The Apple Watch: Why Size Matters

The Apple Watch represents another growth platform for Apple, and an obvious new avenue for innovation. But this shift also represents a subtle yet important transition in the way that we interact with technology.

In recent years, the size of smartphones has become increasingly bigger. However, even as Apple adds the iPhone 6 at 4.7 inches and an even bigger iPhone 6 Plus at 5.5 inches, the company is going small again through the Apple Watch. On one hand, we as consumers want mobile devices with screens that can handle the larger-than-life content that we engage with every day, but on the other hand that creates another need: compact devices that fit our daily lives.

It is interesting to note the cycles of size in mobile technology. Technology trends seem to go toward one extreme or another when it comes to size. In the same way that fashion trends go through cycles and extremes from low-cut to high-waisted, technology seems to also follow these cycles. In the early 2000s, before the true adoption of Web-enabled smartphones, the structure of the device was focused on minimizing the size. Our cellphones went from the large Motorola brick phones to smaller form factors, and then ultimately to tiny flip-phones. These smaller form factors offered many limitations, but they brought in a slew of innovation by way of new modes of human interaction. We created new additions to our language with abbreviations. Acronyms became a mode of communication and emoticons caught on. PalmPilots created short hands for text entry.

Then Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, entering an era in which smartphones offered a fuller Web experience. Remember those first commercials where the entire Web and not the mobile Web was promised? Mobile experiences, though more advanced, began to mimic desktop experiences. It is undoubtedly true that Apple is focused on bigger and better screens. A larger screen will open a world of new opportunity for gaming developers and content purveyors. But everyone wants to go big. Let’s think about what going really small again might mean for the user, the consumer, or the business director.

Enter the Apple Watch…

Why does going small again matter? When screens became smaller, we needed to invent new modes of interaction. Limitations often force change and the Apple Watch represents a clear limitation in size and a clear need for innovation. So what might this mean in the future for the way that humans, businesses, and brands interact?

Larger screens allow users to take more time with content. Patience to click through multiple layers in order to engage is higher. There is a greater propensity to explore and to browse. But on a watch, we lose that patience. Apple thought of this: the Apple Watch offers both a touch and also a tactile click-through via one-click brand engagements. This trend has been prevalent over the past few years; great UX removes barriers and unnecessary clicks/interactions. The limited screen size will only accelerate this; brands and businesses will have to think about how we create experiences that take one click.

Just as we adapted to using abbreviations with the introduction of flip phones, we will again adapt to an even smaller interface. With Apple creating symbols as a means of interaction, it is another even simpler form of abbreviation. Will we need to think of creating and using brand symbols or business and interactive abbreviations that are just a few strokes of the finger? Will symbols replace hashtags?

Size limitations will bring another wave of innovation – not just in form, but also in the way that brands and businesses interact with consumers. We need to be prepared for this change and think ahead to how we shift the way we engage.

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