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4 Key Design Insights From The Apple Watch

Can Apple’s wearable impact the future designs of mainstream technology?

4 Key Design Insights From The Apple Watch

On Tuesday, Apple revealed its long-awaited watch. Given that companies like Samsung, LG, and Motorola have already made their mark on this space–with hardware that quite honestly, doesn’t look all that different from Apple’s–it would be easy to dismiss the Apple Watch as another product in the quickly crowded market. But if you look closely, you can spot some ideas lurking in Apple’s thought process that break with the current status quo–ideas that are sure to impact the design of mainstream technology in the years to come.

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1. The Quest For Security Will Continue To Trump Ease Of Use
Apple spent a lot of their presentation talking about payments. Namely, how NFC (or near field communication) chips in their new iPhones and Apple Watch will enable you to make a Visa or Mastercard payment by holding your phone or watch against a payment plate. Except . . . it’s not quite this simple. You see, if it were this simple, you could check out with a wave of your hand, or even go to the grocery store and buy a box of Captain Crunch just by taking it off the shelf. But Apple is still having you confirm every payment with the iPhone’s Touch ID thumbprint sensor (how the scenario plays out with an Apple Watch wasn’t demoed). This moment of friction–an extra step of consulting an interface–will mean that paying for things won’t be as simple and natural as making a gesture. Companies will continue to be afraid to take the safety off of your credit card.


2. Customizable Products Are Here To Stay
Between the band, the hardware, and the digital watchface, the Apple Watch can be customized a million different ways. No, Apple certainly isn’t the first electronics company to offer a mass customizable product. (That honor probably belongs to Motorola, with the Moto X smartphone.) But Apple has traditionally been a one-size-fits-all company. For more than a decade, their playbook was to offer a product in a small handful of colors. The Apple Watch tacitly admits that a few colors is no longer enough. But why now? Well when you wear your electronic, it’s no longer just an electronic. It’s a piece of fashion. It’s an expression of you. And you come in a lot more than five flavors.


3. Gadgets Are Getting Luxurious
Since 1998, you’ve been able to buy a Vertu luxury phone. They cost as much as $300,000 for what was little more than a Nokia phone gussied up with gemstones. But the gadget as a premium product never really took off. Now, Apple has released its first product made of gold. Not just gold paint, like their “Kardashian” iPhone, but 18-carat gold around the bezel. It would be easy–and probably right–to speculate that this is Apple’s play to the gold-loving Chinese market. But at the same time, as our gadgets become fashion accessories–and in this case, jewelry even–they will naturally adopt the glitzy materials used for centuries in those fields.


4. Digital Can Be Truly Intimate
Critics of the iPhone or social media will say they pull our attention away from what’s important–one another. But Apple’s most surprising feature of their new watch connects us on a very physical, even intimate level. It’s called Digital Touch. And by accessing your contacts, you can not just message them, but draw them a quick scribble, send them a series of taps, even share your heartbeat, which will pulse away on their wrist. I’m not sure this is the best designed interaction for streamlined communication. Indeed, something about its rough, even naive presentation resembles a graduate design thesis that will score a student their job at Ideo. But right alongside maps, payments, emails, and weather, Apple has built a tool for us to literally reach out and touch someone. Maybe someday it will lead to another eureka moment.

Also be sure to check out yesterday’s liveblog, where Apple also revealed its new payment system–Apple Pay–the iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus..

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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