To see the Future of the Apple Watch Just Go to Disneyland

by AreteStock

Removing friction. That’s what the Apple Watch is good at.

Many think watches are a category flop because they don’t have that obvious killer app. Like hot sauce, maybe a watch isn’t something you eat all by itself, but it gives whatever you sprinkle it on a little extra flavor?

Walk into your hotel, the system recognizes you, your room number pops up on your watch, you walk directly to your room and unlock it with your watch.

Walk into an airport, your flight displays on your watch along with directions to your terminal. To get on the plane you just flash your watch. On landing, walk to your rental car and unlock it with your watch.

A notification arrives that it’s time to leave for your meeting, traffic is bad, best get an early start.

While shopping you check with your partner if you need milk by talking directly through your watch. In the future you’ll just know if you need milk, but we’re not there yet.

You can do all these things with a phone. Google Now, for example. What the easy accessibility of the watch does in these scenarios is remove friction. It makes it natural for a complex backend system to talk to you about things it learns from you and your environment. Hiding in a pocket or a purse, a phone is too inconvenient and too general purpose. Your watch becomes a small custom viewport on to a much larger more connected world.

After developing my own watch extension, using other extensions, and listening to a lot of discussion on the subject, it’s clear the form factor of a watch is very limiting and will always be limiting. You’ll never be able to do much UI-wise on a watch. Even the cleverest programmers can only do so much with so little screen real estate and low resource usage requirements. Instagram and Evernote simply aren’t the same on a watch.

But that’s OK. Every device has what it does well. It takes time for users and developers to explore a new device space.

What a watch does well is not so much enable new types of apps, but plug people into much larger and smarter systems. This is where the friction is removed.

Re-enchanting the World Disneyland Style

A magical example of friction reduction through process reimagineering is in an article in Wired: Disney's $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband by Cliff Kuang. FastCompany also has an excellent article: The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness by Austin Carr. Both articles are in-depth and full of thought provoking ideas.

Disney created a colorful MagicBand that you wear on your wrist. The wristband contains a lot of electronics that lets Disney know who you are and where you are on their property. Disney talks about the band as unlocking the Disney Experience.  And that’s a good way to think about friction reduction, as creating a pure experience free from distracting overhead and process. Like magic.

What happens with your band?

  • Order food ahead of time at restaurant, walk into a restaurant, sit down anywhere, and they’ll bring the food to you when it’s ready because Disney knows who you are, where you have sit, and what you ordered.
  • Disney uses your preferences to create an itinerary that lets you hit all the rides you want to experience while minimizing the amount of walking you do in the park. I imagine they can better schedule rides as well by how they create itineraries.
  • Once your flight arrives on Orlando you can board a park-bound shuttle and your luggage will just arrive at your room in your hotel. In the park there are no tickets. The MagicBand is your ticket. No need to carry money, everything is charged through the credit card linked to your MagicBand.

A great quote from Cliff Kuang:

For Disney, the MagicBands, the thousands of sensors they talk with, and the 100 systems linked together to create MyMagicPlus turn the park into a giant computer—streaming real-time data about where guests are, what they’re doing, and what they want. It’s designed to anticipate your desires.

Obviously the bands are not the important part of the system. A watch or a phone will work equally as well. They key points are the attention to design and the complex backend systems that make the entire project really work. The articles go into more details about both subjects and it’s absolutely fascinating to read.

What was surprising was how much pushback there was within Disney against building this kind of system. Many if not most were against it. Seems so strange to think about it now, when it seems such an obvious thing to do.

Over time we’ll see the world around us turned into a Disneyland, where our  whims are anticipated and friction is removed. Watches will make it happen faster and better than it otherwise would have happened.

What Apple Can Do Better

While Apple is moving as fast as they can into the future, they could help developers more. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Open up Siri to applications. The experience using Siri on a watch is great. What would be really great is if applications could expose functionality through Siri and have apps become voice controlled. With the phone this would have been nice, with a watch it’s essential.
  • Indoor location. We are really missing a Google Street View and Google Maps for indoor location. The example of guiding travelers to their terminal can’t happen today because we have no indoor maps and we don’t have indoor “GPS”. To close the loop on creating experiences we need our apps to work indoors just as well as they do outside.
  • Apps as service containers. Apple uses the app as the deployable unit, but apps aren’t just simple single programs any more. They are built out of many many components. An app could have a watch extension, support AirDrop, provide a share extension, a photo extension, a keyboard extension, a Today widget, handle remote notifications, and so on. The environment on the phone has grown organically and it’s confusing and difficult to program. Just look up how hard it is for developers to get code to run in the background or send messages between components. It might help to think of as an app a service that runs on a phone, that exposes an API, and is usable by all components of an app with a unified way to send notifications, invoke functionally, and sync state.
  • An open standard for linking app experiences. Apple does not have the advantage that Google does in controlling all the data that is used to create an experience. Apps are effectively silos. It would be nice if there was a way for apps to work together to provide a seamless experience. Your Uber app hands off to the airport app so you get a seamless experience. Something like that anyway.