

I think it’s technically possible beause most of the battery life in an iOS device is used to power the display. The smaller display requires a smaller battery. The removal of all ports except a lightning connector also saves a ton of space. Apple has spent their billions the last few years working on both curved glass and custom battery shaping tech. If the whole band is battery there’s plenty of space. Have you seen the size of some current watches? Plenty of volume if you can work in that rounded shape.

If Apple gets a touchscreen iOS watchband to market I think they could have a winning product. It’s all about the feature set – what it can and more importantly can’t do. Do you need your “cloud” in your watch? Do you need the full internet? Do you need wifi, 3G, etc?


Perhaps Apple will say no. Your watch should tell the time and help monitor your body metrics, at least version 1. Maybe if it’s within bluetooth range of a trusted device it can sync or use internet, I don’t know. Perhaps they cram those radios into it, we will just have to wait and see. I know Apple has been combining and reducing the size of their various mobile radios.

I also know my life could use a simple sleep tracker, calorie counter, exercise tracker, and electronic medical record holder that also knew my schedule, my contacts, and my habits. These apps exist as stand-alone concepts, but each one has to be configured to your liking and then your data is not shared with any other systems.

The Healthkit API could finally force the sharing of this data, both for personal goal encouragement and for medical professionals tasked with providing you care.

(BTW – This weekend I saw a Samsung ad saying ‘the future is here now’ with their smart-watch prominently displayed. Apple could counter with an ad that shows their smart-watch doing various things with the tagline ‘our future works’ ;-))


Is This The iPhone Replacement?

Another good iWatch story, talking rumors and potential developments. Here’s my previous thoughts on it from last year.

I think the golden era for the smart phone is dwindling. They will probably never go away but (given skype, facetime, google hangouts, webex,, etc.) phones have already stopped being the only/best way to voice communicate with people.

Aple iWatch concept

Now that’s a watch I’d wear proudly. I want my pocket back! Hey Rosie, why aren’t you picking up? I want my Funk.

If Apple gets even 50% of the existing iPhone functionality into a watch I’ll be a customer. I want my pocket back. All of these new features that an iWatch might do are just extra. I’d love to have a heart monitor, workout computer, and bike computer on my wrist at all times. I’d love a small shock or silent vibration to notify my inner wrist. I’d love to be able to do basic button controls on the face and use voice to handle large text entry. Hopefully they also make some slick, nearly hidden bluetooth headset.

I actually could see apple going more sci-fi and not calling it a watch at all. They could be working to “reinvent” the watch, much like they reinvented the PC, the walkman, the smartphone, and the tablet computer. It is becoming much more of a Star-Trek like communicator and tri-corder than a phone or watch.

1980's Star Trek communicator badge

“I wonder if I can click this thing and get out of here without those guys seeing?”

The Star Trek “Communicator Badge” responded to voice control and acted as a general health and location monitor. The iWatch would do all of that and more. Come to think of it, the current iPhone is becoming more and more like the Star Trek “tri-corder” from the 80’s, which gave it’s user a strong sensor and visual array to supply data readouts needed for space crew people – structural, gravitational, air-quality, language translation, and ambient readings.

Since we aren’t on a spaceship meeting alien races we don’t require some of those, but many of them are available from the internet with a properly configured smartphone. Trek had great technology, but they didn’t have GoogleMaps, WeatherUnderground, Wikipedia, Foursquare, Twitter, Youtube, Skype, and Flash bootleg sites. Their versions appeared to be closed and military-based (supplied by the institution and programmed by the institution). So much of our data is open-source or crowd-sourced, and ad-supported. But it’s there and in 2014 we are finally getting close to sci-fi of the 1980’s.

Uglier than Androids!

Tri-corder models for many purposes. Not much uglier than non-Apple phones.

What a Perfect iWatch Could Do

Wearable computing has been in R&D for decades and the “smartwatch” seems to be imminent. But there’s rarely a perfect new product. Apple is known for disrupting markets and instantly making existing products passe (including their own), but their first versions are usually basic and their disruption sometimes takes several iterations to take hold.

Samsung was first to market here with the Galaxy Gear, but it’s very limited and has a horrible battery life, and besides mounting on your wrist, it won’t give you anything a cheap smartphone can’t provide in a better, more powerful way. It also requires a smart phone nearby to be configured to perform many of it’s advertised features. Samsung made this “watch” require a phone, and it’s not being received well.


Apple’s name has been attached with an ‘iWatch” for several years now, and most people such as myself believe that Apple could indeed deliver such a device out of the box that has enough battery life and features (ecosystem) to be a viable product. There’s also debate about whether a smartwatch should be a companion device, or, if like the iPhone and iPad before it, we will see people downsizing and modernizing to 1-2 devices instead of 3-5. This is the crux of The Secret to Apple’s iWatch Success: Self-Sufficiency.

So let’s brainstorm — what would the perfect iWatch do for you? We won’t have an on-screen keyboard or 4G built in. We could have a bluetooth headset and a few on-device buttons. The primary interface will probably be voice beyond the tiny touchscreen, basic watch-like frame buttons similar to iPod/iPhone/iPad. Before any science fiction we should look at the ecosystem apple has already developed, and how another iClient – one that lives on your body – could integrate:

  • iTunes Music & Media – control playback of local iTunes’, tune in iTRadio, stream media from your iT, manage apps that are iWatch compatible
  • Mail – display or read messages aloud, take dictation for new messages, attend/don’t attend meeting invites, notification updates
  • iCal Calendars – display or read events aloud, add new events by voice, receive notifications and directions for every meeting
  • Safari browser – view bookmarks, get RSS feeds, add bookmark
  • Messages/FaceTime – read messages, speak messages aloud, compose messages by voice or list, do facetime video conferencing
  • Contacts – look up people, add voice notes or dictate notes, get notifications on birthdays & anniversaries, Find My Friends by location
  • Automator macro tools – run Automator actions on your mac remotely – this is the pathway into remote control of your macs and your home
  • Finder tags & Spotlight search – run spotlight search on your macs, use QuickLook to see results, call up a tag and iWatch shows you all it’s files
  • Time Machine backup – run backups, browse backups, use QuickLook to peek back in time
  • AppleTV – remote control for AppleTV, manage your channel queue’s without disturbing playback, take over the display (Picture in Picture?) using watch, for instance, “Open <bookmark>, display on AppleTV”
  • Health monitoring – I’m not sure what app manages this, but Apple has been working with Nike to perfect athletic monitoring software, and an iWatch touching your wrist all day could deliver all sorts of health data.
  • Siri voice control – critical for all of the above. No on-screen keyboard and a small screen makes voice the primary interface. All existing Siri features should work on iWatch, and new voice-centric features should grow.
  • Other ideas for the wrist iClient?

I think the secret to Apple’s success here will be the software ecosystem integration. Hardware is mostly done – an iPod nano-touch can be mounted on the wrist already but it’s not quite “the iWatch”. What kind of hardware would we need to do all of this? We will need at least 1 camera, a wi-fi radio, a bluetooth radio, a curved touchscreen,  some flash storage, and enough battery life to get through a day. This is all doable now.

For experimentation – cover up everything but a square inch of your iDevice screen, and use Siri to imagine working with a screen that small. Most powerful uses would require voice OS to accomplish your task. This is an advanced Siri that can accept simple variables on input, and adjusts her output for the lack of screen. Most of the changes are on the output end, from what I see.

So will Apple put it all together and do an iWatch? I’d pay $200-$500 to get a wrist device that could do even 50% of what I’ve listed above, and most of that is possible already in the iEcosystem using a phone or tablet. Maybe they drop the term ‘watch’ and call it iI, pronounced I & I rastafarian style!