The problem of how to type on a watch-sized touchscreen has had tech watchers and keyboard makers scratching their heads ever since Apple was rumored to be working on a wrist computer. Startups have even been founded with the mission of rethinking Qwerty keyboards in fiendish new ways so typing can still function on a smaller form factor.
So how then has Apple approached this challenge, now that it has finally unboxed its Apple Watch smartwatch? The real deal — announced today — moves away from the user needing to type words out at all by using a variety of techniques.
These include most obviously dictation (Siri is of course on board). There’s also a quick reply feature that does textual analysis of any incoming messages or notifications to auto suggest potential replies — saving the user the need to type the actual words.
Emoji also feature strongly on Apple Watch, with Cupertino offering a series of customizable, animated emoji that can be used to reply to a missive — meaning Watch users can communicate a specific sentiment without actually having to describe their feelings with words.
These are more granular than standard emoji, allowing animated expression to be tweaked to achieve the mot juste, so to speak. You can also send a digital representation of your heartbeat — if you want to let your significant other know that you’re thinking of them, perhaps.
Also on board Apple Watch is something that Apple’s watch guy, Kevin Lynch, described as a new form of communication — aka Digital Touch. This interface lets Watch users send each other taps or draw colored sketches to communicate with each other.
Lynch demoed this by sending the blue-colored fish pictured at the top of the post to a contact to signify that he wanted to go eat sushi. So the Apple Watch is replacing the need to type words by pushing users to create doodles, signs and symbols — a rather ancient form of communication of course.
The idea, presumably, is for Watch users to figure out their own visual shorthand communications as they zing wrist squiggles back and forth. (That’s potentially one way to thwart government digital snooping…)
All of this non-textual messaging does rather beg the question of what happens when an Apple Watch user tries to send a message to a non-Apple Watch user. Will Apple translate their taps and doodles into an iMessage, or turn an animated emoji into a bog standard 2D smiley?
Or will Watch users only be able to send that stuff to other Watch users. We’ll have to wait and see how all that works. The Apple Watch will be released early next year.