The difference between a pocket watch and a smartphone


In his commentary on Craig Hockenberry’s article Wearing Apple[1], Marco Arment sums up exactly what I think about smartwatches, with clear brevity. He concludes:

[Smartwatches]: it’s a category that pundits and the tech media are telling us we want, but I’m not sure enough people really do.

And of course this morning, while flipping through articles on Flipboard, I happen to see this one: Apple understands the difference between a pocket watch and a wrist watch, where the author, after recalling how the wristwatch came in use at the end of the XIX Century “when men in the military started strapping their pocket watches to leather straps around their arms,” writes:

Now fast forward to the iWatch. It isn’t here yet, and we are already reviewing, criticizing, and rejecting it before we have even seen it. Some people say, “I don’t need it. Why would I want an iPhone on my arm?”

I think you will want an iPhone on your arm, and in the beginning it will feel just as awkward as those soldiers must have felt when they first strapped their pocket watches to their wrists. To them, it felt unnecessary and maybe even made them feel a bit self-conscious. But after discovering how much easier it is work time into everything they do, the wrist watch became more than a convenience. It changed the outcome of wars.

And I thought about Marco’s words, quoted above.

The parallelism ‘from pocket watch to wristwatch’ = ‘from smartphone to smartwatch’ doesn’t really work as seamlessly as the author suggests. On the one hand, you have the same object, a watch, that’s made practical by strapping it to your wrist instead of being in your pocket and attached to your trousers or waistcoat. It changes location, but not its inherent functionality.

On the other hand, moving a smartphone from the pocket to the wrist poses multiple design challenges, but in a nutshell you simply can’t have on your wrist the same object you now carry in your pocket, because a smartphone does a thousand things more than a watch. It’s not that simple. Not even for Apple.

And I still think it’s not that essential, either. Why should I want to purchase a necessarily crippled device to wear on my wrist when I can have a full-featured, fully functional one in my pocket?

(More thoughts about wearables and smartwatches in my article Wearables: thinking aloud.)



  • 1. Hockenberry’s article is really interesting and insightful, and I’m still mulling over it. I’ll probably write a few observations in the following days.


The Author

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!