The next wave of digital devices look to be headed towards wearable technology, quickly moving from fitness trackers like the FitBit (http://www.fitbit.com/) to smartwatches like the Galaxy Gear https://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/wearables/. No one can predict the future, but we can all dream, so today I’d like to walk you through a fictional day with a smartwatch.
The sleek design of the watch is snug enough on your wrist that you don’t even bother taking it off at night. During the night, the watch was monitoring your sleep patterns, detecting when you are exiting a REM cycle (the ideal time to wake you up). Based on your calendar meetings for today, the watch starts gently vibrating to pull you awake. Because of that accident on the highway that will add an extra 30 minutes to drive, it starts to wake you up a bit earlier than usual. Your partner sleeping next to you works from home, so the watch gently wakes you without waking your partner.
You slide out of bed, triggering your coffee maker to start brewing your morning coffee. As you slip into the shower, one of your favourite albums starts playing and you start singing along, slowly waking up.
Entering the kitchen from your shower, you grab your coffee and add some cream, noticing you’re almost out. You tap your watch to bring up the grocery scanner, and scan the barcode of the cream, adding cream to your shared family grocery list (that your partner can access from their watch).
That traffic accident is still affecting your drive, backing up traffic for as far as you can see. Good thing you left early, but this sucks sitting in traffic. You tap a couple times on your watch to resume listening to your latest audiobook. Your watch pairs automatically with your car audio system, and you’re instantly immersed back in the fictional world. While in the fictional world, your watch blares a beeping noise and vibrates strongly, shoving you back into the real world. Good thing too; that lane-alert just stopped you from crashing into that delivery truck. Phew!
Focusing on the road now, your watch buzzes softly. Glancing down, you see it’s the office calling. Grumbling, you tap the auto-response button, which gives a dynamically created message telling the caller you are stuck in traffic on your way to work.
You get to work right on time, and stroll into your office. Your watch buzzes, and you see that your first meeting was pushed back to tomorrow. Quick tap to acknowledge the time change, and you sit down to start your day.
A couple hours pass and you lean back and rub your eyes. This client is getting to you. Glancing down at your watch, you see there’s a new picture message from your kid; he sent you his latest artwork from daycare. Smiling, you tap to start a video response and tell him how proud you are of his progress.
The longer you sit at your desk, the more sore your shoulders are getting. Your doctor’s been getting on your case about taking breaks. Thankfully, your watch detects your attempts to stretch quickly and starts forcing you to take real breaks: your monitor turns black with the message “time for a break”. You glance down at your watch to see your doctor’s picture frowning at you. Ok ok. Break time. Your doctor will be happy to know you are listening to their advice, and will have up-to-date health stats based on your activity since your last visit.
Heading to the vending machine, you tap your watch to open the payment app and buy an apple (it’s a futuristic vending machine, so apples are totally possible). You stand by the water cooler, enjoying your apple, when someone approaches you. You know her… what’s her name again… J something.. you think… Turning your hand towards yourself, the watch detects who is standing in front of you and displays “Jane”. Right! Awkward social experience avoided.
Packing up your bags, you head to your car. Walking up to your car, it unlocks automatically as it detects you getting near. You throw your stuff in the backseat and start the car. Your watch buzzes, reminding you to stop at the store on the way home. It shows the list of grocery stores you typically go to, with traffic patterns going to and from each. You tap the one nearest your house, which informs your partner you’re on the way to the store.
Entering the store, your watch gives you directions to get to each of the items on your shared list (skip the next aisle, go 2 aisles over). As you pick up items from the shelf, you scan them with your watch, adding them to your digital shopping cart. Holding a can of tuna in your hand, you glance at your watch to find nutritional information and recipe recommendations. Mmm, tuna salad; add the ingredients I need to my shopping list. Half way through, your partner adds pasta to the shopping list, so your watch loops you back around to the pasta aisle. When you have everything, you head for the exit. The smartwatch adds up the items in your shopping cart, automatically charging your credit card. As you approach the exit, the “cashier” receives your purchase receipt on their tablet. They peek quickly through your bags to see if you missed anything.
Turn Down Service
Arriving home, you see you’re the first to arrive. As you approach the door, arms full of groceries, your smartwatch signals the door to unlock and open automatically, turning on the lights. Your house is nice and warm, as it started heating when you left work.
Your partner and son arrive, and you head to the living room for some one-on-one time with the kid. Who needs a Wii when the watch can track your actual movements? We should be outside though: the summers are so short. Glancing at your watch, you see the Susan is at the park across the street with her son; awesome, let’s go run!
Can Smartwatches Even Do This?
The interactions I’ve described are totally possible; there are no technical limitations stopping us from building a world like this. There may be social problems though, with new technology adoption often coming only after a revolution in consumer attitudes. Smartphones are an excellent example of this: they had been around for years, but had very little adoption until Android and iOS came around and created a consumer product from a traditionally business-only product.
In the world I described, it sounded like the watch was the only digital product you had. This may be true for some people, but there is likely to always be a need for larger screens for consuming content, both video and text. I suspect that smartwatches will be a stepping stone technology. People will start to understand how to integrate technology into their lives as they did with the smartphone, which opens the doors for other wearable technologies like Google Glass or the Google Contact Lenses.
On Predicting the Future
I said at the beginning that no one can predict the future. That’s not entirely true. The people who know the future are the ones that are building the future right now: those of us pushing the edges of technology to create experiences that get out of the way, that integrate themselves into our lives, that create compelling and useful interactions throughout our days based on what we’re doing and what we’re about to do. Those of us creating the future have big dreams, and they are happening today. Stay tuned.