“We Invest in a Lot of Things That Have Long Tentacles”

John Gruber:

Apple Watch is not a product from a tech company, and it will not be understood, at all, by the tech world. Apple creates and uses technology in incredible ways. The Apple Watch may prove to be the most technologically advanced product they’ve ever built. But again: Apple is not a tech company, and Apple Watch is not a tech product.

I disagree. Apple’s values are different than those of other tech companies, but that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t a tech company. It is. Apple is a tech company for precisely the reason Gruber identifies: because “Apple creates and uses technology in incredible ways”. Similarly, although Apple Watch is a tech product unlike any before it, that doesn’t mean Apple Watch isn’t a tech product. It definitely is.

That Apple Watch was created by the company with unique values in the tech industry is no coincidence. No other company could have created what Apple did. Apple Watch is a computer that you wear. It’s technology combined with jewelry.

Steve Jobs could say that Apple stands at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts without sounding preposterous because the company’s values clearly backed-up his assertion. Worship of good design, conscious recognition of the importance of sex appeal, obsessing over the smallest of details — these traits are deeply ingrained in Apple’s culture, and they reflect an institutional understanding of human nature.

Since fashion is so often a form of self-expression, having this keen understanding is key to producing high-quality jewelry. You need to understand human nature if you want to give people a vehicle through which to express their humanity.

No other tech company has this understanding. Not Microsoft, not Google, not Samsung, not Intel. Nobody. Apple created something that no other tech company could have.

No watchmaking company could have created Apple Watch, either. Watchmakers may understand the fashion aspect of jewelry, but they don’t have the technical expertise to design a computer that fits inside of a watch.

And make no mistake about it: Apple Watch is a computer. It’s a computer unlike any we’ve seen before, but it’s a computer nonetheless.

During the Apple Watch introduction, Tim Cook explained that “with every revolutionary product that Apple has created, a breakthrough in user interface was required”. The Mac introduced people to the mouse. iPod birthed the clickwheel. iPhone popularized multitouch. iPad took multitouch to an entirely new level. And Apple Watch, he said, has the digital crown.

But I think Cook purposefully sold Apple Watch short. Apple Watch has the digital crown, yes, but it will also take voice input to a whole new level. Voice will grow to complement the digital crown in two distinct temporal phases. The first thing it will do is improve existing functionality.

Take Square Order, an iPhone and Android app. You can use it to order a latte from Blue Bottle Coffee, and the barista will prepare your drink as you approach the store so that it’s hot when you arrive. But imagine if instead of using an iPhone app to place your order, you were able to simply raise your wrist and say, “Get me a latte from Blue Bottle”. That’s much more convenient, and it’s just one example of how voice will be used to improve existing functionality.

But voice input will truly shine in the second phase, when it enables brand-new functionality. Consider what Tim Cook revealed in his recent interview with Charlie Rose [edited slightly for clarity]:

A lot of what leads to innovation is curiosity. It’s curiosity to begin pulling a string and you see where it takes you. And a lot of what we do isn’t apparent to the public in the beginning where it’s going to lead — like Touch ID, as an example. We did Touch ID a year ago. A lot of people just thought Touch ID was a way to get into your phone. And it’s very cool at doing that. But then we also said “You can buy stuff from Apple with it”. Obviously we the entire time were planning to do a much broader rollout for mobile payments with Touch ID. We invest in a lot of things that have long tentacles — for decades or so, not just for point products. Point products don’t thrill us.

In other words, Apple creates foundations today to build upon them in the future. And Apple has been quietly laying foundations that will unleash the power of voice.

Apple has been asking third parties to submit the floor plans of their buildings. Apple has acquired indoor mapping talent. Apple has integrated iBeacons technology into iOS, enabling precise indoor positioning. And Apple’s M8 motion coprocessor can measure your steps and your altitude.

Apple is collecting indoor maps and indoor mapping talent, and it already has the technology to navigate you through the inside of a building. Apple is clearly working towards indoor GPS. And adding voice input to the equation results in some incredible possibilities.

Imagine this: You’re in a mall with your eleven year old kid. Something happens and you get separated from each other. Shit. Where the hell is Noah? Is he safe? And then you remember: His Apple Watch shares its location with yours. You raise your wrist and say, “Get me to Noah”. Boom. You’re reunited with your kid.

Now consider what’s possible with third-party integration: You’re halfway to your Mom’s party when you realize you forgot to put the dessert in your car. Uh-oh. You drive to Whole Foods, park the car, and walk in. But since this isn’t the Whole Foods you normally shop at, you have no idea where the dessert is. So you raise your wrist and ask, “Where’s the chocolate?”, and Apple Watch navigates you there.

These are just two examples of what voice input will enable, but the possibilities are endless.

The original iPhone was released seven years ago, and today’s iPhone 6 is 50 times faster, 40 percent thinner, and its battery lasts far longer. As the iPhone matured, multitouch enabled experiences that were simply unimaginable in 2007.

So it will be with Apple Watch. Seven years from now, Apple Watch will be much faster and thinner, and its battery will last far longer. And as Apple Watch matures, voice input will enable experiences that are simply unimaginable today.

Buckle your seats, folks, cause it’s gonna be a wild ride.