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What problems will the Apple Watch solve?

April 2, 2015 04:17 PM
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(Bloomberg) -- Apple co-founder Steve Jobs liked to talk about putting "a dent in the universe." The problem with that philosophy is the law of unintended consequences: You just might not like that new world order.

Such is the realization we get in Wired's behind-the-scenes story about the creation of the Apple Watch, which arrives in stores this month. As Apple's design team toiled away late into the night on a recent assignment, they came to an epiphany: "Your phone is ruining your life," writes Wired's David Pierce.

This is an odd conclusion from the team that created the modern smartphone. The iPhone has become Apple's highest-selling product by far, and the company shipped its 1 billionth mobile device late last year. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook touted that stat in January when the company reported a record quarterly profit of $18 billion, driven by the latest iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

While smartphones are doing wonders for Apple's financial health, these phones take a toll on our psyches. Apple executives, like us all, were "subject to the tyranny of the buzz—the constant checking, the long list of nagging notifications," Pierce writes. He spoke to Kevin Lynch, one Apple executive behind the effort to make the Watch a reality:

“We’re so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now,” Lynch says. “People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much.” They’ve glared down their noses at those who bury themselves in their phones at the dinner table and then absentmindedly thrust hands into their own pockets at every ding or buzz. “People want that level of engagement,” Lynch says. “But how do we provide it in a way that’s a little more human, a little more in the moment when you’re with somebody?”

Our phones have become invasive. But what if you could engineer a reverse state of being? What if you could make a device that you wouldn’t—couldn’t—use for hours at a time? What if you could create a device that could filter out all the bullshit and instead only serve you truly important information? You could change modern life. And so after three-plus decades of building devices that grab and hold our attention—the longer the better—Apple has decided that the way forward is to fight back.

The team came to this realization after Jony Ive, Apple's famed designer, became obsessed with horology, the science of time keeping. Wired writes: "That obsession became a product." From the article:

Apple decided to make a watch and only then set out to discover what it might be good for (besides, you know, displaying the time). “There was a sense that technology was going to move onto the body,” says Alan Dye, who runs Apple’s human interface group. “We felt like the natural place, the place that had historical relevance and significance, was the wrist.”

The purpose of the wrist-mounted technology, what problems it might solve—that was something the Watch team would come up with slowly, during the process of inventing a bunch of new ways to interact with the device.

Lynch may, in fact, be one of the bravest corporate executives in Silicon Valley. Wired reports that the high- profile tech executive from Adobe Systems accepted his job at Apple in 2013 without any clue as to what his assignment would actually be. Apple demands spy agency-like secrecy. All Lynch had to go on was his fancy new title: vice president of technology. Even Ethan Hunt was given a chance to reconsider his impossible missions before the messages self-destructed.

On day one at Apple, Lynch may have felt like he'd stepped into a Tom Cruise movie. He was marched straight into the design studio, briefed on his assignment, and discovered that his team was already behind schedule. Better yet, Wired reports, Lynch was tasked with presenting a design review to the Apple leadership in just two days. Wired writes:

There were no working prototypes; there was no software. There were just experiments—the iPod crew had made something with a click wheel—and lots of ideas. The expectations, however, were clear: Apple’s senior vice president of design, Jony Ive, had tasked them with creating a revolutionary device that could be worn on the wrist.

Lynch got to work and eventually made his public debut at Apple last September when the Watch was unveiled, demonstrating its uses onstage near the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The Apple Watch aims to offer new ways to communicate, track fitness goals, and give directions, among other things. The product goes on sale April 24 and comes in two sizes and three styles, has various band designs, and ranges in cost from $349 to $17,000 in the U.S. The one you'll be able to buy later this month also looks a lot cooler than the initial prototype.Wired writes that an early version was an iPhone rigged with a Velcro strap. “A very nicely designed Velcro strap,” Lynch tells Wired.

 

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