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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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”.