Are wearables the future of news?

As the director of mobile products at The Washington Post, Julia Beizer is the company’s soothsayer. Her job is to constantly peer into media’s crystal ball and determine how the news organization approaches the future.

Today’s launch of the Apple Watch is also the culmination of months of work Beizer and her team have committed to redefining how The Post’s readers get their news in this interconnected world. We spoke with Beizer about the role wearable technology will play in media and society, as well as how the Post approaches this new device.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Let’s talk wearables. Why all the attention?

Wearables are the next big thing. These really powerful computers we all carry around in our pockets and purses all day, and have in our hands from morning to night? Wearables are the next step of that. Wearables are even taking one more step of friction out of the equation: You don’t have to pull your phone out of your pocket; you just have it on your wrist.

Are wearables a fad or will they be as embedded into society as, say, PCs?

I think that whether or not it’s a fad, it doesn’t matter. It’s beside the point. Fundamentally, as we’ve seen with all new technology, there’s an early adopter wave. This first wave, if I were a betting woman, I’d say is going to be small. But how this first wave uses these products will affect how these products are used moving forward.

We’ve seen this first wave – see: Google Glass – that never really caught traction with the mass consumer audience. Many point to Glass’s not-so-sexy design: Glass doesn’t look good. Do you think wearable technology, in order to go from early adopter to that next phase, needs to be not only functional and useful, but also look good?

You have to remember this is very early on. Let me tell you a story. Back when I was in the newsroom, as an editor of the mobile web, we had a lot of freedom to play around. There wasn’t a ton of scrutiny about what we were doing. We were experimenting a lot. I feel that same sort of excitement I felt about the mobile web, in the 2009 days, that I feel about wearables. Because the way people are consuming is so new and different, we have the opportunity to experiment with how we present news and information. The fact that Google Glass didn’t result in being the coolest fad, I think, again, is more indicative of how new the technology is and how people have to figure out how it fits into their lives.

The interesting thing with technology, as that early adopter moves to a more mainstream audience, the price comes down. Do you see that happening with wearable technology? Do you think a lower price point will drive user acceptance?

Yes. With Google Glass, you had to be really committed; you couldn’t just dabble with it. It retailed at $1,500. That’s a lot of money for someone. And if the demand hasn’t been created yet and the users haven’t quite figured out how it fits into their lives, for it to be such a high consideration price, you’ve limited its appeal out of the gate. That was one of the things that was exciting about Android Wear and Samsung watches. They’ve all experimented with lower price points. That is something that will allow more people to get into the fold.

And I think the design point you brought up earlier is a good point, as well. One of the things that I have talked about is that really the ideal consumer for a smart watch is a woman. Our phones are in our purses. And when it rings, it’s actually hard to get it out in time. And a lot of the smart watch design has been geared towards masculine audiences. I think that’s a real opportunity for smart watch manufacturers to see how can we design more for a woman.

Will wearables change how content is created?

At The Washington Post, we’re betting that it is. We believe in something we call “adaptive journalism”; how can we seamlessly translate the content experience across any device the user is on. We see a real opportunity to prove out those ideas in the watch space. We started with Android Wear around customized news delivery. On our Android product you can set a timer in our phone and tablet app that will push the headlines out. With Apple Watch, we’re going in a different direction. We’re trying to think about what watch-first journalism looks like.

And that is?

Our plan for the Apple Watch app is that we’ll give users a full list of top headlines – which is something any user would expect coming to a news app on a watch – but the first story will be something we call “Big Story Small Screen.” When you tap into that you end up in a scroll view of words and pictures telling news of the moment. Maybe that’s March Madness; who’s winning, losing; what big games are on tonight. Maybe it’s the latest pictures out of Ferguson and the latest news there. We’re keeping these things short. We’re trying to really give the reader everything they need to know in that small screen of canvas.

So the Apple Watch is going to be big?

Yeah, I think it’s going to be big. How people use it and fit into their lives is the biggest unknown. For us, that’s the most exciting part. The way we we’re now picking up stories in bits and threads throughout our day, we’re spending less time on one dedicated thing in life – especially reading news – and so if the watch is a place people will consume news, we want to make sure we’re there, tailoring what’s right for that platform.