About six months ago, to great fanfare, Apple debuted the Apple Watch. And for good reason… Smartwatches will account for 59 percent of total wearable device shipments in 2015, and that share is expected to expand to just over 70 percent of shipments by 2019. The company’s long awaited foray into wearable technology has been met with mixed reactions by consumers. Over the last few months, we’ve been testing out the Apple Watch to help our team at the Case Foundation learn about this new tool and how this innovative technology could be used to change the social sector landscape. With the latest update to the operating system (OS), we thought it was a good time for a brief report out. Below, is a summary of what I like, what I suggest could be improved and where I see potential for the Apple Watch to be used for social good.
Have your own thoughts about the Apple Watch or wearables? Please share them with us on Twitter using @CaseFoundation and #wearables.
The most obvious thing to love about the Apple Watch is the incredible convenience it brings. Being able to merely turn your wrist and instantly see those things that are most important to you—the date, what your next appointment is, what the temperature is outside and more—without having to dig out a cell phone or open up your computer—can’t be beat.
For many of us testing the Apple Watch, the main question boils down to: “When would I rather use the Apple Watch than my phone?” And the answer for many applications is usually, I wouldn’t. That being said, there is much to appreciate with this device:
- Complications: These are small elements that appear on the watch face and provide quick access to frequently used data, offering unparalleled convenience. For example, apps like Dark Sky that can notify you that it’s about to rain, or App in the Air that will push flight statuses to your wrist while walking through the airport. And obviously, as a wearable, the possibilities are huge in the health and fitness space. A running list of available apps and complications for the Apple Watch is here.
- Haptic alerts and alarm: It is great for minimizing distractions in meetings as the watch merely vibrates quietly to tell you when you have a call or a text coming in and is not as disruptive as a phone. The same feature also allows the watch to act as a much more pleasant alarm, gently tapping your wrist to wake you in the morning.
- Voice recognition and voice to text feature: When you receive a text, you can quickly reply by speaking into the watch. This feature is really helpful for driving, exercising or simply for when your phone is out of reach; with just a tap of the watch, you can speak your reply. It picks up speech amazingly well.
The Not so Good:
While the convenience is impressive, there are a few features that, in my opinion, could be tweaked to drastically improve the user experience.
- Battery life: The watch’s battery is only good for 18 hours, meaning you’re left recharging the watch daily. This inconvenience might not be so bad if there were an easier way to tell what the battery level is, but one has to go through multiple steps to see what the power level is or set it up as a complication. A suggestion is to perhaps utilize the outer ring of the bezel as the battery indicator for example. It might also be less cumbersome if there were an easier way of taking the watch off and on. For example, a simple-to-use quick release mechanism to actually pop the watch away from the band for charging.
- User experience: It is not clear when to use the screen itself by tapping; swiping or “force touch”; when to use the crown; and when to use the button that sits below the crown. I suspect the integration of these elements will likely improve over time as Apple and other developers gain more user data and create a more consistent set of guidelines and best practices for watch interfaces.
- Waterproof: It’s not. While this may not be a deal breaker, it does feel restrictive given the integration of wearable technology to track our every move and heart beat. The watch could be great for sports for instance, but right now you will always have to worry about taking it out kayaking or canoeing, and if you are a swimmer you can’t use it for that. The lack of a waterproof feature just feels limiting.
The Social Good:
So where does that leave us for social good? The possibilities are endless. One could imagine an application that utilizes proximity marketing technology that pushes notifications to customers about social good deals as people walk through the mall—notifying shoppers that the store to their right is donating a percentage of revenue to a local nonprofit for every purchase made today. This would help connect individuals with the organizations and causes that they care about the most.
This may just be an imagined application for the watch now, but it isn’t so far-fetched. There is a long history of tools designed for commercial uses pivoting to support social good. For example, many of the e-commerce tools of the past were developed into non-profit donation tools. Recently, UNICEF’s “Wearables for Good” competition challenged changemakers to ideate on new uses for wearable technology, and has hit upon some incredible ideas, including devices that: facilitate record keeping; aid in the tracking of medications; purify drinking water; and even track vaccinations. Indeed, much of the “tech for good” movement, powered by driven social entrepreneurs, embodies these principles of repurposing commercial technologies for social impact.
When game-changing technologies like the Apple Watch come out, it opens up a world of possibilities for social entrepreneurs to apply their skills and talent, experiment, fail, experiment again and come up with applications for these innovative technologies that could change the world. My hope is that pioneering social entrepreneurs, like the finalists in UNICEF’s “Wearables for Good” competition, will take the lead in developing these new technologies. It’s time for social good applications to be integrated into our technology. I can’t wait to see what’s next for the evolution of the Apple Watch and other wearable tech like it!