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Why Your Smartwatch Purchase Could Determine Which Car You Drive In The Future

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Are you an Android or Apple person? Right now, this determines what kind of smartphone you have, but with the emergence of wearables and the Internet of Things, this decision may influence which products you buy for the rest of your life, from smart home management systems to cars.

A panel of experts gathered for Wristware at Mashable headquarters in New York this week to discuss wearables, but the conversation quickly moved to how much your choice of wearable device could influence all your future tech purchases.

"Basically, it's like choosing a whole life in the future," said CEO and founder of Mashable, Pete Cashmore.

Many users have strong allegiances to Apple or Android, but with phones, they still switch. However, switching costs increase the more devices you have, and that's why these companies love it. Cashmore argued that your choice of smartwatch will likely influence which smart home system you use and possibly a whole host of other tech in the future, including self-driving cars.

"With wearables, you have two devices, and then, in your house you have three and you go to make a big purchase like a car — do you want the one with the Apple OS or the one that will work with all your other devices?" he said.

Cashmore was joined on the panel by Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art;  Marc Rabinowitz, senior UX designer at Code and Theory; Amy Puliafito of Misfit, which produces wearables and smart home products; and Tat Wza, producer of the Funk Flex show for Hot 97 hip hop radio.

The panel generally agreed that wearables and smartwatches in particular were a battleground to control the devices in your life.

"I hope the devices all start working together. If they keep working in silos, it's going to be such a disjointed experience," said Rabinowitz. "Having devices speak to each other is going to be key to creating the best experience for users."

In terms of these ecosystems, the operating system is the most important layer. Previous OS battles generally supported two players — think Apple and Microsoft in personal computing, iOS and Android for smartphones. Cashmore suggested that the dominance of Apple and Google could move into more and more markets, including the automotive world.

"How many vendors are there going to be in cars? There's going to be Google, Apple and maybe Tesla," he said.

"Carmakers are going to be like Samsung in the future," Cashmore explained. "They make the hardware, but the software is way too complicated for them to make. You might buy a BMW, but it might run Google car self-driving technology, or you could buy the Apple one that's end to end."

This vision may be closer than we think, as Google's self-driving car project is advancing rapidly and Apple's Jeff Williams recently mentioned that "the car is the ultimate mobile device," which hints that Apple just may be working on a car.

The other question the panel posed about self-driving cars is whether you would purchase one at all. Couldn't the cars work like Uber and just pick you up and drop you off whenever you need? Sreenivasan mentioned "Drive Now," a pilot service in Germany where you can pick up BMWs for short periods and drop them off at a separate location, which works like Citi Bike for cars. Drive Now is now also being trialed in London, Vienna and San Francisco, and Car2Go runs a similar service in Austin, Texas.

When the conversation did eventually return to wearables and the Apple Watch in particular, the consensus was that it was still early days for the platform, but all the panels believed that the smartwatch would move beyond the notification machine that it currently is.

Cashmore noted that the iPhone didn't really become useful until a year after it was released when Apple launched the app store.

"Apps will make or break the platform," he said.

Apple only announced at this week's WWDC conference that it is opening watchOS to third-party developers to build native apps, which could bring unanticipated uses as had happened with the smartphone. The smartwatch really could be much more than a watch in the same way that the smartphone isn't really just a phone.

"Calling isn't really the main use, but it's just called a phone so that you can understand the context," said Cashmore. "It's the same with a watch; it's not really just a watch, it's a lot more than that, but they have to put it in a language that people can understand."

Puliafito admitted that Misfit's developers, who built an app for the Apple Watch, did so without even getting a physical watch.

The problem with building apps that run on the watch is that they will drain more power from a device that has already been criticized for its poor battery life.

"Battery technology is going to have to improve before we can see the full functionality of these watches," said Wza.

Another criticism raised of the watch was that, despite it being advertised as a convenience tool, unlike a phone, it actually requires two hands to operate.

Puliafito said that price was the biggest barrier to wearables really taking off, but predicted that this will change in the near future.

"$100 wearables aren't going to last very much longer. In the next six to 12 months, I think we're going to see a huge drop in prices in the market," she said. "Eventually, there are going to be health care stakeholders that are going to pay for your wearable."

Already, Oscar Health Insurance is offering all its customers in New York and New Jersey a free Misfit Flash activity tracker if they want one. This raised a few eyebrows from panel members, who wondered if it's a good idea for your health insurer to know your exercise patterns. If your wearable tells them you haven't exercised in the last year, could they raise your premiums, or worse, refuse coverage, citing that you contributed to your own ill health?

Despite these criticisms, there was genuine excitement about wearables and the Apple Watch in particular from the panelists.

"I think the killer app is ordering an Uber. Once they improve the location accuracy, you'll be able to push one button and know and trust that the Uber driver will know where you are," said Cashmore. The other app he liked was Seamless, which, with one click, simply repeats your last order, which is what you want most of the time anyway.

Rabinowitz saw the real value of a watch as a proactive personal assistant.

"It will become more than just a utility device, serving up a richer experience," he said. "For example, if you have a vacation coming up, it could send information and images to your other family members. AI (artificial intelligence) is the new UI (user interface). These services should offer people the superpowers that they might want."

Already, Apple Watches are having unintended consequences within the company. For health reasons, the Apple Watch regularly orders you to stand up, which apparently has led to the phenomenon of Apple executives regularly standing up at random moments during meetings.

The panel was unsure whether that would catch on as "a thing," but it's an example of not knowing where exactly new tech like this will bring us. They were in agreement that when wearables take off, it will happen fast, so if you're still on the fence, it might be time to decide if you're an Apple fan or an Android devotee, because switching allegiances is about to get trickier.

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