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WATCH the kids

Of all the pre-announcement ponderings about the Apple Watch, Bruce Tognazzini’s post was ringing in my ears during the big reveal this week. The Apple Watch’s Taptic tech is the most interesting feature to me. Here’s a bit of Bruce’s prescient thoughts;

Consider SMS on cell phones. It’s a hack, a simple message system slipped in an underutilized space reserved for cell phones and towers to communicate with each other. It cost the cell phone companies nothing to offer it, and has made them billions of dollars, with total revenue expected to reach around one trillion dollars before the technology finally declines. Grown-ups wouldn’t use it because you had to learn a secret code and phones are supposed to be talked into. Kids took to it like ducks to water.

The iWatch, like every other Apple product, will have an interface made as simple as humanly possible.  However, human nature is such that, unless the designers work tirelessly to keep ahead or at least abreast of the users, it won’t stay that way forever.  Consider the following possibility:

It might start out as an app designed with the best of intentions, to let people communicate via a brand-new gestural language-in, Morse-code vibration out, aimed, perhaps, at a few aging amateur radio operators. It it suddenly and unexpectedly taken over by school kids, sweeping the nation. No more being busted by teacher while intently tapping out text on phones. Instead, kids will be just innocently rubbing their watch faces. No more glancing at text screens, just feeling silent vibrations.  Tabloids and the evening news will simultaneously condemn it and  propagate it.  PTAsParent-Teacher Associations will decry it.  Civic leaders will condemn it.  Ultimately, teachers will learn to notice the trademark casually drooping arms of the senders, right hand over left wrist, along with the far-away stares of the recipients, and order will be restored.  However, by then, we’ll have an entire generation of kids that knows Morse code, just as an earlier generation learned that pressing the 4 button on a phone three times would get them an “K”.

I’ve always thought that subvocal communications is the true killer app for mobile. While true subvocal tech is not quite ready for prime time, I think Taptic feedback, while a small technical step, is going to be a huge communications leap towards the subvocal future.

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