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How the Apple Watch could change the world - again

How the Apple Watch could change the world - again

Right now, a lot of augmented reality experiences and Internet of Things products rely on fishing your phone out of your pocket.

With this week's smorgasboard of Apple announcements, the wizard academy at One Infinite Loop is doing what it does best: Making it seem like it invented a bunch of market categories, when really what it did was refine existing technology into an ostensibly more workable, user-friendly design.

The Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are going to sell a million zillion units because of course they are, which will raise the chances of Apple Pay's success in turn. But the biggest question mark is still the Apple Watch, which represents both a huge opportunity for Apple -- and a huge risk.

I come not to bury the Apple Watch. I come to look at it in the context of Apple's broader strategy. And while the first version of the Apple Watch may be lacking, its future is very bright. In fact, the Apple Watch may just go down in history as version 1 of one of those rare world-changing technologies.

Much like Google Glass before it, the Apple Watch stands in its current form as something that will probably flag the wearer as someone who cares more about being on the bleeding edge than about paltry considerations like aesthetics or style.

But back up a second and look at the moves Apple has been making since the launch of the iPhone 5 -- while Apple Pay's NFC reliance came as something of a surprise to long-time armchair Apple analysts, the company has been slowly but surely working to push its iBeacon BLE standard, which provides location-based context to iOS devices. NFC itself, beyond payments, is very good at transferring content very quickly from device to device via physical touch.

Combine that with the rise of the Internet of Things -- not to mention whatever the heck Apple is up to with its Beats acquisition -- and suddenly your phone is more than a screen with an antennae and some apps: It's a gateway to interacting with the world around you.

So this is still early days. But once the world is A) Connected by BLE beacons and B) used to wearing a smarter phone companion on the wrist, something really cool is going to happen. Right now, a lot of augmented reality experiences and Internet of Things products rely on fishing your phone out of your pocket. An Apple Watch gives a distraction-free, always-at-hand interface control for the smarter, more connected world.

If you've played a three-dimensional video game in the last fifteen years, you probably see what I'm getting at. In The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, the greatest game of all time, there's a button permanently mapped to what they call "contextual controls." If you're standing in front of a person, you talk to them. If you're standing in front of a treasure chest, you open it. If you're standing in front of a sign, you read it.

The Apple Watch -- and by extension the smartwatch market as a whole -- has the chance to become more by doing less and becoming the contextual control. We won't see this for another few generations of watches, I reckon, but there's a tremendous opportunity to point at our stereo and adjust the volume and point at our smoke alarm to turn it off and point at our dishwasher to get it started, without the higher-touch, higher-distraction layer of the phone.

And while the Motorolas and Samsungs of the world definitely stand to benefit from this approach, it really seems like Apple who has every layer of this locked up, from phone to platform to payments to watches. So yes, if the next Apple Watch is a little less of a chunky baby, and the public is ready for notifications on the wrist, this could be the start of something big.

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Tags Appleconsumer electronicsconsumerizationApple watchApple Pay

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