Apple and Intimate Computing

I’ve been speaking to a few reporters ahead of next week’s Apple event, where we’re all expecting Apple to unveil additional details on the Apple Watch ahead of a launch in April. One of the themes from the original launch event I’ve been referring back to is this concept of more intimate computing that Apple talked about. It’s there in Apple’s marketing materials for the Apple Watch on too:

And since Apple Watch sits on your wrist, your alerts aren’t just immediate. They’re intimate…

A more immediate, intimate way to connect…

It’s a simple and intimate way to tell someone how you feel…

It also enables some entirely new, intimate ways for you to communicate with other Apple Watch wearers…

One of the big questions I’ve been asked during these conversations with reporters, and something a number of people asked after the original event was, how Apple would sell this to consumers? I’ve written previously about the role of these Apple keynotes, and the fact that these aren’t Apple’s main pitch to consumers. In fact, very few of those in Apple’s addressable market will ever watch these presentations. But when it comes to how Apple will pitch the Apple Watch, both next week and beyond, I think this concept of intimacy will be a big deal. So what exactly does Apple mean by this, and how does it manifest itself?

Personal devices truly become personal

One of the funny things about our smartphones is they’re at the same time incredibly personal devices and yet not very personal at all in other ways. On the one hand, we carry them with us almost everywhere we go, they’re tied to our personal identities, they carry much of our most personal information, and they’re the way we communicate with those nearest and dearest to us. And yet when we talk on them we’re audible to those around us, when we get notifications others in the vicinity hear either pings or buzzes, they’re often secured and tracked by the companies we work for, we use them for the mundane and painful tasks in our lives as well as for the joyful ones, and so on.

What I think intimacy in computing really means is going a level deeper on the personal side, and perhaps also stripping away some of the non-personal elements of the smartphone. The Apple Watch, then, becomes the truly personal device our smartphones have never quite been. Notifications come in noiselessly, communication with our Apple Watch-wearing significant other can be both more private and more individualized, the tasks we do on the Apple Watch can be limited just to those that are meaningful to us, leaving others for the smartphone, and so on. Our smartphones have the potential to be all these things, but because they’re also the main devices on which we get things done, they lose some of that meaningfulness and our associations with them can be emotionally mixed. But a device you have with you all day, that becomes a chief means of communication with those nearest to you, that allows you to be truly in the moment in a way you can’t be when tied to a smartphone, that’s truly an intimate device.

Other devices have tried and failed

MG Siegler wrote about a year ago about a shift in the way he used his smartphone, which relates strongly to what I’m talking about here. He wrote about how he’d always kept his phone on silent or vibrate to avoid bothering those around him when notifications arrived and that he’d been using a Bluetooth headset which allowed him to hear all those pings out loud again without annoying anyone. In a way, he’d discovered an extension to his phone that allowed it to become, in some ways, more personal again. But, of course, the object in question was a gadget hung awkwardly on his ear. More recently, he followed that piece up with another quick thought about the Moto Hint, which is arguably the first mainstream Bluetooth headset that sits more subtly inside your ear. It somewhat solves the awkwardness problem and I think it’s a great evolution in headset design. But it continues to be mostly audible and is still visible from the side. Google Glass is another device which its creators described as something that should allow you to be more in the moment by putting what you cared about in your visual field, but it’s like a Bluetooth headset on steroids: obtrusively and obnoxiously filling not just your field of vision but also highly visible to everyone else.

What the Apple Watch does differently is present itself in a form factor that’s not just unobtrusive, but actually elegant. Tim Cook has drawn the contrast with Google Glass specifically in this context, and I think it’s a point worth making. The Apple Watch comes in a familiar form factor, one which doesn’t look awkward or even particularly gadget-like, unlike most of the smartwatches on the market today. It solves the fundamental issue of awkwardness associated with both headsets and Google Glass while simultaneously going quite a bit further in its functionality, much of it hidden most of the time both to the wearer and those around her.

Intimacy is a tough sell

The most challenging thing about all this is it’s not obvious as a selling point. We’re used to buying devices based on what they can do for us and we usually think about specific tasks. What’s difficult about this concept of intimacy is it’s not really necessarily about doing something new, but doing something differently. I’m curious to see how Apple pitches this in the event on Monday, but even more interested in seeing how they convey it through their advertising.

However, I think the key with the Apple Watch, as arguably with several previous products from Apple, is knowing someone who owns one and loves it. Because this is a new and unfamiliar category for most people, it’s going to take the early adopters experiencing it, finding out how it adds value to their lives, and then sharing with friends and family, to really make the Apple Watch value proposition come alive. I’ve no doubt we’ll see plenty on Monday about both the pre-installed apps from Apple and a handful of third party apps that show off what the Apple Watch is capable of. But I suspect intimacy will be a major theme again and I suspect Apple isn’t done inventing devices that push computing in this direction.

Published by

Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

131 thoughts on “Apple and Intimate Computing”

  1. Oh my. Indeed, I’d rather not be intimate with any object, thank you. Especially not with a connected object that sends whatever data who knows where (and no warranties).

    1. Intimacy in this respect means information can be appropriately selected and discreetly shared. You would rather have the opposite?

      1. Isn’t hat an illusion though ? In all practicality, my phone is as… intimate (ugh !) as a watch would be, especially if my watch needs to go through my phone for everything. and when an umpteenth hack puts all that happened on them on the internetz, on under the eyes of a prying friend/relation while I’m in the shower.

        1. You appear to find that particular word off-putting in this context, but let’s not get hung up on semantics. The phone is in your pocket, perhaps under layers of clothing; to receive any communication it needs to make a sound or a loud buzzing vibration, and the act of removing it and turing on the screen is deliberate and obvious. A watch is easily glanced-at almost no matter the circumstances, and simple actions and communications can be done with much less effort. And that is only one of its benefits.

          Your approach to technology is very conservative, very fear-based, i.e. what can go wrong: how can this make life more difficult or complicated or expensive. I understand that reflex. One of the reasons I admire Apple is that it has a good record of bringing new technology only when its benefits greatly outweigh its added psychic weight. I do not think this is necessarily true of technology in general.

  2. Jan, I’ve been a skeptic about smartwatches but I have to say you make a good case for the Apple Watch.

  3. Earphones are right off more intimate than watches and conceivably more useful for biometrics as well as communications, not to mention Siri on tap. But Apple is still the computer company it always was, and it wants a screen on its products.

    1. Apple already gave us the headphone remote, one of those quiet breakthroughs that nobody, including me, realized they needed.

          1. Fine. It’s the Moto Hint that Jan mentioned above. Just add some serious, contextual Siri, audio navigation, and heartbeat sensor.

          2. it actually does have contextual questions/answers (“how do i get home”…), audio navigation (see previous).
            As for heartbeat sensor…
            – I’m always wondering why people want that: I’m fairly sure I’ll notice if my heart stops beating
            – if I ever get a condition that requires monitoring it closely, I certainly won’t get some consumer-level crap that has that tacked on.
            – for sports: ditto this is not a sports device
            – also, that thing does not look designed to handle dunking and tackling while staying in-ear ^^ ,
            – I think wanting to throw in everything and the kitchen sink would be detrimental (make it bigger…)

          3. Did you notice I listed a link to a comprehensive list of the features currently?

            When I note more “serious” Siri contexting, I mean ITTT antipathetic responses regarding reminders and navigation. Not what’s available.

            I’ve used heart monitors for workouts over twenty years. Ear lobes are excellent sites for sensors.

  4. “The most challenging thing about all this is it’s not obvious as a selling point. We’re used to buying devices based on what they can do for us and we usually think about specific tasks. What’s difficult about this concept of intimacy is it’s not really necessarily about doing something new, but doing something differently.”

    I still think it’s about jobs-to-be-done, even if it’s the same job done differently. I expect Apple to sell the watch in much the same way they do their other products. Product A can do X, Y, Z. Consumer wants to do X, Y, Z, sees Product A does this very well, makes it simple and easy to do X, Y, Z, Product A also has great design and build quality, attention to detail and craftsmanship, plugs into a great ecosystem of other products, services, and content, comes with support from a single vendor, delivers a user experience the consumer desires, consumer buys Product A.

    So why doesn’t the consumer buy Product B instead? Well, Product B doesn’t have all the same attributes, only some of them, and some of those missing attributes are important to the consumer considering his or her purchase of Product A.

    Not everyone cares about design, or build quality, or craftsmanship. Some actively avoid the particular ecosystem Apple provides. Others are not comfortable with the specific user experience Apple delivers. And so on. But within the segment that chooses Apple, I think the watch is right on the mark and will do very well.

  5. One thing that phablets taught us is that we should no longer be content with analyses that might not cover the sentiment in other countries, most notably east Asia.

    I would welcome, for example, a similar analysis that covers a) sentiments from potential customers in China, b) in particular, women in that region.

    It is totally possible that, as with phablets, Apple Watch will catch on in China first. All hints from Apple marketing point toward this possibility.

    For example,

    1. The first magazine ad for Apple Watch was the Chinese Vogue.
    2. The quick expansion of Apple retails stores (which are likely to play a very important role for Apple Watch) in China.
    3. Angela Ahrendts, if I understand correctly, was very successful in marketing Burberry in China.
    4. Phablets, which are many times more popular in China, are more likely to be in your purse or bag and are will make notifications on your watch more important. Apple has entered the fabled market with the iPhone 6.

    I am concerned that this is not being fully addressed.

    1. Unrelated questions: Do you have any data on what %age on phablet users
      – are 1st-time buyers vs upsizers ? I’m always wondering if phablets are a recent trend hence more prevalent in countries still in the process of getting geared up, or if on the contrary they’re a “second thoughts / experienced user” choice.
      – have other computing devices (tablet/laptop/desktop). Wondering if they’re a replacement / cost-cutting choice, or a comfort choice (also relevant: which comes first: do I get a phablet because I don’t have a tablet, or do I get rid of my tablet because since I got my phablet, I’m barely using it).
      – show different usage patterns ? I know I’ve started not bothering to pull out my 10″ tablet since I got a 7″ phone (up from a 6″, which was not quite comfy enough for videos). I’m wondering if that’s true for everyone.

    2. That certainly makes sense – to appeal to women with phablets. Another reason why they are appealing to china is that their brand might be stronger there than in the u.s. with thousands of iPhone clones shops – because it is a great status symbol there.

      And in that context – a watch is a much better status symbol, because it is more visible than a phone which often is hidden in a purse or pocket(for males).

      But with regards the usefulness of a watch: assuming we’re talking about the watch only handling the most important messages – those divide into 2 types:

      1.Notifications than need to be acted upon, most likely by a reply. But a watch is a poor method for replying(even with stuff like canned messages and voice commands). How do we know ? Because those exist in Google wear, and AFAIK, aren’t used often. But who knows ,maybe Apple could find the trick. Maybe.

      And in order to reply you need to get your phone out, which beats the purpose of the watch.

      2.Notifications that doesn’t need to be acted upon. In general Google Now does all those messages pretty well, but other apps rarely do – probably because it’s quite complicated to predict what info you’ll need now without adding noise.But it’s hard to believe Google will open Google now to the iWatch, especially after their poor experience with maps(opened maps on iPhone, iPhone users benefited from maps, apple improves their map app and strongly markets it, and even though google maps is better , currently google maps has only 20% share of iphone users).

      But maybe we’ll see more innovation around this, with the potentially larger ecosystem for the iWatch.

      But in any case , even while it seems that Google Wear is a high quality product, With very good design , decent ecosystem,etc – it’s sales are low. My guess is because it doesn’t hold that much functional value.But we’ll see about that.

      But still, Apple can sell many units based on status/marketing/fashion. And targeting china makes perfect sense.

      1. Regarding your point 1.
        I have a hunch that women are much more likely to reply using short text which might even be a single emoji. I’m pretty sure that young women will lead the trend here, and I’m uncomfortable of discussing this without their feedback.

        Regarding your point 2.
        I have a hunch that women feel much more threatened by creepy notifications that seem to know all about you.

        Here we are, middle aged males (I assume) discussing intimacy over the Apple Watch.

        I think that the takeaway from what we already know, is that we aren’t the demographic that should be discussing first hand impressions.

        1. I read a bit about the subject and :

          1. Maybe you’re right maybe girls will like to communicate using the watch. It’s a bit weird we haven’t seen this trend via android wear, but android wear had some troubles in designing/marketing products for women(many watches are too big, i didn’t see much marketing to women) , and maybe apple will do better (smaller watches, ads in vogue, etc.), although there’s a bit of a question with regards to screen size and battery life in small watches. But we’ll see.

          And in anycase , many girls would be really interested in it even if it was just a a fashion item – and apple could probably get there.

          2. As for Google Now, at least according to a few reviews i read, women quite like it and it’s not creepy. But of course , a very small sample so i could be mistaken.

          But you’re right , as we are 2 middle aged men, we don’t have deep understanding on what/how women want from their watch , and while researching can improve that a bit, it might not be enough, probably.

          1. Thanks.

            The way I see it, there are largely two types of analyses in tech; data/history driven analyses, and analyses based on personal experience/thoughts.

            When analysts themselves were well connected with the target market, the latter type of analysis worked OK. However, for the Apple Watch, the target market is very different. Consider that Apple Watch ads show up on Vogue and not Esquire (of course Esquire will probably run feature articles anyway).

            Because the market that Apple is targeting for the Apple Watch seems to be very different from the analyst demographic, I am very skeptical of any analysis based on personal experience/thoughts.

            Instead I would appreciate any data/history driven analyses, but this is unfortunately, this is very difficult to come by.

          2. For the experiece pieces , analysts can’t do much , but there are various reviews , some from females , so it might be possible to get a decent picture.

        2. With AppleWatch, my guess is it will be Taptic not short texts that will catch on this time around.

          1. I think haptic feedback will be the more intimate form of communication. I would not, for example, send taps to my male friends. They might get the wrong message 🙂

            Both haptic and text/emoji will be important.

          2. Unless you’ve instructed your wingman to send you two quick taps if the wife walks into the bar? 🙂

            Not that I condone such behavior.

    3. I’m focusing here narrowly on one aspect, which is one that Apple itself played up in the original event. Other Techpinions pieces on the Watch have covered other aspects including the potential in China.

      1. Yes. But as mostly middle aged men living outside China, can we really understand what it means for them to be intimate?

        I have quite strong doubts. And my doubts are informed from what happened with pagers in Japan 30 years ago, which I have written in a separate comment on this thread.

        Basically, teenagers and young adults, especially girls will blow our minds with their urge to connect, be intimate and to be innovate around it. And the innovation will start very locally.

  6. Jan is correct. With the iPhone 6+ being popular among (esp Chinese) women, AppleWatch, with its subtle “taptic” messaging features will gain popularity as a companion device since the iPhone can remain stowed away for intimate communication.

    1. My prediction:
      Taptic is going to be big, really big, among the younger set.
      It will be as big as texting was with that demographic when texting first came out as a throwaway feature in mobile phones. I expect a shorthand for taptic will be quickly devised by them.
      There’s also a very small subset of older folks who might find Taptic appealing: active and retired military, esp. signals officers who are fluent in morse code. (And boy scouts?)
      Heck, the cool kids might even learn morse code just for Taptic.

  7. I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative andamusing, and without a doubt, you have hit thenail on the head. The problem is something not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about.I’m very happy that I came across this in my hunt for something regarding this.

  8. Ma ci sono le foto del virus che si annida in casa di Paolo?E la testimonianza delle bambine che ammettono di essere malate?E i filmati satellitari?Ma esiste la varicella in Svizzera?Secondo me è un complotto! Non è vero che Paolo ha la varicella, è un piano architettato dalla CIA!!A parte le battute… Paolo, ti auguro una pronta guarigione!

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