Quick Thoughts: Apple Watch and notifications

My thanks to Gregg Keizer of Computerworld, for sparking these ideas in a conversation we had earlier today ahead of Monday’s event.

I wrote a piece for Techpinions earlier in the week about the concept of intimacy as it relates to Apple Watch. In that piece, I wrote:

What I think intimacy in computing really means is going a level deeper on the personal side, and perhaps also stripping away some of the non-personal elements of the smartphone. The Apple Watch, then, becomes the truly personal device our smartphones have never quite been. Notifications come in noiselessly, communication with our Apple Watch-wearing significant other can be both more private and more individualized, the tasks we do on the Apple Watch can be limited just to those that are meaningful to us, leaving others for the smartphone, and so on.

I highlighted one phrase in bold there, because I think it’s critical both to the success of the Apple Watch specifically and to smartwatches in general. One of the criticisms of some of the other watches out there is that notifications are something of an all-or-nothing phenomenon: either you get utterly bombarded with notifications or you get none, but it’s been tough to get granular control. With the Apple Watch, this problem has the potential to get worse: with both traditional notifications and apps running on the Watch itself, there’s potential for even more of this. So it becomes all the more important that Apple get this right on the Watch. The ability to manage notifications and other activity on the Watch so that you only get notified for the things you really care about is a key value proposition. There have been a couple of pieces today about how the Apple Watch will handle notifications, but neither of them is clear enough to answer conclusively the question of how well the Watch deals with this issue.

I think there’s an analogy here to the early smartphones, which acted as task-specific extensions of our PCs. PCs were general purpose devices, on which we did essentially all our work. Early smartphones, and especially those made by BlackBerry, majored on email above all else, and allowed us to perform triage on this central form of communication on a dedicated device, leaving the rest for when we got back to our desks. I see the Watch performing a similar role in relation to smartphones, which have now become in some ways general purpose devices in a similar way to early PCs. If the Watch is to succeed, it will do so by allowing us to focus on those tasks that are most important to us, stripping away the rest of the stuff we’ll leave for our smartphones. And for many of us it will do this for our personal lives in much the way early smartphones did it for our work lives.