Apple Watch Could Be Most Expensive Remote-Control Device Money Can Buy

After a month of slipping on my Apple Watch each day, I still struggle to find anything remotely indispensable about it. It has a wildly inaccurate calorie counter algorithm. It keeps prompting me to stand…at my standing desk. The pushed alerts from Meerkat and Periscope drove me nuts within a day. And the headline pushes are just nominally valuable.

Many of the third-party apps are sluggish when loading, and are not optimal for catching up even on headlines. It turns out that when I am in the mood or mode to check news, email or any kind of content I would prefer to do it on the larger and richer smartphone platform. I rarely invoke the apps installed on the phone at all. The microscopic interface is awkward, even silly to use.

But lo and behold, the Watch is weaving itself into some unexpected areas of everyday life. It turns out that it is a very convenient Apple TV remote. In fact, it performs better than my iPhone in this regard. I always found using my phone as a TV remote cumbersome, and having to keep it out while watching TV unnatural. The Remote app on the Apple Watch works quite well for scrolling and tapping, and it is at hand whatever my TV viewing posture.

So, there you go. It is a $500 remote that works with only one over-the-top TV device.

But wait, the remote control functionality of the Watch is even more welcome in my car. My Pioneer receiver is synced with my iPhone to stream any of my playlists or music library from  the iCloud via Apple Match.

I have to say that this is one aspect of the Apple ecosystem I still find magical. Being able to build a playlist in my desktop iTunes and then walk out to my car and play it in my Mini Cooper without doing anything else is wondrous. But yanking my phone from my pocket to manage the playlists and start or switch them is cumbersome. All of that functionality is now on my wrist.

Keep in mind that managing the Apple Watch is still a two-handed affair that one shouldn't attempt while driving. Launching the Music app requires either a Siri command or tapping into the app itself, both of which entail interacting with the Digital Crown. Still, having car audio controls off the dashboard is a welcome convenience.

Speaking of the car, the Apple Watch has also proven itself especially handy in enhancing iPhone driving directions. While the phone itself provides voice directions, the Apple Watch gives a vibrating signal in advance of upcoming turns. In fact, the Watch anticipates voice instructions by a few seconds. This is especially welcome since iOs Map voice prompts tend to come when you are right on top of a turn. Glancing at the Watch while driving also shows you the direction, name and distance to the next turn.

Like all things involving the Apple Watch, its immediate value is negligible, even a bit comical. But these rudimentary functions hint at a much broader value wearable device may have in the future. If a month of use is any indication (and who knows if it is), then wearable media may have an important role in interacting with other connected devices.

In many ways, aiming a wrist at an object feels more natural (did I just say “natural”?) than aiming a phone. Perhaps it's the Apple Watch’s place on my wrist that makes it feel more like an extension of my hand. On some level it mimics a native physical gesture more convincingly and less abstractly than the phone to which it is connected.

One wonders if a smartwatch could actually become an effective gesture controller for interacting in sophisticated ways with any kind of digital screen. Out-of-home digital advertising might get a highly personalized interface.  

This column was previously published by MediaPost in the June 18 edition of Moblog.

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