How Apple's wrist taps could be a game changer

Can Apple's new smartwatch throw the stakes in your favor? Will we reach a point where, like some instances with phones, you have to leave your watch at the door?
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Sales meetings. Debates. Negotiations. They're often games of subtle cues and pre-planned strategies. The more you know about your opposition, the more you can "read" his or her mind, the better your chances are of winning.

Can Apple's new smartwatch throw the stakes in your favor? Will we reach a point where, like some instances with phones, you have to leave your watch at the door?
(Image: Apple)

Let's see how this might play out. Apple's watch can send haptic taps to your wrist, unseen and unheard by anyone around you. CNET's Scott Stein says they're sometimes too subtle, but that can be adjusted.

The point is, you can get signal information from your watch without anyone around you knowing. Sure, if you get an insistent tap on your watch and immediately pull it out to check your Facebook updates, the stealth component goes away (and your associates' annoyance factor might go up).

But if you are able to get taps -- and train yourself to interpret those taps -- the watch may well become an interesting tool for interpersonal gamesmanship.

Con artists and card sharks used to use partners to run scams on their targets. One person would be the player and the partner would be the spotter, using subtle signals to send messages. Think about baseball today, where coaches on each team use subtle (and not-so-subtle) gestures to transmit messages to players.

Now extend that idea to the Apple Watch:

  • Tap-tap:"Don't go there."
  • Tap-tap-tap-tap: "Speed it up."
  • Taaap...taap: "Change the subject."
  • Taaap-tap: "Talk him down to a lower price."
  • Tap-taaap: "I think she'll spend more."
  • Tap-taaap-tap: "She doesn't know the answer."
  • Tap-taptaptap-tap: "You're on a roll. Keep it up."

Imagine a meeting. You're doing the negotiating, but you've got a partner in the room looking at her laptop (like all the others are doing). She's actively watching the others, doing searches, checking databases, and sending you tap cues to help you move along in your negotiation.

It gives you a better chance to know what to say and how to play.

Let's take this to the big leagues. It's late October in 2016. Two presidential candidates are standing behind a podium, debating each other. Both wear watches. How many politics junkies recall President George HW Bush's watch glance during his debate with Bill Clinton? That was a costly mistake.

In any case, this is 2016. The candidate (we'll just pick one for now) is on stage, answering debate questions. She starts answering a question, but gets a tap-tap on the wrist. That's the signal to change the subject. She does, and avoids a potentially dangerous trap her staff noticed, but she didn't while in the thick of the debate.

Later in the debate, the candidate is making a very strong point on economic policy. She knows she's on a roll, but doesn't see the live tracking polls, which say the audience is losing interest. Tap-tap-tap-tap. She immediately brings that answer to a conclusion, and doesn't lose the audience.

Will a scenario like this happen? Almost definitely in business, but I don't know whether we'll see it in politics. After all, an Apple Watch is still a bit too blingy for regular Americans. But if, as I suspect, more and more smartwatches offer wrist taps, we'll reach a point where everyone has a behind-the-scenes way to send a message without anyone else knowing it.

And we'll all lose just a little more of our souls to the technology that connects us and now touches us in almost intimate ways.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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