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What Apple knows about smartwatches that Google doesn't

Mike Elgan | Sept. 15, 2014

The touch is somewhat "high fidelity" — able to direct vibrations to different parts of the watch.

As an example of how this sets the Apple Watch apart, most smartwatches transmit text as the main way to communicate. With Android Wear, for example, you can read incoming texts, then reply with your voice. Your speech is converted into text before sending. It's using the watch for brain-to-brain communication, like a telegraph.

You can do that with an Apple Watch, too, but Apple adds the ability to nudge someone with a tap. You select the recipient, then tap on the watch. They feel the tap on their wrist. You can send your heartbeat, and the other person can feel it. (While that last bit is a gimmick that people will quickly tire of, it will be interesting to see what third-party app developers will do with that capability.)

When you turn the Digital Crown, scroll through controls, draw a picture on the screen with your finger or do just about anything with the Apple Watch, a special, related haptic sensation is delivered to your wrist to add a sensory dimension to the interface.

The haptic sensation generated by a tap is different from the sensation generated by a press. The Apple Watch knows the difference because the flexible screen is touch-sensitive. It knows if you're pressing or tapping softly or strongly, quickly or slowly, and it responds accordingly.

In other words, when you touch the Apple Watch, you feel the touch. It's part of you.

To delight your eyes, the screen is unnecessarily high resolution. And the fluid, physics-based user interface will probably add to the sensory experience.

The Apple Watch not only brings your senses of touch, hearing and sight into a unified experience, it also uses your skin for authentication. You can use the fingerprint sensor on the connected iPhone to authenticate the Apple Watch to make purchases via its NFC chip and Apple Pay. It will remain authenticated as long as the bottom of the watch remains in contact with your skin. Once contact is broken, the watch is de-authenticated (until you repeat the authentication process). In other words, the watch can buy stuff for you as long as it's part of you. As soon as it's no longer part of you, it loses its purchasing power.

When choosing certain body parts or body modifications, people rarely choose something generic. They do not tend to be ambivalent, for example, about which tattoo they get, or which eyeglass frames they choose, or what clothes they buy. These additions to one's body are points of self expression and assertions of either individuality or group membership.


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