Apple just took the wraps off its new iPhone 6, which ships on Sept. 19 for a contract-tethered starting price of $199. Along with the phone came a new — and much-anticipated — device from the Cupertino, Calif., company: the Apple Watch. Apple’s first foray into the field of wearable devices, which are multiplying like digital rabbits, the Apple Watch heralds new ways to do a lot of old things: text messages, checking the weather and social media, but it also has maps and turn-by-turn directions built in. It will start at $349 and be available in early 2015.
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Having all this information on your wrist may be as convenient — or more so — than having it on your phone, but looking at your wrist while driving may not be an advisable experience for drivers.
- Because you don’t have to fish a smartwatch out of your pocket or purse, the Apple Watch has the potential to be used even more often by drivers, especially on short trips. While we’re learning to store smartphones and forget them, it may be hard to quell the urge to check a text that’s right there on your wrist.
- Equally critical on the app side is the need to create a usability benefit. Just because an app occupies an 8-inch dashboard screen instead of your 5.5-inch iPhone or an even-smaller Apple Watch, that doesn’t necessarily make the app better from a usability standpoint.
- The Apple Watch, like any smartwatch, seems more like a notification device than something you’d actually want to stare at and would be a poor replacement for today’s more advanced multimedia systems in new cars. However, owners of older cars might use these devices more.
- Using the Apple Watch for navigation and turn-by-turn directions is a great idea … if you’re walking. But the small screen and moving your arm away from the wheel to look at the map make it a hard sell for drivers. Even prompts to turn using vibrations as well as visual cues seem less useful for drivers.
- The device has some nifty tricks that would aid any driver. Among them are contextual text replies, which means if someone texts you a question with multiple-choice answers (like which of two movies you want to go see) the watch prepopulates the answers so you can tap one. By contrast, many preprogrammed text responses in automotive multimedia systems adhere to a rigid set of answers; this blows them into the Stone Age.
- Siri Eyes Free and Apple CarPlay enable free-form speech-to-text dictation, but the Apple Watch has potential to simplify things even more. Unfortunately, it’s another eyes-off-the-road distraction. Will in-car speech-to-text integration adopt contextual response like the Apple Watch? Stay tuned.
- Some automakers have already boarded the smartwatch bandwagon. BMW will reportedly have an Apple Watch app that shows charge levels and other basic information for the i3 or i8. It’s not BMW’s first foray into wearables; the automaker launched an i3 app for the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch earlier this year.
- What about driver distraction? Consumer Reports notes that several states are considering bans on Google Glass and other wearable devices. Federal regulators have clamped down on smartphone usage while driving, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already has its hands full with automakers. Citing that some 17 percent of all crashes in 2010 involved driver distraction, NHTSA issued recommendations in 2013 for how drivers could interact with dashboard multimedia screens, as well as how much information unrelated to driving such screens should display.
Devices like the Apple Watch pave new avenues of connectivity, but the driver’s seat should remain all about driving.