As Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, Dave Coplin knows more than anyone about what the future holds. We've been quizzing him about wearables...

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If you’ve been following Vodafone Social over the last few weeks, you’ll have no doubt spotted a couple of contributions from Dave Coplin, Microsoft UK’s Chief Envisioning Officer. He’s the man who knows what’s coming next from one of the biggest forces in mobile.

In our time with Dave we’ve covered mobile and PC convergence, the future of voice and how to choose the right method of input for the right device. But today he’s turning his attention to wearables, and how Microsoft is looking at the burgeoning tech differently from everyone else…

Making smart, simple

“The thing that makes Microsoft special,” Dave begins, “which is a thing that we don’t really talk about a lot, is the breadth of what we do. In order to make mobile work, you don’t just need a device; you don’t just need a bunch of software that runs on the device. You need a whole ecosystem that makes is accessible and useful.

“As an example: you need a productivity suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint). So you need to know what that means, and what it looks like on mobile. But then what about wearables?”

It’s a good question. With Android Wear watches, the upcoming Pebble Time and the Apple Watch all providing slightly different interpretations of what a wearable tech interface should look like, there’s not yet a clear cut answer.

“If you have a device that fits on your wrist then it has the capability to let you interact with technology in a really interesting way.”

“I know wearables are a bit of a trendy topic, but they have to be factored into how we define mobile,” says Dave. “Today when we think about wearables all we think about is fitness devices. That’s not the point of wearables – that’s just one use case for them. If you have a device that fits on your wrist then it has the capability to let you interact with technology in a really interesting way. And because we’re Microsoft and we’ve got the breadth, we can start to work on technologies that really bring these devices to life.”

Sounds good, but what does that mean in practice?

“My example is something that we released back in February, which is essentially an algorithm that works with your email, and which uses machine learning to understand patterns of language. So it’ll look at your email and it’ll understand when you’re being asked to make a choice.

“An example could be someone emailing you and asking what you want for tea when you get home – pizza or curry. Instead of displaying a long-winded email on a wearable with a small screen, the algorithm spots that you’re being asked a choice, and will present you with two options: pizza or curry, with a button for each.

“So it has seen the choice, worked out the options and used the limitations of the form factor to its advantage to process the information in a way that’s usable on that particular device.”

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Size matters

When you start to think about the possibilities of what Dave’s suggesting, it suddenly makes a lot of sense: Smart wearables shouldn’t look to replicate the functionalities of other devices; they should work in tandem but in their own bespoke way:

“There are days where I go to work where I’m sat in a conference all day and I don’t even bother taking my laptop.”

“The crucial part of this is that we should never and will never get away from a choice between portability and true functionality. There are days where I go to work where I’m sat in a conference all day and I don’t even bother taking my laptop. I’ll just take my phone. I know that in making that choice I haven’t got a proper computer with me, but I’ve got everything I need to do that shallow productivity stuff. And I’m happy to make that choice because I want a smaller device.

“And then there are other days where actually I barely touch my phone because I’m on my PC all day. I don’t think that choice is going to really change in the short to mid-term. If anything, what I’m hoping is that the devices – like wearables – will get smaller so I’ll have even more choice, and even more ways to work and play.

“We’re going through a phase at the moment where phones are getting bigger,” he says in closing, “but I actually think we’ll see a point soon where we’ll see them getting smaller again, because we’ll have the capability to connect with them in different ways.”

More on Microsoft: What does Windows 10 mean for Windows smartphones? Find out here. Let us know what you think of Dave’s vision of the connected future in the comments section below!