The Apple Watch with LTE + AirPods is the future

Here is a German version of this article.

In June 2015 I dubbed the emergence of smart assistants for the home the “next iPhone moment” (and the first since the launch of the actual iPhone). After Apple’s recent product announcements, another breakthrough of a new digital product appears to be imminent – or to be more precise, in this case it is a combination of two products: The Apple Watch LTE together with Apple’s wireless headphones, AirPods. I find it at least 80 percent likely that these two gadgets will massively grow in sales and completely redefine the mobile ecosystem over the next couple of years.
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When the Apple Watch launched in 2015, I wasn’t too impressed. But various critical aspects have changed since then:

  1. The upcoming “Series 3” of the Apple Watch will be sold in a version equipped with its own cellular connection, for the first time. That enables it to be utilized as a primary, not only as a secondary mobile device. At least in theory, the Apple Watch can now replace the smartphone (Apple has never been afraid of cannibalizing its own products). That’s a big deal and will attract many new buyers.
  2. People increasingly are disturbed by their own smartphone obsession, being fully aware of how this makes them miserable. But as long as the smartphone is within one arm’s reach, they can’t stop staring at it. The cravings for Dopamin are too strong. With the cellular-enabled Apple Watch, now there is a possible solution: Forcing oneself to leave the smartphone at home at least occasionally only “hurts” for a few seconds, but afterwards it will reduce one’s obsessive app usage while still ensuring access to all digital essentials.
  3. When the Apple Watch hit the market, Apple’s wireless headphones AirPods didn’t exist yet. When they launched in late 2016, questions were raised about whether people wearing AirPods would be mocked about in public. The memory of the bad perception of “Glassholes” was still fresh. But over the past months, at least here in Stockholm where I live, the number of people walking around with AirPods has exploded. I hear similar observations from other cities. Turns out, the normalization process of tiny white cordless headphones in people’s ears only took a few months (Update: A friend of mine commented on this paragraph with the following remark: “Here in Berlin you still get weird looks, but at least I am not the only idiot anymore”. That kind of sentiment should be enough for continued user adoption).
  4. The big sales success of Amazon Echo has shown the broad appetite for voice control, despite smart assistants such Alexa still lacking eloquence and intelligence. Now Google offers a competing product for the home, and Apple will soon release its own smart speaker. These products are making millions become familiar with voice as interface. While talking to a smart assistant and being misunderstood at home is a different thing than doing so in a crowded subway, a gradual change of user behavior and norms is probable, followed by growing acceptance of voice-based human-machine-interactions in public spaces. “Siri, when does my connecting train depart?” will be an acceptable question to ask wherever one goes. The Apple Watch’s tiny display and for longer interactions inconvenient position will incentivize, if not literally force its owners to “outsource” certain digital activities to voice.

So yes, I am very bullish. I am still waiting for Apple to release AirPods with a different form factor, since the current one doesn’t sit well in my ears (and I know that others feel the same). But once that comes out (if it does), I’ll buy AirPods. And once I own AirPods, getting a cellular-enabled Apple Watch will be almost a logical next step.

If my prediction comes true, huge changes are looming for the tech industry and its major online services, which all would have to find ways to adapt to the new rules of a mobile world characterized by an increasing number of tiny displays as well as by voice as a new major “interface”.


6 comments

  1. I agree with your thoughts and I can see it going one step further. I can see AI and voice recognition becoming so good that Apple (or Samsung or Google) will one day create an earpiece with an installable SIM card so you could make phone calls and ask all kinds of things with just the earpiece. No watch or phone needed! However the Apple Watch or iPhone could be a visual companion device that supports the “EarPhone”.

  2. “With the cellular-enabled Apple Watch, now there is a possible solution: Forcing oneself to leave the smartphone at home at least occasionally only “hurts” for a few seconds, but afterwards it will reduce one’s obsessive app usage while still ensuring access to all digital essentials.”

    How is this any different than (PC) internet addiction giving way to smartphones, and transferring the addiction? Won’t the Watch be simply the latest way for people to feed their addiction?

    I don’t understand what you think is fundamentally different about the experience here. It’s a smaller form-factor change than PC to phone, and addiction had no problem making that leap.

    • The point I am trying to make is that if embracing an obsession is too inconvenient, it might get easier to resist. Looking at the list of apps that make people most miserable, it gets evident that extensive time spent with an app is one major aspect. (http://www.timewellspent.io/app-ratings/) But spending 30 minutes with an app on the Apple Watch is much less comfortable and convenient due to the tiny screen and the attachment to the arm than doing that on one’s phone.

      It might be important here to point out that there is a difference between “addiction” and “obsessive usage”. Addiction is a medical condition. If someone really is “addicted”, then this person might simply transfer the addiction, I agree. But as far as I am aware, there is no real consensus over whether the common phenomenon that people complain about, that they endlessly scroll through their feeds without really enjoying it, certainly is caused by “addiction”. If it is a milder form, such as simply a slightly destructive habit, then maybe not having access to the “big” screen is already one way out.

      Of course, I am only speculating. Things might play out differently, and new obsessions will certainly arise.

  3. I made the same comment to someone else recently. In the farther future, LTE AirPods may be a thing, but for now the watch and AirPods seem like a good combination. Whether it takes off comes down to execution- battery life, signal strength, music integration, etc. (Wish they’d remove the ugly red dot on the crown too)

  4. “(Wish they’d remove the ugly red dot on the crown too)”

    Interesting that you consider this a negative thing. My first thought was that this is a typical Apple way of awarding “status” to its most loyal and early adopter users. Since everyone quickly will understand what the red dot means.

  5. I agree the Apple Watch Series 3 is the big news. Once again Apple isn’t first to market, but they figured out how to do it better. I’ve been testing the first gen cellular enabled watches for over a year and they all sucked. I called them Dick Tracy Watches, but I think the Apple Watch is the first real player.

    Since I don’t have an Apple Watch or the AirPods yet, I don’t know how they connect. If it is simply BlueTooth, I’ll stick to the wireless headset I have. Otherwise I am sure I’ll be ok with the weird looks. But I get those without earbuds so, whatever.

    I am looking forward to the day that I can be on call and in the water surfing without having to get out every 20 minutes to check my phone or having to keep my phone in a pouch that sticks me in the back.

    As far as breaking the addiction, it isn’t the device, it is the connection. We live in a big lonely world and we all want to belong. We are afraid to be ridiculed by anyone so it is safer to not actually hang out with them.

    Social Media, Texts and Emails have somehow become our connection to each other. You can see people world wide shrinking into themselves more every day. Very sad, and I am glad that my friends think I need “more time” on social media. Sorry, but if we aren’t hanging out, I could care less.

    Ooooh a text from Craig – Time to surf, I am out a here!

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