An anonymous source cited by 9to5Mac claims that Google is working on a Google Watch, as rumored — a “fifth screen,” if you will, to complement the computer, television, smartphone, and tablet.
The smart watch makes sense, from the consumer electronic industry’s perspective, if only for size reasons, which is one reason Samsung already has one on sale, and Sony’s working on it. Increasingly, personal technology is about accessing different slices of the same content from screens of various sizes. We’ve gone about as big as we can go with the television, and we’ve also segmented screen sizes all the way between the smartphone and HDTV. For hardware manufacturers, the only remaining way to go is smaller — thus the smart watch.
According to 9to5Mac’s widely-read article, the Google Watch “is happening soon,” and when it does, it will be heavily focused on Google Now, which is Google’s anticipatory butler app, ready to push alerts, reminders, and news to you based on your context, including what time it is. You can already use Google Now on Android or iOS, by simply installing the Google Search app, granting it varying levels of access to your other Google stuff (search, gmail, calendars, etc), and then swiping up to see various cards.
These Google Now cards indicate everything Google can think of to tell you at a certain time based on everything it knows about you — breaking news, the fastest way home from work at the time you usually commute, live flight updates based on your flight confirmation emails, local phrases and exchange rates when you travel, updates about your sports teams and stocks in real time, and nearby attractions, movies, restaurants.
This is helpful. It’s also downright scary, if you’ve yet to accept that our devices might know more about us, facts-wise than any other person on the planet.
We’ve gone from the “ask Jeeves” model of querying our digital assistants to carrying them around with us, and now, they’re piping up all on their own. Many of us are using our actual fingerprints to log into our phones, which know where we are, what we are doing, what we did earlier, what we will probably do later, what sites we visited from Google Chrome on any device, all of our appointments, our emails, and even when we are walking, sitting, cycling, or sleeping.
It seems crazy that in about 15 years we’ve gone from pretty much nobody having a cellphone, to everyone having a cellphone, to those cellphones knowing this much about us. Plenty of articles have and will be written about the privacy implications of the privacy implications of this development, especially if this would-be Panopticon extends to our wrists. We’ll let you read about that there — for now, let’s look at how a Google Now Watch could look for music fans and the music industry.
If one accepts the premise of giving an app platform (like Google Now) access to a vast amount of our personal information and then interfacing it with a device that is strapped to our body (a smart watch), as we all might do eventually, here’s what we’ll get music-wise.
Music controls: The smart watch is not mean to replace the smartphone (if it did, we’d be back down to four screens again, which would make the industry sad, but also watches have small screens and you can’t use them with both hands). As such, the most obvious use for the smart watch in a music context will be as a remote control for when your phone is in your backpack, jogging holster, iPhone speaker dock, and so on.
Simple Biofeedback: Fitness apps and music apps with a fitness bent can already select music that has the appropriate tempo for your workout. Smartwatches will help with that, and could also enable gesture-based music controls on a fairly rudimentary level.
Home automation: You can’t believe any rumor about unreleased products, especially where Apple is concerned, but it seems conceivable that Apple’s smart watch will have a home automation focus. As usual, Samsung and everyone else will likely copy Apple as soon as such a device is released,
Smarter show alerts: Obviously, the same alerts that now show up on your phone when a band you like is in town can appear on a Google Now-style smart watch — except now, those alerts could be run against your calendar, so the app doesn’t bother telling you your favorite band is in town on a given weekend if you’re already scheduled for a wedding or other commitment.
Contextual music selection: The music app that we envisioned here, which would select music based on crazy factors like your average walking speed, the length of your stride, and the BPM of the music that will get you to the train on time if you walk at that pace, will become more possible. (This is already enabled, to an extent, by the new standalone motion detecting processor in the iPhone 5s).
More pervasive sharing: Instead of waiting until you look at one of your other screens, you’ll be able to see when your friends or people you follow in a purely musical context see what people post, like, or play on This Is My Jam, Facebook, Spotify, Rdio, etc.
Complex biofeedback: You’ll be able to wave your hands in the song.
Much easier feedback to music apps: Any programmed music app worth your time already includes a steering mechanism — some way to say “yes, this song rules, more like this please” or “never pollute my headphones with this song or band again.” Two things will happen if we start making those statements via smart watch:
- We’ll give music apps way more feedback, which will mean better music programming (on that service at least).
- Much like Google Now itself, smart watch-enhanced music apps would be able to guess what we want to hear at a given time based on everything the watch and our other devices know about us and how our days go. Wacky stuff like proposing your favorite high-energy, happy-sounding song right after you email someone about being depressed is possible with a smartphone — but it’s way more possible if you can respond to it (play it or not play it) by merely glancing at your watch, rather than opening a dedicated app on your smartphone. And if you don’t like it, it’s easier to skip (see point 1).
Much easier music sharing: In the same way that these Muzik headphones let you share your now-playing song via Twitter or Facebook using dedicated hardware buttons on the headphones themselves rather than a button hidden in a music app somewhere, smart watches will make it far simpler to share actively what you’re listening to (as opposed to simply sharing everything you play).
If you have other ideas on what a context-aware watch might do for music, let us know, and we’ll consider adding your idea to this list with linked attribution.
(Concept images of Google’s rumored smart watch courtesy of GeeksHaveLanded)