A Possible Killer App for the Apple Watch

Of the various apps Apple showed at the Apple Watch event this week, there was one I consider a sleeper. This is the app related to what I call “non verbal communication.”

Ben alluded to this in his column on “Dressing the Naked Wrist” right after the event. He called the app the “Love Tap”.

Tim Cook showed how your heartbeat could be sent to another person who also has an Apple Watch to suggest you are thinking of them. In my case, since I am a serious heart patient, the message I would send with the heart beat tap to my wife would be “thinking of you and, by the way, I am still alive”.  I am pretty sure she would appreciate both messages. You can also draw a smiley face or other symbols to suggest some type of communication. For example, I might set up a simple code such as drawing a 10 and my wife knowns I will be home in 10 minutes. Or I could draw a X and it means I am leaving the office. Or I could draw any letter or symbol and give it a meaning so that creating a message would be fast and simple.

I did the smartwatch session at CES this year and Jeff Boneforte of Yahoo also suggested communication might be a killer app for many. In his case, he said he would never give his young daughter a smartphone to take to school as she should might lose it. However, he would consider getting her the entry level Apple Watch and use it to communicate with her. He could do something simple such as send the heart beat to show he was thinking of her. Or a quick message asking if she ate all of her lunch. Or a quick symbol that says, “I will pick you up in 10 minutes”. Since the watch has WiFi, all the parent needs is to log her watch into their school’s WiFi system and the child is capable of getting these messages as needed. Of course, she can also respond to the messages and, via the GPS, a parent could even confirm the child is at school and safe.

A few weeks after CES, I got to thinking about the ability to deliver non-verbal communication via the Apple Watch and realized that, for this to work, at least two people would have to have an Apple Watch. Sure, I could just text but on busy days when I am in meetings a lot of the time, it will be much simpler for me to see she has called and just use a pre-designed symbol to tell her I am in a meeting. You get the idea.

In fact, I would not be surprised if Apple Watches end up in bridal registries as young couples could surely find ways to use them before and after the wedding in possibly very creative ways.

My key point is, if the non-verbal communication aspect of this watch becomes useful for a lot of people in various situations and circumstances, we are talking about people buying them in two’s and not just individually. I’m not sure if that is Apple’s marketing plan but in my case I know my wife and I could get a lot of use from them since I travel so much and want to stay in touch as much as I can even if I am super busy while on the road or on days when meetings pile up.

Again, I could call or text her but this form of communication could give us a level of versatility we have never had. In fact, she is always after me for not staying in touch more when I am on the road and this makes it very easy to do. While the health apps and payments apps will also be important to driving demand for the Apple Watch, I will not be surprised if this non-verbal communication app becomes the one people use the most.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

14 thoughts on “A Possible Killer App for the Apple Watch”

  1. So emoticon comms (emitocomms ?) are for when you think of and care about someone, but not enough to type out a regular message, meaningful and well-written. Maybe they should be named .. emixticoned messages ? I thought Yo ! was already serving that market ^^. The “sorry busy can’t pick up” option for incoming calls is a standard one-touch affair on my phone ?

    As for communicating with kids at school, parents around me are mostly concerned with communicating with their kids when they are *not* at school. I’m guessing we’ll have to wait for gen3 or 4 to get voice+data in mainstream smartwatches. In the mean time, phones (the ones lost/frightened kids can talk into and that work anywhere) are $20 (dumb) or $50 (entry-level smart). The kid would have to lose or break a whole bunch of them to get to iWatch-level expense.

    1. Regarding your first point, I suggest that you learn a bit more about stickers on LINE or WeChat as they are used in east Asia (an demo was given at the Keynote). Single stickers or emoji are often worth more than a couple of sentences.

      Remember that stickers were what made LINE’s profits.

      1. Actually, I’m interested in the use of emoji, stickers and “emoticon comms” from a high/low-context culture standpoint.


        At least in Japan, it’s hard to communicate effectively with written words alone. There’s a lot of “context” that you are expected to infer from the “air” surrounding the communication, which is very hard to do with email or written messages. In many ways, the facial expressions depicted within each emoji or sticker are much better at conveying the “air”. Trying to convey the “air” through explicit written words take a lot of extra words and even then is often futile.

        And it’s not just the older generations. The younger generation recently coined the term “you must read the air” (空気を読め), which suggests that they might even be more high-context then my generation.

        Although Japan may be a bit extreme, I’m sure that many countries share this “high-context” communication style.

        The Wikipedia article suggest that the French also have a high-context culture, and therefore I’m a bit surprised by your emphasis on explicit communication by words and your deemphasis of the emoji-style.

        1. Even just here in the US, irony is completely lost in remote written real-time communication. I constantly needle my kids that texting, emailing and Facebook-posting has turned them into a generation with stunted irony-detecting antennae.

        2. Well, after reading that singularly terse wikipedia article, I’m not quite sure what’s meant by low- vs high-context culture. I get the feeling it means more can be implied w/o risk of misunderstanding because of a high commonality of experiences/learning.
          As far as I know, kids are not so much using those cultural shortcuts as taking all the vowels out of words which, French being what it is, has almost 0 impact on comprehension.
          Also, heterogeneity could limit emoticons: I’m not aware of a single messaging app having taken the country by storm, plus we’re at 80% Android, 10% Apple, 10% MS which kind of atomizes things even more (especially with both chic Apple and cheap MS being over-represented for kids/teens, I’m sure). And finally , we’ve had free texts for a few years now, as far as I know a lot a people don’t bother with the messaging app du jour and just text: always works & no need for a data contract.
          And, for me personally and around me, I find words work better… I’m often lamenting today’s icon-laden interfaces, and that the single double-back arrow means reply, and the mutiple one means reply all. And yes, look closer, somewhere on your screen there *are* those arrows, probably flattened into the décor…

          1. OK. Since I wasn’t able to convince you with my previous comment, let me try once more 🙂

            How about this Wikipedia article about nonverbal communication?

            Nonverbal communication represents two-thirds of all communication.


            I think there are many, many instances where words just aren’t enough. Technology is helping us communicate with more than words.

          2. I fully agree that non-verbal is more powerful than verbal, and more important especially for ongoing transactions/relationships.

            I think we disagree in that I’d put emoticons in a “simplified verbal” category, not a “non-verbal” one. They don’t cover body language (kinesics), paralanguage, touch (haptics), distance (proxemics), nor physical environments/appearance, which are what Wikipedia categorizes as non-verbal.

            As for drawing being superior to words… sometimes. A friend of mine is extremely popular for drawing notes on post-its, instead of writing words. But his notes are unique, he’s got talent, and above all, they mean he actually took more time and effort. But overall, civilizations evolved from pictograms to alphabets, probably for a reason.

            Let’s take a concrete example: reluctant agreement. I’d text “mouais, OK” or if I want to be sarcastic, “OK. Super…”. What would you emoticonize ?

          3. God you picked a difficult one!

            What I did the other day was I wrote some negative comments why I thought what we were discussing might be unnecessary and then a few messages down, I started using emoji (mugs of beer) to appear playful and good hearted.

            Of course it depends a lot on how negative you are and your previous relations with that person, but I tend to use emoji to simply show that I’m trying to be happy and cheerful. Especially if we don’t know each other too well.

            If it were my wife, I’d probably be rather blunt about it and just text “ok”. If I was enthusiastic, it would be a thumbs up emoji or an “OK!”.

            But to be honest, I’m not really the best person to be talking about this. When I message with younger moms for example, I’m amazed with how they end almost every sentence with a facial emoji. And then, I’m lost about how I should respond because I’m not so good at emoji communication. I’m worried that I might seem too serious or blunt.

  2. I think the Killer App for the watch is that it is a jewelry and a Watch, there is no better reason to wear one than this, but I agree with you post this kind of watch to watch haptic communication is a perfect use case for a watch, it give dept and emotion to the gadget something i wish Google will implement soon in Android Wear.

  3. I totally agree.

    I think Ben has mentioned in a separate article how, 30 years ago, pagers were used to send very short messages (in 10-digit numerals!!). What you describe is, I think, very similar.

    I’m hoping that when Apple sends you a review unit, it will not be a single unit but two. They you and your wife could test it out together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *