The Revolution Will Be…Worn?


Looking at the state of mobile technology today, it’s clear that the tablet form factor is the flavor of the week. A decade ago, however, the future of mobility looked a lot less like a clipboard and a lot more like a wristwatch.

For years, people were focused on wearing their computers. What is a thin, rectangular window to endless content now was a wrist-mounted portal to information then. The problem that designers always ended up getting stuck on, however, was the interface.

Designers tried to tackle this in a wearable computer concept, but the end result is still a mashup of the ideas of the last few decades and the fancy swirly graphics of today. The input method in the aforementioned concept (a swing-out keyboard? really?) is kludgy, at best, and the whole thing looks, well…huge. Would anyone actually wear that? No, no they wouldn’t because that sort of thing is a fashion nightmare.

Then there’s this one. Ouch. Really? I mean, sure this is military technology, so we’re not looking for haute couture here, but…I mean…really? This just won’t do.

The problem is that the input method for all of these concepts still involves directly interacting with the device, touching buttons, or tapping the screen with a tiny stylus. All of these options are unacceptable when it comes to wearable computing. A person cannot have devices oozing out of every pore and orifice just to get at a Wikipedia article. What they need is a device that is intuitive and simple, something that “just works”.

This is where it gets difficult.

Apple has already developed a powerful, revolutionary computing interface powered by speech. They call it Siri, and I’m sure that most people are familiar with it at this point. If not, the link should tell you everything you need to know. The bottom line is that it’s intuitive, and allows a person to perform almost every single task they usually need a computer to do with little else than a functional set of vocal cords. This powerful computing interface, however, requires a persistent connection to the internet to be able to send your voice to Siri, and to receive Siri’s reply. Furthermore, access to Siri’s beautiful mind is limited solely to owners of Apple’s iPhone 4S, at the moment.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Apple designs hardware. They also design software and build empires on their intuitive, simple interfaces. Siri is about as simple as you can get, but not everyone has the ability to talk to Siri, and there may be those who simply don’t want to purchase a new phone for the privilege. What if, however, access to Siri could be granted by wearing a watch? Apple’s design team could surely design a beautiful watch. What if this watch was actually a computer, however? Or, perhaps not a computer, but rather a gateway to this magical, intuitive, almost infinitely powerful computer? Follow me, child, the path to this potential future is an interesting one.

Apple has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes, as it usually does. It’s been chugging away at the internal components of the iPhone 4S, upgrading a little-loved part of the phone that may actually end up being the key to this whole new ecosystem that Apple has developed: Bluetooth 4.0. The main thing about the new Bluetooth 4.0 specification is that it allows for a very low-power state, which keeps certain communication avenues open while allowing others to close. This versatility means that a wrist-mounted “computer” doesn’t actually need to do any processing of its own, but requires a connection to a device that can. Furthermore, while previous iPhone models may not sport the swanky new Bluetooth 4.0-compatible chips, they can still perform admirably with normal Bluetooth connections. This opens up the possibility for previous iPhone models to access Siri through a special piece of hardware that piggybacks off of the existing iPhone data connection through Bluetooth in much the same manner a headset would.

The end result is that a person will be able to talk to Siri, but do so without any sort of visual feedback. Ultimately, this is the sort of interaction that Apple is going for anyway. The device doesn’t need a screen (but may have one like the iPod Nano) because the interface is completely invisible. Much like the iPod Shuffle’s tiny form factor that can still communicate with the user, the new “wearable computer” does not have to be anything more than a gateway. The magic of the iPod Shuffle is that it feels like it’s so much bigger. The power of the new wearable computer is not that it is super fast and spec’ed to the gills. The power is that it feels like the world is no more than a question away.

Dick Tracy would be jealous.

An Apple a Day

Things are heating up, folks. When I originally posted about Apple’s move towards a unified payment system united under the iTunes umbrella, I was thinking pretty big picture, but there’s even more possibility here that I hadn’t considered. Run with me.

Recently, I was turned on to a company called Green Dot (GDOT) that has made a name for itself supplying pre-paid reloadable debit cards, mostly on the west coast. I was intrigued by the company’s quick growth during a time of economic recession, and I realized that, of course, people are moving away from credit cards and more towards debit transactions. Green Dot allows people from a myriad of income levels to have access to all the conveniences that a credit card allows in the modern marketplace with the added benefits of security and anonymity. Awesome.

So when I predicted a near-field payment system, I wasn’t considering a marriage of the two ideas, but the notion seems even more powerful now that I’ve read this piece by Tim O’Reilly and this post by Peter-Paul Koch. See what’s happening here, in my opinion, is a sea change in the way people are going to be managing their money, and it’s going to be Apple-based.

This may sound crazy, but we’re running with it, remember? Apple will introduce a mobile payment system, with the hardware to support it being present in all new models of iOS devices going forward (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad). As these devices proliferate (even moreso than they are now), we’re going to start seeing adoption of devices with these NFC capabilities start to rise significantly as the older models are phased out (think 2-3 generations of devices, which is 2-3 years in Apple land) and the NFC-equipped models become prevalent and cheap. As people start turning to these devices as their mobile wallets, they will also start using iTunes as their primary hub of payment, again with possible banking/credit services being offered by some new branch of Apple (not likely, but possible). As NFC becomes a de facto standard, people will start to see the iPhone as part of their lifestyle to a greater degree than they do now. At present, people still view the iPhone as a luxury item, something that is generally incompatible with their budget/spending patterns, or something that doesn’t fit their image. This will change as the iPhone begins to shift from a high-SES indicator to a mainstream societal mainstay. Apple will undoubtedly continue to produce products that will hold a significant amount of mindshare and indicate a high SES, but the fact is that the iPhone, or, more specifically, owning an NFC-equipped iPhone, will no longer be out of reach for the majority of people in just a few short years. This will bring about a massive paradigm shift in our handling of transactions across the country, and possibly the world. It will be a beautiful thing to see people of all income levels and socioeconomic strata using the same device, deriving the same enjoyment out of it. This may even signal a societal shift towards a resource-based economy, but I believe I’m being a tad optimistic there.

As Apple continues to grow, I am still amazed that their innovation does not show any signs of slowing down. Get ready, folks, this will be an interesting two years.

Standing On the Brink of iWorld

It has come to my attention that Apple may be interested in integrating some sort of contactless payments into its new iPhone. This doesn’t strike me as too far-fetched, but also hints at something much, much larger that may be going on under the surface.

For quite some time now, the iTunes store has been something of a misnomer. Sure, the store has music available for purchase, but there are a few other things the store sells now that muddy the waters. Through a single “iTunes” portal, a person can purchase music, movies, applications, and literature. Basically, media of all kinds. Using Apple’s delivery system, a person has access to these things 24/7. Apple has created a media outlet that is always open, offers competitive pricing, and boasts a huge library of all kinds of media that people can sink their teeth into.

When Apple introduced the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad, they put those devices as media hubs, able to access and purchase from their online stores at any time, just like on the computer; only this time, the capability was brought into real time and placed right into the hands of the consumer. People love the ability to purchase full albums whenever they desire, they go crazy when new, useful, or really well-designed apps are released that enrich the way they interact with the world, their media, or their data. Businesses use these devices to help their employees be more productive, people use them to have fun. They’re incredible.

An integral part of every single Apple event that has developers as a focus always brings up the idea that the iTunes store has millions upon millions of members with active credit cards, waiting to buy things. The market is huge already, but those numbers are ultimately stagnant unless they are coupled with some sort of long-term goal of expansion. Reports indicate that there are 50 million iOS devices on the market, which means that there are 50 million people already taking advantage of the media that Apple is offering through its iTunes store.

But it also means something else: that there are 50 million people invested in the Apple ecosystem. If a person has ever purchased a movie or app through iTunes, they cannot (without considerable effort and know-how) watch that movie on anything but a Mac or iDevice. Period. For customers, it means that Apple has committed to providing them with products that will allow them to continue to enjoy their purchases. For content providers, it means that they can feel better knowing that their media isn’t getting seeded everywhere.

For Apple, it means that they are now the hub of countless transactions every single day. Transactions that used to take place in physical goods are now occurring in a digital space that Apple has become synonymous with. Now watch this.

Just recently, Apple did a neat trick. They released an app that brought the shopping experience of the Apple Store right into your palm. They broke through the digital wall and used a person’s existing iTunes account and billing information to allow them to purchase an actual, physical product.

Not quite just music anymore, is it?

Apple has something huge up its sleeve, and it will use the massive established customer base to drive the creation and expansion of a vast network tied to the existing customer base in their iTunes store (which will most likely be re-branded as something else more in-line with media consumption, or even Apple goods in general). Think about it: Apple payments. Apple credit cards. An entire network of Apple finance that is made possible by hip, tech-savvy, relatively high-income consumers who demand the very best in design and quality. A retailer that puts the iTunes (or whatever) sign on their store is telling the world, “Yeah, we know you, we have stuff that is designed for you, and we want to provide it in a way that makes you feel good.”

This isn’t something that anyone should take lightly. This is power. This is control. This is the warm glow of the Apple future.

We’re standing on the brink of iWorld.

Superfluous code

In owning an iPad or iPhone, you may have heard of these things called “apps.”

They’re pretty nifty. I, however, am starting to pare down my app collection (as I have done with many things in recent weeks), and have found the experience to be incredibly cathartic.

I scrolled through the pages upon pages of apps that I have in my collection, most of which leave me asking myself “When was the last time I used this?”

Games, productivity, social networking, etc. These are all categories of apps that we see and think, “Wow, I’m going to use this all the time, and it’s a buck (or two, or three). I’m buying it.”

Then there’s schlock on your phone, and you never use it. The icon is pretty, it looks useful…but it’s really not.

It takes up space, saps your attention. You can’t get to the things you really need because you’re mired in a bunch of things that you thought you wanted at one point. Maybe thought you needed.

Maybe you don’t need an iPad or iPhone, or whatever whiz-bang razzle-dazzle doohickey that just came out. Maybe you don’t own one. Good for you and knowing what you want.

Let’s say you already have one, however. Let it be a reminder to you, a reminder to try to simplify the rest of your life. Every time you go to use your phone, netbook, iPad, blackberry, or other neato device, remember how lucky you are, and try to simplify something else in your life.

It’s like Lent, only in reverse.

need to find a way

need to find some venture capital.

I think the idea is a wonderful one. I have an idea, but I lack the means to make it real. someone has the means, but no idea. let’s work together, dear stranger. help me change the world. be a part of that.