Friday, October 2, 2015

Apple's Next "Big" Thing?

Apple has recently stepped into the wearables arena with the introduction of the Apple Watch.  While the success of the watch is still unclear, its capabilities give us a hint about Apple's thinking in this arena:

The Apple Watch is a "companion" product.  Although it can operate independently, it only reaches its full potential when within bluetooth/wifi range of its master, the iPhone.  With the watch, Apple is selling convenience and the watch is only the beginning.  What could be Apple's next foray into the wearables market?

Bluetooth in-ear headphone(s).  It makes perfect sense.

Siri, iPhone's voice assistant has come a long way since it was introduced on the iPhone 4s.  Over time, Apple has not only improved its voice recognition dramatically, it has also broadened the ways in which you interact with her.  You can hold down the Home button on your iPhone or the crown on the Apple Watch to talk to her; if you plug in your iPhone into a power source - or if you hold your Apple Watch up to your face -  you can get her attention by simply saying "Hey Siri", followed by your spoken question or command.  Heck, thanks to a new low-power chip in the iPhone 6s, you don't even need to plug in your iPhone to chat with her.  But the form of Siri's answers aren't always convenient.

When you ask Siri a question on an Apple Watch, she's a mute.  I guess Apple Watch's designers felt that her speaking the answers - as she does on the iPhone - would be too obtrusive in a setting where you chose to interact through the watch rather than the iPhone.  So Siri, on the Apple Watch, displays its answer on that tiny watch screen.  Which isn't always optimal - e.g. when you're driving.

Using a headset would be the perfect solution.  But why should Apple come out with a new pair, when there are loads of wired and bluetooth headsets on the market already?  Because none of them have the feature Apple just introduced with the iPhone 6s: the aforementioned "always on" listening for "Hey Siri"!

With an unobtrusive headset that always listened for "hey siri", life would be so convenient!  No raising of a watch to your face a la Dick Tracy; no more fishing your phone out of your pocket to look something up!  With the headset always in your ear, you simply ask what you want, preceded by a quiet "Hey Siri" and Siri whispers you the answer.

There are so many things that could be facilitated by such a device.  I can imagine, for example, a situation in which I need to interact with my Chinese in-laws.  I could simply put my iPhone or my arm with Apple Watch on the table and whisper to Siri "Hey Siri, begin translating."  When I subsequently say something, the Chinese translation pops out of the iPhone or Apple Watch, for my in-laws to hear.  When they respond, the watch or iPhone pick it up and Siri whispers the translation into my ears!  This is getting pretty darn close to Star Trek's universal translator, isn't it?  The technology is all here!

And there are some promising signs that Apple is, indeed, thinking in that direction.  A year ago, Apple bought Beats Audio.  Granted, this was likely about acquiring that company's music talent and streaming service, but Apple likely also picked up some serious audio expertise in the transaction.   Then there was yesterday's news that apparently a shell company (i.e. a company that doesn't really produce anything and whose ownership is hidden) copyrighted the name "Airpods" in several countries.  The law firms handling this company's business just happen to be the same ones Apple has previously used when using shell companies to hide its tracks.  Hm....

Hey Apple, if you hear this: will you give me a pair of Airpods, if my predictions prove to be right?

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