Episode 102

Understanding Apple Watch with Josh Clark

April 22, 2015

Apple's Watch is almost here. What does it mean to design for this space? Josh Clark joins Jen Simmons to dig in.

In This Episode

  • What will it to like to live with computers strapped to our wrists?
  • Will this be all that's being promised?
  • Technology as jewelry
  • Four kinds of watch apps: notifying, data gathering, phone-mimicking, and a new kind
  • Designing for engagement vs. returning people's attention back to themselves
  • Pre-attentive cognition
  • Wearing data and the Internet of Things
  • The responsibility of shaping behavior with our designs
  • The future of haptic feedback. Force touch and the Taptic Engine
  • Will the web exist on our wrists?

We want to be in the world. We don't want to be inside the machine. I've been thinking about the phone, the computer, and the ways we use our phones, computers, and televisions… You kind of climb inside the machine while you're using it. All of your attention goes into that machine. You can sit in front of your phone for an hour, and focus on what's inside the phone, and ignore what's going on around you.

In order to design a watch app in a way that will be successful and more true to that device, I think the trick is to realize that you're not going to go inside the watch, the way you go inside the phone. The watch needs to meet you on the outside.


Thanks to Jenn Schlick for transcribing this episode


This is The Web Ahead, a weekly conversation about changing technologies and the future of the web. I'm Jen Simmons and this is episode 102.

I usually start by thanking the sponsors for the show, but you know what? We don't have any sponsors today. Which is fine. Except, we don't have any sponsors lined up for any time in the future. [Laughs] That's a problem. That's going to become a really big problem. If you're interested in sponsoring the show, you should contact me. You can reach me at thewebahead.net/contact and I tell you what it means to sponsor the show. It's probably a lot more affordable than a lot of people realize. You can reach a great audience of really awesome listeners and tell them about the thing that you're making.

I do want to say thanks to Pantheon for powering The Web Ahead website. And to CacheFly for delivering this audio file to you. The fastest, most reliable CDN in the business.

Of course, technology is constantly changing. There are always new things coming out. Right now, in Spring 2015, one of the things people are getting very excited about is the Apple Watch. On Twitter, a lot of web designers and web people seem a bit... "meh." Not sure that we like this idea. Not sure that we really want one. We're sort of sick of devices. Not sure what we're going to do with it.

But when I talk to people who are not technology people, oddly enough, they're actually really excited about it. Friends at the dog park, totally stoked and going to buy one on day one. Which I have never seen. Where technology people are like, "I don't know about this Apple device," and non-technology people are very, very excited. The more I look at it and study it, the more excited I am. I thought I'd have Josh Clark on the show today, to talk to us about this watch and other devices in the internet of things. Hi, Josh Clark.

Why hello, Jen Simmons. It's great to be there.
You were on episode 11.
Mighty number 11. That's a good number for me. Through feats of strength and endurance, I was determined to be the 11th strongest man in Maine. I think possibly that very same year. Full disclosure: there were only 10 other people in this particular competition in a county fair in Maine. But you can't take it away from me. Number 11... in Maine, and here on your show.
[Laughs] That show was in December 2011. That was 100 million years ago in internet years.
Right? The idea of a smart watch seemed pretty distant at that time. It's amazing how quickly things change. I think notions of things that were specific to science fiction or fantasy, the stuff of Hollywood and pulp novels suddenly seem to be upon us. Smart, ambient intelligence everywhere. For better or worse. Sometimes it doesn't feel so intelligent.

Right. What do you think happened? [Laughs]

Now, the Apple Watch is not the first ["smart"] watch. I'm sure there are people listening to the show who are huge fans of Android or Android Wear. Fans of Pebble. I guess Pebble was the first watch like this that worked and hooked up to a computer. I remember when calculator watches came out in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. People were excited about their computerized calculator watches.

Oh, sister, I was one of those. I had the Casio Databank Gold. Red hot, ladies.
[Laughs] I remember when the calculator was invented. That was amazing. Calculators that you could afford. My father was showing me one and trying to explain how it was different than a slide rule. [Laughs]
That was the era when digital watches were coming out, too. You had to press the button to see the time. The red glow. Those were a curiosity, too.
You could see the time in numbers instead of a hand on a dial turning.
It sounds crazy, but this has all happened in our lifetimes.

It is amazing. The future, I think, tends to be more mundane than what we imagine it to be. We aren't necessarily rocketing through the sky and doing things that 50 years ago we were supposed to be doing in 2015. You start to see these technologies getting embedded into our homes and regular lives. At their best, making the environment around us more of what it is. Not changing it. This phone is a really great phone... and pocket calculator. It does change the nature of the device. These are computers in our pockets.

You think about where the magic is happening. It's happening in these really everyday devices. It's happening on the watch. It's happening on the phone. The phone is the very first internet of things device. It was a regular object that gets lit up with sensors, a processor, and a connection. It turns into something more than it was before. That's what this internet of things stuff is all about. How can we add a sensor, processor, and connection to something and make it more than it was before? I think that's really what it is. Looking back at the phone, it was really the first mainstream one. And now the watch.

What do you think about this space on our wrists, on a human wrist? The work that's been done over the last couple of years, in the Pebble and other attempts?

If you look back, historically, this has been a part of our body that has been reserved exclusively for a timepiece. In a large part, that's been for jewelry. It was a convenient place to look for time, as time became more important in our everyday lives over the last century.

But also, it was a piece of jewelry. Chiefly fashion. Something that was for other people as much as it was for me, the person wearing it. Probably even more so. For high-end fashion, it's a symbol for you, looking at me. Not for me to consult my time.

I think that's an interesting thing about how Apple has been marketing this as a watch. When you go to their site, the first thing they emphasize is, "It keeps excellent time." It's a timepiece. As well as the manufacturer and the look. It's like they're saying, "Forget about the electronics of this. Have you guys heard of a thing called a watch? They're awesome." [Jen laughs] That's what they're selling. They're selling a watch. Because most of us have stopped wearing one, at this point. For most people, the phone has swallowed watches. It's interesting that Apple is starting off by saying, "Hey, jewelry is a pretty good thing. This is a piece of personal fashion."

That's true. That's a big contrast between some of the others that have been more like, "This is The Jetsons. This is the future. It's a computer. It's going to look like a computer. You're going to look like a nerd wearing this thing, these eyeglasses, this device on your body." Apple has rejected that. They came out of the gate being like, "That's not that everybody wants. Everybody wants a beautiful piece of fashion that keeps time and does these other things."

That's the story they're telling. We'll see if that's what it feels like. But it is a different story and approach than we've seen from the Android Wear watches, like the Samsung Gear. When you see this approach from Google, it often feels like they say, "Here's this technology. How can we put it onto your body? We've got a camera and a processor. Let's put it on your face! What is that like?" Starting with the technology. The technology is the emphasis. It's an engineering problem.

Apple's approach with the Apple Watch — and many other things — starts with, "How do we create a beautiful object and make it magic? Make it smart in some way?" It feels like in their marketing — and I suspect in their design — they're starting with the watch and saying, "What if we can make this object smart in some way?"

Have you used an Android Watch or Pebble?

I have. I think there are interesting ideas and learnings from an interface point of view. The official design guidelines for Android Wear, similar to Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, emphasize making people use the watch as little as possible. Trying to get interactions under 3-5 seconds. It's not supposed to be a smartphone on our wrist. Most of the emphasis is on receiving notifications and information from your phone, rather than doing interactive things.

You can put apps on the watch. But they're actually really hard to launch. It's purposefully buried. For Android Wear the primary way you request information of the watch is through speech. You "Ok Google" the thing. Unfortunately, the way it works is that it sends it up to the cloud and back for its translation. You're sending it through a Bluetooth connection to your phone, your phone relays it over mobile, it comes back, and, of course, it completely misunderstood you. It's a 40 second interaction to talk to it, because they're trying to avoid text or touch input.

It goes to the root of what we've been thinking about the broad role of watches. They're quick... "glances" is certainly the word that's being used with smart watches. That's what we do. Low-attention interfaces.


That's interesting that you need to have a good connection to the cloud — the "Ok Google" robot system, the AI system. That requires an always-on internet connection. If you're going to have a good experience, it requires something that's really, really fast.

That's been a trend over the last several years on both iOS and Android. The developers assume that you have a WiFi connection at the same speed as their office and it's never a problem. That's the difference between commuting in San Francisco and commuting in New York. In New York, you could easily spend an hour offline during your commute. There are a lot of apps that require you to be online. They don't function if you're not online. They become completely useless when you go into the subway. In a lot of places around the globe, always-on, super fast internet is not a for-sure. To design an entire platform that needs that to operate, is a crazy choice.

It is funny. You really feel it in New York. You know this drill. "I'm going to be at 23rd Street. I know I'm going to have a connection there for 30 seconds between the stops." You plan when you can text people. "Coming through 14th Street! Here's my window."
The bridge! There's a bridge. There's a bunch of subways in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Sometimes when you go from Brooklyn to Manhattan, you go underground. But there are a couple of train lines that go across the Manhattan bridge. The Manhattan bridge is, like, three minutes and 30 seconds. [Laughs] It takes 45 seconds [for the data connection] to come in when you pop out of the tunnel and you're on the bridge. Then it comes in and it's like, "Quick! Grab my email, grab Twitter. What else do I want? Reply to something. I can make one phone call. Here it comes, here it comes! Three minutes is over." [Both laugh]
Right, exactly! I think every commuter in New York has this mental map of where their pockets of connectivity are going to be. What a comment on how we communicate with one another in the world now. I think a big part of that is these devices that have become intwined in the fabric of our lives are dependent on that connection. That really is where the magic happens.
There are plenty of apps that used to work fine without a connection. They would use the connection when they could. Then their developers switched them at some point, to always requiring a connection and not working at all if it doesn't have a connection. I just think that's a horrible mistake. It's one of the things that bugs me. I see an app update itself and make that switch and I think, "Yup, you're a San Francisco company. You're not thinking about the global market. You're just thinking about your own personal experience."
Yeah. Right. The big design mistake in all things is to assume that you're the audience.

So, the Apple Watch. As I've been thinking about it, there are four ways in which we're going to be using these things.

The first two were pretty obvious when I watched the keynote. One is notifications, like you said when we were talking about Android Wear. On any of these platforms, the screen where it's pinging you, to let you know, "There's a phone call coming in. You've got a text message. What's the temperature? What's the time? When's my next meeting?" That's pretty obvious. It's pretty obvious what that is going to be like, as a category of types of interactions. It makes sense that a watch is a great place to get those quick notifications. You don't need to pick up your phone to see who's calling you. You can just glance at your wrist and decide whether or not you want to answer it.

The second one is data gathering. Like a FitBit. Gathering data for fitness and health. That's something that Apple has been pushing really hard. That's what they're talking about, probably even more than anything, even more than the notification stuff. Also pretty easy to understand what that's going to be.

The third is something that is what everyone is assuming the phone is going to be. I don't think this is going to be a very successful category. The third category is acting like a smartphone. Having an app that's pretty much a duplicate of an app on a smartphone. Doing the same kinds of things, or being a quicker interface to a smartphone app. With the Apple Watch, you have to have an iPhone on you. I think that's true with Android Wear as well. You have to have an Android phone to make the Android watch work. I'm not completely sure on the other platforms.

The question becomes, "Why would I try to book an airline flight on my watch?" I could book that airline flight on my phone. That doesn't make any sense.


I think that's a really smart observation. Even though we're getting miniature smartphone brains put into these devices, it doesn't mean that just because you've got a screen everywhere, that all screens should behave the same.

You referenced this, how a lot of this stuff requires an internet link. All of these watches, for technical reasons, rely on the proximity of the smartphone. They are extensions of the phone, in one way or another. For battery life, it can't have a strong processor. It can't have it's own cell access. It can't be a standalone thing right now.

I think that's what we're seeing in a lot of different areas. As everyone increasingly has a smartphone — typically an iPhone or Android phone — you can, as a product designer, count on a connected, smart computer being nearby. That's creating all of these new categories — smart watches being one of them — where the phone is bringing smarts to the device. We're seeing all of this innovation, because of mobile, in very immobile things. We're seeing innovation in door locks and garage doors. These mundane, dreary objects are suddenly lighting up in a way that cane smarter because the phone is nearby.

In the short term, until we're able to put smarts in these devices, so they can become independent, these things are going to be extensions of the phone. The phone is going to be, for better or worse, the lens through which real computing power happens.

The thing to think about is not, "Is this going to be an awesome, standalone experience? Will the Apple Watch be my new computer?" It pretty clearly won't. But how does it fit into this growing ecosystem of smarter and smarter devices? What does the watch mean in the context of me having a phone, tablet, smart home, desktop, and laptop? What's the choreography among these devices? That's the interesting and challenging question ahead of us.


I think the idea that it's a tiny phone screen, and you're going to use it the way you use your phone, is the wrong idea. It's part of the disgust or frustration. We haven't even seen the watch in person and we're already frustrated with it. [Both laugh] We already don't want one.

I think it's this idea that my phone is already a burden. It's really awesome and I'm never going to give it up, but it's also really annoying. It's frequently overwhelming. It gives me an overwhelming amount of information. Why do I want two of those? I don't need one physically strapped to my body. At least I can put my phone down. I don't need that grab for attention and stream of information drilled straight into my brain. I don't want that on my face.

I think it's part of why Google Glass failed. We want to be in the world. We don't want to be inside the machine. I've been thinking about the phone, the computer, and the ways we use our phones, computers, and televisions, and movie theaters. You kind of climb inside the machine while you're using it. All of your attention goes into that machine. You can sit in front of your phone for an hour, and focus on what's inside the phone, and ignore what's going on around you.

In order to design a watch app in a way that will be successful and more true to that device, I think the trick is to realize that you're not going to go inside the watch, the way you go inside the phone. The watch needs to meet you on the outside. It needs to do something for you that's in the physical world. It needs to give you a quick bit of information: here's your text message. Or it could be a lot of things — things we've never seen before. Things we're barely able to imagine. But something that is part of the world. You stay in the real world. You have this piece of technology help you out in the midst of that experience of having your attention be outside of a machine.


I love the way you refer to it as meeting you outside of the machine, in the world you're in. I think that's so important. If you look at the way we use our phones — it is remarkable. On average, we spend three hours and 15 minutes looking at a smartphone screen every day. Over 20% of our waking hours. Over 200 times.

As somebody who's been focused on mobile for the last several years, I would say to folks who design for these devices, we've done our job a little too well. We've created experiences that are so irresistible. We've created expectations and FoMO. We have to keep looking at these things. As much as these things have given, they've also taken away. The more connected we are, the more disconnected we are from the people around us and the places that we love.

I think one of our jobs — as technologists and designers of experiences — is to restore the balance of being engaged in the world that we're in, while getting the benefits of the technology.

One of the focuses of the industry has been engagement. Let's engage! Brands want to engage. Media companies want people to engage with their content. It's all about engagement. I think as we start to move our interactions into the world and onto our bodies, I would say engagement should not be the critical metric for success. Glance-ability will be a really big one. Everything can be an interface. That's where we're headed. Sensors and processors are becoming so trivially inexpensive that they can go into anything. Anything really can be an interface. The last thing you want is for all of them to be screaming for attention in your "engagement."


I think that scream for engagement has to do with the business models that drive projects that we work on. Either I need clicks so I can serve you ads. More clicks, more ads. Or I need to have a bazillion, gazillion user and I need the graph of growth of users to be shooting as straight up as quickly as possible. Because that will get us bought out. That's where our exit will come from, for our VC funding.

I'm not sure that we want the world that we're building. This constant grabbing of our attention and crazy town. There's a point at which it's too much. I like the idea of us all saying, "Maybe we want to go in the other direction. Maybe we want to figure out how to return people's attention back to themselves." Or to whoever. Their family, their friends, their dog, their physical selves, the world that they're actually in.


Yeah. I think you're right, there are elements of this that chafe at all of us. We've all been in the experience where we're meeting friends for dinner and all of them are on their phones. We've also been one of those people. I think all of us feel the irresistible thrall of what the phone can be.

In my experience, as I've worn these smart watches, I do pull my phone out less. I'm satisfied with a glance of information. The problem is, when you pull the phone out, "I've got a text, let me see what that is. While I'm here, maybe I should see what's happening on Twitter." Then you're down the rabbit hole. "Now I'm on Facebook. While I'm checking my social stuff, let's see what's happening on Instagram." The fact that this thing buzzes in your pocket, accidentally introduces this 15 minute diversion. If you can get that information with a quick glance, that's all you need.

That's been the role of that watch. If any of your listeners wear a watch anymore, think about what the behavior of that is. It's a really quick glance. Often you're not even aware of having looked. You've absorbed the information without spending any attention. You pull in the information.

Cognitive scientists have this idea called pre-attentive cognition. The idea of pre-attention is that I'm able to absorb information before giving something my attention. Think about this in the way that you experience the change of the day. Slowly, over time, you feel a change in temperature or a change in light. Suddenly you realize, "Oh, it's dark outside." But it's only at a threshold that you consciously take in this information.

There are a lot of different ways to think about those interfaces. How can I give you a nudge that doesn't knock you out of what you're doing? Reading requires some attention. A text notification requires attention. But a faintly growing glow to indicate the important of unread emails... maybe we should be thinking about things like that. Moving even further away from that smartphone vision on your wrist that you mentioned, what are the single-pixel interfaces that we could think about? Where your phone glows brighter?

There's a great book by David Rose of MIT Media Lab that came out late last year called Enchanted Objects. It rhymes very much with the way that I've been thinking about the internet of things and wearables. What kind of inspiration can we find for magic from myth and legend? These stories that we've been telling each other for centuries about what would happen if this everyday object was suddenly infused with magical power.

To talk about a watch app that begins to glow as more email importance racks up. Not an alert every time there's an email, but a relative glow. It's like Bilbo Baggins' sword in The Hobbit, if I may be so geeky. It slowly glows brighter and brighter as Orcs and monsters grow near.

I think those quiet interfaces may be more important than knowing about everything that happens in the instant. What is the aggregate indicator? That feels like something more appropriate to wear on your body. What is it like to wear data?


I was rattling off one, two three, four, because the third set of apps are really extensions of the phone. I think a lot of those will get things wrong. But there will be ones that get them right. I use TripIt to add data or double-check things, but TripIt on the watch just gives me a notification that my gate changed. If they have iBeacons, whether you're not in the place you're supposed to be in right now.

I think the fourth category of apps are very different than what we've been seeing for the last eight or nine years, with the phones. The kinds of things you're describing. We throw out everything and start over. We think about, "What are people doing in the real world? What are we doing in our lives and how might we have a reminder? A private helper?" Like you said, a little glow. It could actually tap you. A little tap. A little nudge. An image. Maybe it's not text, it's little images.

I think because I've done so much theater. There's a whole world of people who did specific performance art and theory and practice and ideas and experimentation. Two decades of experimentation around, "What does it mean to have a show that's not in the theater? We're going to have this show. We'll have it in a boat. Let's get a boat and put the boat in the river. We'll have this and that happen. A lot of it will be improvisational because we don't know what's going to happen. The police came and we got arrested." [Laughs]

I've been thinking a lot about those experiments over the last couple of weeks. What could a sprinkle of technology do to put magic back into people's lives? To help us focus on the things that matter the most to us. To help us deal and discern and get the most value out of this huge river of information and data that we have coming at us now, 24/7. We can focus on what matters; have the rest of it wash over us and not overwhelm us so much.


As we increasingly bathe in data, I think the real luxury is not to be alerted every time something happens. To be able to create these oases of calm and quiet for ourselves. I think one of the roles of the watch will be to sate the appetite. The FoMO problem. Trust that your watch can tell you at a glance if there's something important, and you can move on.

An interesting part of wearing data is something I referred to earlier. Traditionally, you wear jewelry, watches, and clothing. This category we're calling "wearables." But it's not just for my benefit. It's also outward-facing. The fashion decisions, "Have I bought the $10,000 Apple Watch gold edition?" and "What kind of strap have I chosen?" will tell you something about me, if you're familiar with the watch.

But what about the face? Is there something we can do to make that information outward-facing? We're so accustomed to thinking of our screens as being intensely private and aimed at the user. In this case, this is something I'm wearing publicly. What are design possibilities for sharing information out?

One additional category that I might add to your list is communication and connection. I think Apple has been strong in trying to warm up the technology of this device. By pressing two fingers on the watch face, you can send your heartbeat to a loved one. It's not outward-facing in the moment, but virtually. It's a lovely touch that I was delighted to see. More and more, we need to do what we can to add warmth to technology. Make it more human. Bend it to our lives, instead of the reverse.


It's going to be interesting to see what happens with that sketchpad and heartbeat thing. Apple has really made that a big part of the story that they're telling about the watch.

Without having seen the watch in person, when Tim Cook gets on stage and tells this story — especially when he gets to the moment about the heartbeat — it seems hokey or over the top. Many times, from all of these companies, we've heard stories about how awesome the technology will be. It turns out that's not how it works out. [Laughs]

But there have been moments where Apple gets up on stage and makes a claim that seems completely outlandish. Then a year or six years later you're like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe we didn't believe them. Of course this is exactly how it worked out."

I'm curious to see whether this heartbeat thing is fun or really great when you're falling in love with someone. You're at the beginning of a romance and it's very useful. But is it something that will live beyond that? Is it something that will be useful for people?


I think it is a gimmick, in a sense. It's not going to be a make-or-break feature. But it's tied to the messaging. They're trying to say, "Don't think of this as a computer." I think that comes out over and over.

Liza Kindred — a great thinker about wearables and fashion, and not incidentally is my best friend and fiancée — likes to make this provocative connection: fashion is technology and technology is fashion. We're seeing that now more than ever.

Our daughter — who is 15 — and her friends don't care about fashion brands the way that my generation did. They care a lot about how they look, but in terms of brands, not very important. However, if we were to try to impose an Android phone on her, instead of an Apple device, forget it. It is the technology that becomes the fashion. It's the apps you use and the devices you carry.

I think Apple has really tuned into that, for obvious business reasons. Again, they're pitching the watch as jewelry. It's easy to roll your eyes at the edition pricing. Who's going to buy a $10,000 watch? Not very many people. I think the point is to send the message that this is not a smartphone. "What will it be?" is still an open question. We're still trying to figure that out. When you're putting something on our body — this is one of Liza's lines — it's got to be more than slap a screen on it. It's got to be something that fits your personality and your fashion and the way you engage with other people in meet space, not just online.

Yeah. [Pause] There's so many things to think about. There's a website I've been going to: watchaware.com. They have a section called watch apps. I don't know where they're getting these from. They've got dozens of watch apps loaded up. It seems like these are apps they think are going to come out. Maybe this is a gallery. I guess people are submitting their apps to this gallery. These are not great, these apps. [Josh laughs]

I think the Android Wear philosophy that's embedded in their design guidelines, "Please don't make the interaction about the watch screen. It should be a really quick thing." I think that's an important and useful thing to think about. Otherwise, we're going to have a lot of crummy ideas.

One of the things to add to the growing list of what these things might become... what does it mean of going beyond the watch itself? Maybe it's not about the watch screen. It goes into this larger ecosystem of devices. It could become interesting once the watch becomes a point of identification. It's a little bit what Apple is doing with the Apple Watch. You can use it for Apple Pay in coordination with the phone. The phone is driving a lot of it, but the watch is saying, "Hey, here I am."

If you think about Disney's MagicBand they've been rolling out over the last year. It's a thing you wear on Disney properties and resorts that unlocks your door, gets you in line for fast passes for the rides, and lets you pay for everything. You can wander through and — to Disney's benefit — not think about money in the moment. Just have it magically be paid for. Which is an old trick of cruise lines and resorts; abstracting away the money.

We can get these ID bracelets on everybody that magically unlock your digital domain. That becomes interesting, especially for a company that makes an ecosystem of devices. Apple is beginning to show interest in moving into the home, at least from a software perspective with HomeKit. If they can get those on a lot of wrists, that becomes powerful for controlling the constellation of Apple devices that might be in your life.

Backing up to the marketing message, "Wouldn't you like to have this beautiful thing on your wrist?" That's the core of their message. In a year or two, this starts to become really interesting. That's really Apple's MO. They introduce seemingly modest technology, then take advantage of it a year or two later. Think about the fingerprint unlock. That started out with the iPhone's minor but magical convenience. "I can just touch my phone and it recognizes that it's me by a metric scan. Fantastic." Now it's getting tied into Apple Pay. Your thumbprint gives permission to pay. They're building a bigger system on this simple foundation.

To think about what they might do with the Apple Watch as the technology becomes smaller, faster, cheaper, less of an energy hog. What are the possibilities in a year or two, of many, many people having these things on their wrists?

I think there are a bunch of things coming out from Apple in the last couple of years that, at the time, were sort of like, "Eh, I don't really know about that." As we begin to understand the watch better, and get deeper into the thing, it feels like, "Oh! That's what Apple was up to when they invented iBeacon and announced it last year. That's what Apple was up to when they stripped all of the skeuomorphic stuff out of iOS7." In my brain, suddenly iBeacon went from, "Eh, whatever, I don't know what that is," to, "Where do I buy one of those? How do I buy them for my clients? Is there a museum that would like to hire me right now?" I just think designing an experience for being in a physical space and interacting with that physical space, and having iBeacons around, having the Apple Watch around, is fascinating. There are so many possibilities.

That's a great observation. Apple plays a very long game. It's important to understand Apple announcements not just as a single product. How does this fit into the overall experience? Their business goal is to sell as many Apple products as possible.

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he called the iMac the "digital hub." The computer is going to be the hub for everything you do. Obviously, that's since changed. The phone is now the center of this. But I think the hub strategy of these devices that work great together is a big part of the story they're telling.

For the watch, think about the gestures you might be able to use to drive your phone or its relationship to your computer. It starts to put interaction on your body. Not necessarily just by touching it, but by waving your hand. You can make something happen. We get into literal magic.

"Magic" is a word that has been co-opted and abused by the design community. I will also add "empathy" and "delight" to that list. We talk about these things. "We're going to create a delightful experience in our financial services intranet system." It's like, "Eh, come on."

I think we have the real opportunity as we marry digital and physical to create, literally, magical experiences. When you say a word and make a gesture, that's Harry Potter stuff. That's spells. When you start to think about being able to wire up our bodies to talk to the digital realm, in a few years, this could become really interesting.

To your earlier point, making interaction with the digital world more human, in physical terms. That doesn't require us to go into the machine. The machine watches and listens to us. Which has some spooky connotations, too.


I know there are a lot of people who just love the technology and the idea of technology being involved in anything. I know for a lot of other people, that's not so true. The technology is seen as neutral. I think what ends up mattering is, what are we going to do with this stuff? It could be a huge invasion of privacy and a big problem. It could be very annoying with having advertising encroaching onto more and more and more of our lives in ways that we don't want.

It could be the most profound experience of having something that's normally very internal — like the voice in your head — suddenly be a bit more external. To have a helper reminding you of what's important to you. A way you can interact with other people when you're far away. It makes the human experience so much more human and lovely and focused on what you care about. It could be very fun and playful and magical. You go to a place where there's a performance, or a museum, or something that artists created that is really amazing.

I think we just don't know yet. The easiest examples to talk about, "you'll have your watch, you can click it and open your garage door," is a hint of what's possible. But it's just a hint. Some of those are just like, I don't care. If you live in a suburban house and make this much money, certain things might be exciting. To turn the lights on and off with your watch.

I hope we're asking more questions than just saying, "That's the only thing it's going to do." It can do that thing. If you're into it, totally. Go wire up your house and have fun. But what else can it do? I hope we're able to go deeper with it. Look at humanity. Look at psychology. Look at art. Look at ways people communicate. Dig in there and see what we might want to invent.


I think it's a great observation. This is the time to be asking those questions. We've moving technology into a new realm. Those seeds, those changes and shifts are the moments where values get embedded into the decisions.

You said technology is neutral. I think that is true. Technology itself has no values. But the way we deploy it, or the design decisions that we make, are so important.

As an interaction designer, my whole job is to shape behavior. To channel people's behavior to a goal. I always hope that goal benefits all parties. These are value decisions. You can see how values are embedded in technology. You can see a company like Uber that makes a perfect system for putting cars and passengers together. Yet is animated by the most awful, horrible values. These are bad people. You can see it in the way they run their business. The big thing in Silicon Valley is, "Let's make the Uber of X." It's like, "You know what? They're dicks. Let's not make more services that are animated by the values of Uber." As a technology, it's remarkable. There's much to be admired there. But as a company, I think they are horrible people. For everyone listening, I would encourage you to delete your Uber app and try one of the alternatives.

I agree with you. I was tweeting about this yesterday. I don't know much better the others are. Call a regular cab.
Right. Taxis still need work, too.

Especially in New York. We're spoiled in New York. The taxi system is awesome. Please just use it. Those people get paid more than these others.

I want to talk about two more things: Force Touch and websites on a watch. Let's start with Force Touch.

Listening to the Apple announcement, I thought, "Interesting. That looks cool." On the trackpad for the new Macbook Pro and Macbook — rather than the trackpad going up and down and clicking, the way many trackpads do on laptops — you physically push it down to make a click. It feels like it's going down, you push it just as hard, and it responds. When you push your finger down, you feel the feeling of it going down and coming back up, but it doesn't actually move.

The reason I even started paying attention to this is because I've been listening to other technology podcasts. Folks are on there going, "It's amazing! I can't believe it! It's crazy!" [Laughs] I did this myself. Go to an Apple store. Find a brand new, retina 13" Macbook Pro. Turn it off. You'll see that the trackpad doesn't move. It's a flat piece of glass. Then turn it back on. I was clicking it while it was coming back on. There's a moment where it starts feeling like it's moving up and down, and it's not.

The exciting thing about that is, the machine is touching you. It's making you think that it's moving when it's not moving. That technology could be put on the front of a phone. Because it's just glass. The iPhone 7 could have a keyboard where it actually feels like real keys that are physically moving up and down. There could be apps where it's not just a key moving up and down sensation, but where it feels like you're touching sandpaper or sand. The device can touch you back.

As we know from Apple's announcement, the watch taps you. From reports that we've heard, it really does feel like a human walked up to you and tapped you.

Right. We're told it has the ability to give you directional instructions. You can be walking down the street. Instead of listening to instructions, it will tap you in the direction you should walk in.
Yeah. Turn right, turn left. I shouldn't say Force Touch. I should say haptic feedback engine.
The Taptic Engine. I believe they made up a new word for that. Like retina display.
That's the thing. Force touch is what activates it. But it's the Taptic Engine. Basically, a computer is touching you.

It's both, right? On one hand, it's creating an illusion of depth. You're able to apply pressure. Which has been a big problem. Anybody who has tried to draw on their iPad misses the idea of pressure. So some styluses come in and introduce that. The idea is, "How much do you want? Press harder." Especially for a small screen, like the watch. The force touch provides a gesture. You can't do multi-touch effectively because of the size of the screen. The speculation seems to be that Apple Watch screen itself is not multi-touch. What else can you do? Now we have depth, which is interesting.

I love your description of the device touching you. It's an example that design should be on human terms. How can we not think like a computer? How can we not think of it like a device, but have the device think like a human? Behave and touch like a human? That's the history of technology, and certainly of computers. We started with these abstract punchcards. Then human language. We could type instructions in words — albeit, obscure words — to the computer on the command line. Now we point at cute pictures and icons on the screen. Now we can create the illusion of touching the content on a touch screen. Of course, all user interface is an illusion. This magic that gets pulled over the 1s and 0s underneath.

We're getting to the point where the illusion makes it seem like there is no illusion. I'm touching the content under glass on a touch screen. As we're getting into the physical world and we're able to imbue regular objects and make them magical amulets that can channel the digital world, we create the illusion that we're actually changing the object. I think this thing you're mentioning is a small thing. The Taptic Engine, the Force Touch. It's part of that. It's part of creating a physical interface to digital APS.

It's going to start out fairly simple and get more complicated as time goes on. I think it is part of that whole ecosystem. You and I have been focusing on the technology. Having general ideas about what kinds of applications might be created for this. But really, the process of creating a project needs to start with, "What are you going to make?" What's the experience that you're making? Why should this thing exist, beyond, "I want to make money"? What is the user going to download it for? This idea that the machine can touch the person, and the person can touch the machine with a little bit of depth rather than behind a piece of glass is going to be increasingly part of the mish-mash that we're creating things in.

I love that. "What's the experience we're going to have?" That's what it's all about. What's the user experience? What human need does this meet? It's something you alluded to before. I don't want home automation for home automation. I don't want a smart home. I want my life to be a little easier. I wouldn't mind it. If it turns out that my objects, or the room, or my house itself can be, in some simple way, aware of the digital context that it finds itself in — this constellation of devices — and can make smart decisions and know when it's not smart enough to make a decision.

I want things to be easier and more like they are. Designing for the internet of things is not about the technology. It's about, "How can I make this thing even more of a thing? How can I make it better at the job that I hired it to do?" Certainly not impost technology on it. Many of these things are nifty, Rube Goldberg gadgets. But it's like, "Great, now I need to pull out my phone to use my refrigerator." [Both laugh] That's not making it easier. That's a neat technical trick. But what's the experience for me? I'm not in it for the technology. I'm in it for an easier, better life. Moving low-minded tasks into the background so I can spend more time on things that are meaningful to me.

That's the story of technology. That's the story of appliances and washing machines. It doesn't mean I'm lazy that I don't hand wash all of my clothes anymore. I've got a machine that can do that low-grade tasks and I can more high-level things.


There's something about living with this technology for a long time. We forget why it was exciting in the first place and what was magical about it. I think about email. When we think about email now, it's like, "Ugh." A wave of shame and despair. [Both laugh] I think about the representations of things that I should have been doing this past week and didn't do. They're represented in my email inbox.

But forget all of that. Think back to the first time you sent an email. For many of us, we got email in an era where you weren't getting one hundred million newsletters that you didn't want. You weren't getting sales pitches that you didn't want. It was simply a way to send a letter to friend. Instead of waiting three to five days for them to get it, you knew they would get it in a day or two. [Laughs] Because they didn't check their email every day.

It was a way to send someone a message instantly. In a time when sending a letter meant typing it or handwriting it and putting it in an envelope and putting a stamp on it and sending it off to your friend who was far away. Waiting for them to write a letter and having it come back to you. That would take a week or two. You didn't have a way to know whether or not they had gotten it, unless you had the money for long distance phone calls.


The fax machine, too. A nifty piece of magic from that era. A transporter machine. Suddenly, this physical copy shows up. Which makes you realize, if we can ever get data speeds fast and map the information to create a simple object, we can send objects through. We're starting to see that now with 3D printing. It turns out that the transporter isn't so much a transporter, it's a copy machine.

If we are ever able to do it with people, we have to figure out how to destroy one copy, so we don't have lots of us running around. [Jen laughs] Now that's really creepy. How do we send the checksum back that Josh arrived on the other side so we can destroy the Josh that started it?

But it's all sending data. We've seen simple versions of it: fax machines, 3D printing. Anyway. That was a divergence from the magic of email. [Jen laughs]


It feels like anytime a new device like this is invented, in a new category, it feels like a moment where stopping and asking deep questions about, "What is it that we're doing and why?" Why does it really matter? Beyond money. Money can matter. But 100 or 200 years from now, when we're all dead, what will last? That money is gone. What did we create? What did we make? What do we want this thing to be?

Each of us, as we make something, if we're making an app for the watch. We're all just throwing pieces of sand onto a giant beach. This is my piece of sand going onto the beach. What is it that we really want that beach to look like? How can we be careful and conscious and deliberate about which piece of sand we fling over there?


I love the way you're describing it. You started off the show by talking about how a lot of people are "meh" about the watch. I think that's a reflection of thoughtful people asking that question. "Why do I need this?" In a world of consumption and data; feeling overwhelmed and guilty addiction to the digital world. Why do we need something like this? I think some of the jaded-ness of it is well-founded. It's a good process to ask, "Do we need it?"

I think it also is important to approach these things with some optimism. Not gear head wonder. What does this mean to merge physical and digital to real benefits? What are the possibilities of that? It's a time when we have to do imaginative and optimistic in order to make those positive value decisions that you were talking about.


I have a few ideas myself of some amazing things that I'd like to see or use or create myself. Around this idea of shifting focus away from more consumption. Back to something more conscious, deliberate, and careful. As a person wearing the watch. Where do I want to put my attention?

We have this running conversation about not looking at your phone so much. Putting your phone down at the table. Having an addiction, playing a game too much. A lot of that conversation is focused on personal failure or personal responsibility. Which we all have. I can make a decision to read my phone while I'm at dinner with my best friends, or I could make a decision to not do that. But I think there's something bigger than us. It isn't about each person; our own individual failures or successes. It is about the medium itself and what it's asking us to do. I think there's a lot of possibility for another step in the medium. To shift that and ask humanity to do things differently than what we've been doing.


You made a great point earlier about magic. We get used to it or it becomes an albatross. I think that's important to remember as technologists and designers trying to create magical and joyful experiences. All of the mindful, new age stuff that you and I are geeking out on here.

Magic deprecates. What's magic today is old news tomorrow. I think if we are interested in improving quality of life, adding joy and human connection through technology, we have to remember that's a moving target.

Our job is never done. We are awash in technology. It's not a technology problem. It really is a problem of imagination. How do we deploy all of the technologies available to us, in ways that don't turn us into augmented or enhanced humans? That amplifies our humanity? How can we be more like we are?

Yeah. What do you think about the web on watches?

For all of the reasons we talked about earlier, it's unlikely to catch on as a way to read long form journalism on your watch. There are browsers out there that can do it. I lead the redesign of TechCrunch a couple of years ago. It's a responsive design. I was looking at TechCrunch on the web browser. It's slow because there's a long Bluetooth connection to the mobile connection. It's not the fastest thing. But you can do it.

I worked with Brad Frost and he did the responsive design. By god, there it is! On a tiny watch. A much smaller screen than we anticipated only two years ago.

It can technically be done. But it's not going to be a reading interface. It's not going to be an Instagram interface. That was one of the apps they demoed at the Apple Watch keynote. You've got your phone and it's talking to your phone. Why do you want to look at tiny version of your friend's pictures? I think it's the same thing. Why do you need information?

I think the web is still relevant to the watch. It's just the way that we consume the web and its information, or the way we use it to find information, will be much smaller, bittier information than choosing to take that and transferring it to a larger screen.

As a browsing experience, for a variety of reasons, not at least the horror show of typing in a web address, I think it's going to be a challenging environment for that, and unlikely to be very useful.


Which won't mean there won't be a time for it. When the phone first came out, people were like, "People aren't going to want to do this on their phones." I want to be cautious about saying, "We would never do that on our watch." History shows that we'll come up with crazy hacks and reasons to do things. I think the form factor is not well-suited to web browsing as we know it on other screens.

But I suspect, because the web is so useful in so many different contexts, we'll find a way to use it, even if it more resembles notifications or headlines that we transfer to another screen to read.

For many of us who have been doing responsive design, we've been testing our sites down to 200 pixels. We're probably really glad that we did. [Both laugh] Those sites that launched in the last several years will work. Fingers crossed.

There are other interfaces we'll have to consider. Hopefully all of us have been designing in a way that's friendly to speech readers. You see speech beginning to become mature and reliable. It's not quite there yet, in the way that touch became mature a few years ago. What does your website look like when there's no screen? Cars are a place where speech could be useful as an output. That's coming, too.

As you said, now websites can touch us back. [Laughs] Maybe we'll have all of the five senses. We'll be able to smell, touch, hear, and taste our websites.


I agree with everything you just said. We have to be careful. People said, "Why would anyone ever want to use a game console to browse the web? It's clunky and hard to use. It's easier to use a phone or computer."

Anna Debenham did a study for a website they were working on. A lot of their target audience was using game consoles, because they were kids. They didn't have access to a laptop that would be private. They could use the family computer. But they wanted a private space. They were willing to trade a bit of usability and speed for privacy. They used their game consoles like crazy to browse.

With the watch, maybe people are willing to deal with the tiny face. They have to have a phone. Maybe that doesn't apply here. They are going to have a phone. It has to be charged and in their pocket or within reach. We'll see.


But you know... we are lazy. [Jen laughs] We are so lazy. If I'm on the couch, I'm not getting up. We all know that's the thing with the phone. "This would be easier on my laptop. But I'd have to walk three steps, so I'm going to do it on my phone." It could be that we find, "I'm too lazy to fish my phone out my handbag, or get it out of my pocket. But I can look at this thing on the watch."

I'm so glad you mentioned Anna. She's so great. She did a post recently about the browser on the Moto watch. You can do it. You can get around. You can bring up pages, and that means that some people will.

The lesson of the web is, you can't predict how somebody is going to access your content. We certainly can't predict the devices and form factors that will be coming out in the next few years. Everything can be an interface. The best we can do is not make assumptions about what the form factor will be. There are popular form factors that, for marketing reasons, we need to make sure our sites always look great on. But not to the exclusion of others.

While I'm dubious that many of us are going to be big browsers of websites on watches, the fact is, you can access those things on watches. We need to not block that. We need to not make it harder for people to do that.

Be prepared for everything. The web doesn't care. It's indifferent to how you access it. That's the way we should be designing it.

I suspect that reading is not going to be one of the big use cases for the watch, certainly in the short term.


It may be that the Twitter app has an interface for the watch that doesn't give you all of Twitter. Or maybe it does. But maybe it just gives you mentions and direct messages. You're looking at your watch to see who's mentioned you. There's a link and you click it... I don't think there is a web browser, but I don't think we know what is or is not on this watch. We won't know until it comes out.

Perhaps Apple will put in a browser. There's a compelling reason. "I don't want to get out my phone and do a big thing. But I do want to see what this person said about me. I'm going to click and try to read that one thing."

Apple could do something with this reader mode they have in Safari that they've been pushing for years. It's not really taken off. You can click Reader Mode when you're in Safari on a computer. It's just showing you the content in the HTML, without the JavaScript and CSS. You want to make sure your website is going to work in that mode. Especially if you have a text-heavy website.


You can imagine some websites that are more functional. What's the train route to get from here to there? You can imagine that information being watch-friendly. Having a use case. I'm looking at my directions. I'm at Home Depot, shopping, and I can look at the items and where they are in the store. There are use cases for this. It's not all about reading or browsing, but quick tidbits of information.

In the short term, as you said, because it relies on the phone for so much, and the phone has to be within Bluetooth range, there's an interesting question for designers. What does that mean? If it's just as easy for me to look at this information on the phone, what information or experience should I be providing on the watch? The two travel as a pair in the short term. That may change in the next few years. But for the next couple of years, that's the assumption that we need to make.

There are possibilities of the two tag-teaming. What does it mean to have a two screen experience? What does it mean for the watch to drive the phone and create experiences on the phone? If the phone is connected to the computer, you can do two leaps. The phone can control your computer or Apple TV or other things in the environment.

Like we said, as a long form consumption device, the watch doesn't seem well-suited. Though some people will try to use it that way.


I wonder if the watches do end up with browsers. They may not. I'm not just thinking of the Apple Watch. I'm thinking of all of the other watches that are going to be coming out.

We get to this question of native vs web. Perhaps someone on the team is working on a project and it's not a regular website that you're trying to fit onto a watch. It's a completely new experience. You're designing it in much of the ways we've been talking about on this show. A physical, in-person experience. You don't want people to crawl inside of a device, to put all of their attention into it. It's something that interacts with the physical world.

There might be a compelling business reason to not do that as a native app. To not make an Android and iOS app. Maybe you want to do a cross-platform website. That's the strength of the web. You can build one and it works across a range of platforms. It wouldn't just work on watches. It could also work on phones and computer browsers. The next thing you know, you're creating a website for a computer browser that you never would have made pre-watch, because we weren't thinking of these things. Three years from now, our thinking has changed around what the web can be and what technology is. Somehow, you create a website that only makes sense post-watch introduction. The way the phone changed our thinking about the web so radically.


That's right. I think we've learned a lot from the phone experience, about how to think about a multi-device, future-friendly world. This pushes that even more. This idea of progressive enhancement becomes even more important. What is the essential nut that we provide, in terms of service or content for this website? What is the nut of what we do? The most basic experience. Then enhance up from there for all of the different capabilities, including screen size, of other devices.

But also performance. Like I mentioned, looking at a website that is pretty peppy, in the TechCrunch case. for mobile and desktop. On a watch, it's like, "Oh boy, this is slow." We have to redouble our performance efforts as we start to think about pushing web experiences to dumber devices.

I think this is an important point. We tend to think of the future of technology as being evermore capable. Bigger processors! Bigger screens! Phones are as big as my TV now. That's our core assumption and instinct for this. That is part of our future. On the other hand, there's a fork. We also have devices getting dumber. We have a watch, which is pretty fancy for a watch, but pretty dumb compared to a phone. We need to be able to prepare for these lesser devices.


It's true. Especially as we start to get other things in the internet of things. Whatever those things might turn out to be. [Laughs] We're talking about very low quality, very inexpensive chips. That means they're slower. There might be Bluetooth internet rather than full blast WiFi.

Thanks for being on the show today.

Oh my gosh, what a pleasure!
This was great. I'm surprised at how excited I am about the watch. I wasn't last fall. As it gets closer and closer, I'm becoming more and more obsessed with thinking about it. In fact, I went to the Apple Store a couple of days ago, because I needed a new laptop. I was talking to a business rep there. He was very generous with this time. We just geeked out. He is so excited about the watch. He's beyond himself, ready, wants it in the store today so he can start messing around with it, selling it, and showing it to clients.

Isn't it funny? Functionally, it doesn't do a ton more than the Android Watch. There are some design changes. Notably, they have a smaller version — much smaller than competitive smart watches — that is appropriate for women's and children's wrists. There are some design consideration there. With the important caveat that it will work with iPhone — the rest work with Android, and Pebble works with all of it. Everything works better with Anrdoid because of the closed nature of iOS.

There is something about the Apple brand. This idea of technology of fashion that Liza is so clever about. It's an important piece to this. From a technology perspective, it's been around for a couple of years. There's something about it entering the Apple world. Whatever you may think of Apple, it's hard to deny their cultural presence, and their marketing push. This idea of technology as fashion.


Yeah. Technology for the sake of humanity, rather than technology for the sake of technology. Designing and experience and starting with, "Why? How is this going to help people?" Ending up with technology solution. Rather than starting with, "Hey, this is cool technology. We want to use this."

I think that's one of the big contrasts between Apple and Google. I think it shows in their products. It shows in the popularity of their products. It shows in the successful consumer experience. People are frustrated with one set of technologies or they don't really know what to do with it. Or they do they use it and love it but they feel like losers using it. They feel like they're incapable. They're frustrated. It must be them, that they're not very good at what they do.

Starting with the Mac, Apple has been able to create interfaces that help people be successful and feel like, "Wow, I really can do this! I really do enjoy this. This really is working for me." I think many people think the Apple Watch, while it might be functionally similar to the predecessors, will have another layer of success with creating human user experience that actually works. That's part of the excitement about it. I think some of the tech press doesn't understand that. They think, "Fanboy. Blah blah blah." It's like, "It's not fanboy. It's 30 years of watching Apple understand something about what it means to be a human being and translate that into technology in a way that some of these other technology companies are just not accomplishing on the same level."

Hooray for humanity! In fact, I think humanity should be the sponsor of this show, since you're looking for some commercial sponsors. [Jen laughs] In the meantime, if I may give this announcement, this show is sponsored by... humanity. The best experiences of your life are usually not in front of a screen. Humanity. [Jen laughs]

It's sponsored by the public park near you. [Both laugh] Go to the park today and say thank you for this episode of The Web Ahead.

People can follow you on Twitter. What's your Twitter handle?

It is @bigmediumjosh.
That's right. You can find me at bigmedium.com. I'm in the middle of a rebrand. For years I've gone under the handle Global Moxie. That's been the name of my agency. Because this is such a big and growing medium, I've decided to change my name and a little bit of my philosophy to go with that. I'm at bigmedium.com and @bigmediumjosh on Twitter.
Cool. You can find the show notes for this show — which will have a transcript and a bunch of links and more information about Josh — at thewebahead.net/102.
Lucky 102.
Comment as well! Comments are open. I welcome comments. It would be very helpful, if you like this show, to go and leave a review or rating in the iTunes ecosystem. Pop open iTunes, if you use iTunes, and click the 5 star button or leave a comment about how much you love the show. That's always hugely helpful. It really helps other people find the show. As new reviews or ratings are added to the system, it makes the show show up higher in the store. Which means more people will find the show.
If possible, rate it with your watch. [Jen laughs] And get into iTunes with your watch. I don't know what that experience will be like.
I know! They make you go into the phone and you do things on the phone and then they show up on the watch.
I could see that being a watch action you could take as you listen to a song.
Five star it?
Yeah. Use that. Of course it would be a five star review for your show.

You can follow the show, @thewebahead, or me, @jensimmons, on Twitter.

I'll be at a bunch of conferences. In fact, Josh and I are going to be together at An Event Apart San Diego.

Can't wait. Sunny San Diego in June.

If you want to meet us in person, show up there. I'll also be in Salt Lake City of the UX Immersion Mobile conference in April. And Ampersand in Brighton, UK, in November. And a couple of others. You can check out jensimmons.com. There's a list. It's a buggy website, but one of these days I'll have time to fix it up.

I think that's all the wrap-it-up news that I needed to cover. Thanks again Josh.

What a pleasure to be here. Thank you Jen.
Thank you everyone for listening.

Show Notes