Thoughts on Siri and Devices the Size of an iPod nano



Siri has a metric ton of potential. In just a week and a half it has made a significant impact on the way I interact with my iPhone.

Something that has been in the back of my mind since I first began using Siri is this thought about all the other types of products and devices that Siri could affect. But the device that has most been on my mind is the iPod nano.

Currently the iPod nano plays audio, helps with fitness tracking, and can tell time. When people got the idea of wearing the nano as a watch, then the next leap in functionality seemed obvious: use the nano as a remote to control the Apple TV. And now, with Siri, I think we’re seeing another glimpse into what could be down the road.

Aside about Bluetooth 4.0 and BLE

Apple is using Bluetooth 4.0 technology in the iPhone 4S. A subset of Bluetooth 4.0 is Bluetooth low energy (BLE). What’s great about the BLE is that the chips need very little power. What’s bad about BLE (at least in this context) is that it does not have an audio profile.

The iPod nano would, naturally, want to use the low energy Bluetooth chips. But as they currently stand, BLE would not allow an iPod nano to send or receive audio (i.e. phone calls or Siri commands).

This article’s entire premise of an iPod nano that uses a power-friendly Bluetooth chip to send Siri voice commands isn’t yet possible. It assumes there are some technical hurdles which currently have not been overcome, at least that I know of.

If an iPod nano were to be built using today’s market technology then it would either: (a) not work with Siri and the phone; or, (b) it would need to use a more power-hungry technology of Bluetooth that would allow for audio profiles, but that would require much more frequent charging.

And so, for now, let’s just speculate about what could be.

An iPod nano With Siri

Imagine an iPod nano that could connect to your iPhone. Give that nano a microphone and a speaker, and you’ve got a bluetooth wrist watch that can be used for phone calls, voice commands, and much more.

And so, with an iPod nano that’s connected to our iPhones — and thus has Siri — you could do quite a bit:

  • Send text messages and emails
  • Check the weather and stocks
  • Create, move, view, and edit appointments
  • Dictate notes
  • Create reminders and to-do items
  • Make phone calls

None of those things would be easily done on the nano’s 1.5-inch screen — it is far too small for any sort of substantial text input. About the most you could do is probably tap in the phone number you’d want to dial. Siri, however, could easily enable a nano-sized device to for all those tasks.

I think the idea of a product like this — a touchscreen watch that plays music and also has phone-like capabilities and an ability to connect to and control our other devices — is a no-brainer.

In fact, another company has already announced something along these lines. Recently the i’m Watch website went live. You can now pre-order one of these nano-sized, touch-screen, Android-based, “smart watches”.

The website seems pretty vague when it comes to specifics about what the i’m Watch can do. Also, I have been unable to find any live demoes of the device except for a 2-second clip where the company’s president, Manuel Zanella, is shown swiping left-to-right through a couple photos and then pulling down the notification panel. It’s right around the 03:28 mark of the promo video.

But, from what I can gather, the i’m Watch is meant for two things:

  1. By connecting via Bluetooth, it becomes an extension of your smartphone. Thus you can use the i’m Watch as a way to make and answer phone calls, and read text messages and emails.

    The website doesn’t say anything about sending texts or emails, and so, I assume that you cannot. I mean, how in the world could you be expected to type a message on a 1.54-inch screen, without simply scrolling through the alphabet where all the letters and numbers are in a horizontal row? It’d be worse than rotary dialing.

    Moreover, the i’m Watch supposedly has only 30 hours of standby time when Bluetooth is on (48 hours with it off). That is not very long at all. It means if you use your watch with your phone, you’ll have to charge it every single night. This is exactly why low energy Bluetooth technology would be so helpful.

  2. The i’m Watch will also be able to run some apps. It will play music, show photos, check the weather, connect to Facebook and Twitter, and other things.

But if you’re going to have a “shortcut” device like this — something that lives on your wrist and makes it easier to quickly answer your phone or view a text message — it needs to truly work like it should. It has to be more than a novelty item. And, I think it should be able to connect to more than just your phone.

Interface design, input, and ease of use are important enough for a device with a 3.5-inch screen. These things become even more important, and more difficult to maintain, as the screen-size shrinks to that of a wrist watch. Put another way: as the size of a smart device shrinks, its interface and input challenges grow.

Siri (or, if you want to be generic about it, voice input) is the way to overcome those input and interface challenges. Siri can (and likely, will) enable the creation of vast usability and functionality on an extremely small device such as the iPod nano.

If the iPod nano does eventually become capable of being an all-connected remote window device that works with our iPhones, Apple TVs, and computers, well, that would be pretty slick.