Tim Cook appeared as a guest at All Things Digital's D11 conference earlier this year and when discussing the subject of wearable technology he said:
"I think the wrist is interesting. The wrist is natural.”
I've not worn a watch for a number of years with the occasional exception of a Polar HRM to ensure my heart is still beating after torturing myself on the squash court or after a post-festive run. My iPhone has become my watch when I'm not in front of my computer or TV, or behind the wheel of my car or in some other place where the time is already clearly displayed. I really have no need to wear a watch on my wrist simply to tell me the time but Tim's comments got me thinking why I might be tempted to wear something on my wrist again, and if it's not a timepiece then what might it be instead?
Tim revealed that he wears a Nike Fuel Band to track his activity levels and workouts, perhaps not entirely a surprise as he is a member of the Nike board of directors. I have also been tempted to buy a Fuel Band or Fitbit but somehow it just isn't compelling enough yet. However, I have started to track my sleep quality using the excellent app Sleep Cycle app, and I find the notion of monitoring my activity and inactivity and other body parameters quite compelling. I see no reason why it couldn't at least monitor my movement and heart rate and I'm sure there are other sensors which could be added, perhaps to monitor blood sugar levels or perspiration or blood oxygenation.
So, what else could the hypothetical iWatch do for me???
"Apple iD" ?
Well, for a start what if it wasn't called iWatch. What if they called it "iD" as in Apple iD?
Our iPhones and iPads are designed to be personal computing devices. They don't currently have user accounts and although they can be shared, much of the functionality is geared towards a single user. However, even when used in this way, an iPhone or iPad is not attached permanently to the user and therefore can't be relied upon 100% for authentication through its presence alone. We need to rely upon passwords and unlock codes to ensure that the device is in the hands of its rightful owner before authorising transactions or access to sensitive information. The same is true when using our laptop and desktop computers.
What if, instead of typing passwords and unlock codes, we could authorise an Apple iD to provide our security credentials to our other devices through Bluetooth 4.0? The bracelet could be authorised when initially placed on the wrist using a password or code and would retain that authority until removal is detected. It would be paired with our laptop, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV and maybe in future even our car, and would be able to sense proximity to those devices and unlock them automatically when we are nearby. Similarly, the presence of the iD could provide authorisation for transactions, perhaps leveraging iCloud Keychain which is coming in iOS7 and OSX 10.9. I'm not comfortable leaving my iPhone and iPad unlocked but it is inconvenient having to type an unlock code every time I unlock it so I usually compromise and enable auto-lock after 15 minutes. Having the proximity unlock from the iD would give both greater security and greater convenience and in addition, my iD could sense my heart rate, activity levels, sleep patterns and all the other things discussed above for the iWatch.
Apple has talked before about the millions of Apple ID's it has and how many of these are backed by active credit cards. According to Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley, this number could reach 600 million during 2013 which puts Apple in a strong position to offer payment processing services for much more than just their own iTunes and App Store purchases. If they can deliver a convenient and secure way to provide authorisation without the need for PIN numbers or passwords or even physical credit cards then it could be revolutionary. Last year I visited the Blue Lagoon geo-thermal spa in Iceland and they issued an RFID waterproof bracelet to each customer upon arrival. This bracelet is used to open your locker and pay for drinks and snacks with just a swipe of the wrist so you didn't have to carry cash or cards with you while relaxing in the water. Purchases are automatically charged to your credit card at the end of the day. This system worked extremely well in practice and perhaps gives a glimpse of the future.
I believe Apple will release a wearable device in the next year or so but I think iWatch would be a poor choice as it is too closely linked with the concept of a timepiece. I believe that calling it "Apple iD" would be a much better choice! As usual, we'll have to wait and see...