Apple Watch: The one thing it must get right to be the best

The Apple Watch is poised for release and rumored features have piqued a lot of interest. Apple will likely give the Watch a lot of functionality, but if it doesn't nail this one thing that won't matter in the long run.

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(Image: Apple)

Smartwatches interest folks, but they haven't set the market on fire. The Apple Watch will have a better shot than most smartwatches at attracting buyers, but for it to really take off, Apple will have to make its Watch handle speech input almost perfectly.

The features of the Apple Watch that have been shown off certainly look nice. The dynamic home screen of the watch and the Digital Crown are unique and speak of Apple innovation.

Having owned a number of smartwatches, the user experience has been the same for each one. The first few weeks the watch is very cool, worn every day where it is a tiny window into a smartphone.

On the surface, it seems useful for notifications on the smartwatch to show incoming text messages and email. The phone stays in the pocket or bag, and the watch becomes the primary notification system.

The problem is, after only a few weeks the usefulness of the smartwatch turns to annoyance. That's due to the inability to accurately reply to those notifications coming in on the watch. The lack of a keyboard of any kind on the watch means there are only two ways to deal with messages that come in.

When a quick reply is called for, many smartwatches, and the Apple Watch will work the same way, offer input by speaking into the watch. Tap reply on the watch and speak the reply. It sounds easy but, as it is on smartphones, speech entry to date is not accurate enough.

On smartwatches I've used, the devices have often misinterpreted the speech and produced unusable replies. More often than not this ended in using the second way of dealing with replies to messages: pulling the phone out of its hidey-hole and tapping the reply on the keyboard.

This turned the simple process of replying to messages into a time waster. Fiddling with the smartwatch by talking into it added an extra step over just pulling the phone out and typing the reply. Just a few weeks after getting a new smartwatch, it ends up getting put on the shelf and I go back to using the phone as I did before.

This is the obstacle facing the Apple Watch, as receiving notifications and responding to them will be the primary function on a day-to-day basis. Having a lot of apps that do cool things will be an advantage over competing products, but in daily usage that won't matter much. Smartwatches are not designed for owners to sit and use them for long; in fact battery life won't permit them to be used like that.

Smartwatches are first and foremost notification systems, and they must enable making nearly error-free responses through speech. Pulling the phone out to reply gets old very fast, and Apple must get this right to avoid the annoyance factor. Otherwise, like smartwatches that came before, the Apple Watch will end up on the shelf after purchase for many buyers.

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