It’s painful to release the first version of a product, even if —as Reid Hoffman says— the absence of pain means you waited too long. Apple Watch is evidently being released before several sensors intended for inclusion could be perfected, reducing its impact as a health-aiding device [1], for example.

But for many —especially those in industry circles— even potentially transformative health benefits are mysteriously unexciting, and Apple Watch has struggled to convey its utility to the technorati. For Apple, it’s a typical new product launch: pundits decry a lack of utility or functionality while eyeing a broader market whose reactions they cannot anticipate. Indeed, it may well be that Apple doesn’t care at all about how nerds react, since they target regular users instead.

That said, I’m surprised that Apple Watch didn’t launch with a feature that would have made it indispensable to nerds, one described by former Apple employee and usability design legend Bruce Tognazzini in 2013 [2]:

The watch can and should, for most of us, eliminate passcodes and passwords altogether on iPhones, and Macs and, if Apple’s smart, PCs: As long as my watch is in range, let me in! That, to me, would be the single-most compelling feature a smartwatch could offer: If the watch did nothing but release me from having to enter my passcode/password 10 to 20 times a day, I would buy it. If the watch would just free me from having to enter pass codes, I would buy it even if it couldn’t tell the right time! I would happily strap it to my opposite wrist!

To clarify: when one uses one’s fingerprint to unlock an iPhone, it can tell the Watch that “this user is authenticated”; then, so long as the Watch doesn’t leave the wrist —which it can detect— the Watch can “vouch” for that user on any laptop, desktop, or other device Apple chooses to support, just as it does with Apple Pay. Indeed, one wouldn’t need to enter a username or password in Safari, in an app, or an Apple TV.

Tog hints that Apple should spread this capability to PCs as well, perhaps with a PC-system wide “Apple ID” utility of some kind; likewise, Apple can spread Safari’s password-generator and management system-wide in OS X, so that in any app, in any browser, the Watch can be one’s authentication. There are likely significant engineering and security challenges with this expansion of the functionality, but it’s probably practicable and is surely worth it. Even if not, having this problem solved solely within their ecosystem is still desirable.

Not only would this be a boon for users, but indeed for security in general: if all passwords are generated by a systems-wide function, they can be significantly more complex than they are when we must remember them. Indeed: if the Watch can make payments secure at merchants around the world, it can surely make signing into my laptop, Facebook, and Twitter secure, too.

Indeed, this is such an obviously desirable feature that I strain to imagine it was simply omitted or fell victim to deadlines; it may be that there is an unsolved technical challenge; there could also be other challenges, too —for example, if someone switches wholly to this system and loses their Watch, what happens? It may be that Apple is working on a truly comprehensive system with that problem addressed across the Mac, iOS, and PCs (and others?) and has —as it were— a “killer app” in their back pocket for Apple Watch 2.0. Such a system would indeed take time.

It’s even worth wondering: did they omit this feature from launch in part because it “techifies” the marketing message? This is uselessly speculative, but interesting; did Apple want the message to focus on health, love (messaging, drawings), and beauty (faces, materials, photos) in lieu of how much this gizmo helps us dorks get into our machines? It seems doubtful, but I don’t know.

Tog shares another “obvious” killer feature: reducing the many steps involved in “Find My Phone” to one:

As long as your device is close by, just scrawl a question mark on the top of your iWatch or perhaps ask Siri, “Where’s my phone?” and your phone will light up and start chiming. Of the eight steps [normally involved], you need perform only [one]. [Also:] By the time you realize you have left your top-secret prototype iPhone sitting on the bar, some on-line tech blog will have probably already published an article on it. However, with the iWatch on your wrist, as soon as you move out of range, it will tell you that you’ve forgotten your phone, then help you locate it, as needed. That’s a lot more useful than waking up the next morning to discover you seem to be missing something, only to then press Find iPhone into service.

This feature —like the ability to control the Apple TV [3]— may indeed be in Apple Watch already without having been trumpeted. But neither they nor anything else address a problem felt so acutely among technology pundits (and workers!) as that of passwords and general account security. I hope that Apple is only waiting to address this need because they’re working on a broad, perfected solution. As Tog notes:

The iWatch can and should neatly fix the two most serious problems we have with our current mobile devices, ones we may not even realize we have. Only Apple holds the necessary keys to address the first of these, so only Apple will. The paradox of the “huge problem”: A problem that feels sufficiently insurmountable will appear the product of natural law, to be accepted rather than challenged. [These] first two killer applications are neither sexy nor fun, but they will make our lives so much more pleasant.

And above all, the question I hear most from reviewers, critics, analysts, bloggers, and the assorted talking heads in my feeds is a simple one: what can the Apple Watch do for me? Coupled with all that Apple’s shown so far, Tog’s suggestion seems like a great answer.

Notes   

1.What Exactly Is an Apple Watch For? – WSJ (Paywall; for summary, see: Apple Watch 2.0 could feature some major improvements). In sum: Apple either couldn’t perfect the function of some nifty sensors —like one to measure stress via galvanic skin response— or feared FDA regulation and disclosures required by it. The sensors may be in future versions of the watch.

2. The Apple iWatch is an all-around must-read, in my opinion.

3. Tim Cook says Apple Watch can control the Apple TV and hints at other uses in full-length Bloomberg interview.

Mills Baker