Stu Crew / Journal

Wear

July 17th, 2014

Amid the speculation of how Apple will enter the wearable technology market there’s one thought that keeps going round my head. It might sound crazy but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple announced a device without a screen.

Think about a watch. It tells the time but it’s also a statement about you. It’s jewellery that has a function. Instead of swapping the watch face for a screen I think the interface will be audio.

There’s been a big shift towards voice control. Siri and it’s cousins allow us to do more with less effort and that’s always been the goal of technology. There are plenty of scenarios where using Siri would be the most convenient way to achieve what I want to do but if I’m taking my phone out of my pocket I might as well power it up. At WWDC new audio messaging features for iOS 8 were announced. Currently if someone sends you a text it can be read to you and you can dictate a reply. Now you don’t need to tell Siri what you want to say, you can say it yourself. No tiny keyboard on a watch and no misheard words. If we start to think further ahead Continuity would allow you to start typing an email on your Mac, begin dictation on your watch and keep talking on your way to the bus stop because your iPhone took over.

The more I think about it the more I convince myself I could live without a screen for a lot of the tasks I use my phone for if voice control was readily available.

Ignoring the need for a screen allows another device such as an iPhone to do the hard work of processing, uploading, downloading and transferring the data back and forward. This means the watch can be dumb. Shout “Hey Siri”, speak your command and the watch returns the response via your iPhone. The amount of parts required is tiny; a speaker, a microphone a Bluetooth transmitter and a battery.

All of this means the device can be smaller, lighter and would be able to run for an eternity between charging. The form factor can adapt into objects much more varied than just watches. A necklace for example would make sense because it’s right by your mouth, as would glasses which could be one of the biggest opportunities. And of course there’s headphones; the most obvious device for speaking and listening because most do it already.

This idea is not without it’s drawbacks.The biggest trend this year has been a universal push towards health tracking but focusing on reduced componentry means there’s no room for all the sensors required. The iPhone only does so much and a device in contact with our body has the potential to be much more powerful.

We know Apple has a track record of giving us the best solution and not what their market research told them to make. Perhaps this is a step too far but it would be interesting to see how bold Apple wants to be. I think losing the screen would be a well-judged sacrifice.