Personal observations about the Apple Watch

Steve Jobs, in January 2007, famously introduced the iPhone as three devices in one: an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communication device.

Tim Cook, in September 2014 and March 2015, introducing the Apple Watch, has picked a somewhat similar approach. The Watch, too, is sort of three devices in one: “the most advanced timepiece ever created, a revolutionary way to connect with others, and a comprehensive health and fitness companion.”

Apple Watch - 3 devices

The iPhone in 2007 was a completely new device and device category for Apple, and the same thing is happening now with the Watch. Using the ‘three-devices-in-one’ approach is a way to pass a set of coordinates, so that people can have an initial grasp of what the new device is and can do. True, in the case of the iPhone, presenting it the way Steve Jobs did was more like an unveiling trick, a little sleight of hand to surprise the audience. More than eight years have passed, and the iPhone has transformed so much, it has become so much more than it was originally, but if we stop and think about how things were back then, defining the iPhone that way was a succinct way to say, “This is not just a new mobile phone, but a device that can also handle your music just like an iPod, and an Internet communication device, because you really can do Web and email, and other Internet-powered stuff like Maps, etc.”

Similarly, how to briefly define something like the Apple Watch, which is obviously more than a wristwatch in the way the iPhone was and is more than just a phone? Let’s start with those three things — an advanced timepiece, a device to connect with others in new ways, and a health/fitness tracker.

What excited me about the iPhone in 2007 was, of course, the device itself from a hardware standpoint, then its technologies (how seamlessly Multi-Touch worked, for example), then the software, and finally and most importantly its potential. I immediately thought about how much the iPhone’s functionality could be extended with third-party apps, and the resulting emotional impact I had as the 2007 Macworld keynote unfolded was I want to have this. This is definitely going to be my next phone.

And potential is really what excites me now with the Apple Watch. As crazy as it may sound, what makes me want to have an Apple Watch isn’t (just) what Apple showed about it in September 2014 and last Monday. It’s what it’s going to come up for it down the road. The possible applications and use cases. It’s a huge bet, the same bet Apple is taking, I think, but that’s what it is for me in the end. It is a most intriguing direction.

I went back and re-read Apple Watch: Additional observations, an article I wrote in September 2014 after the first introduction of the Watch, looking for a quote to use in this one, instead I’m just leaving the link here and offer that whole article as a refresher of my general observations about the Watch — I still stand by it.

Tim Cook has repeatedly said that the Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever made. This piece is called Personal observations because at this point, there’s no other approach that makes sense for me with this product. And I think that a lot of the current debate in the tech sphere is pointless rationalising and overthinking the Watch. It’s an accessory, it’s personal, and ‘explaining’ to people why they should or should not buy it makes very little sense to me. People need to be informed, of course, but with as little editorialising as possible, unless you’re explicitly writing an opinion piece. I say this because I’ve already happened to read a few articles that start as simply ‘reporting information’ pieces, then end up passing judgement or letting the author’s personal feelings towards the Watch seep through.

I’m not here to tell you how you should react to the Watch, and whether it’d make sense for you to get one or not. It really depends on your lifestyle and whether the Apple Watch — now that we have seen another overview of its base features, functionalities, and some new use cases — could fit in your lifestyle or not.

It is also too early to state whether it’s going to be a huge success or a flop. My feeling is that it’s going to be a ‘slow’ success, something more resembling of the iPod’s success than the iPhone’s. Remember that iPod sales really started to grow after 2004, three years after its introduction. Back in 2001, the reactions towards the iPod were mixed. There were the enthusiastic early adopters — people who purchased the original iPod as soon as it debuted because they instantly liked it, or had enough curiosity and enough money to get one. There were people (a lot of them in my circle of friends and acquaintances at the time) who sceptically asked “Why should I buy it? I don’t need it.” And then there were people without a clear opinion or — like me — who appreciated the device but recognised they didn’t have an immediate need for it, who basically opted for a ‘wait and see’ outlook. Then a sort of snowball effect happened: better iPods started coming out, then came the compatibility with Windows PCs, the iTunes Music Store, etc.; more people got an iPod, so more people could see — through friends and acquaintances who bought one — the iPod’s usefulness and/or appeal and decided to get one for themselves too. (I finally decided it was time to buy an iPod in 2003 mainly because my best friend got one before me and gave me repeated examples of its practicality and versatility.)

My feeling is that the Apple Watch will have a similar ‘slow contagion’ diffusion. There are people who are already intrigued by it and want one. There are people who are already asking “Why should I buy it? What problems does it solve?”, and moderate people with a ‘wait and see’ attitude. And I think that the Apple Watch, more than any other Apple device, needs to be seen and tried in person, and more people are going to be convinced one way or the other by seeing the Watch in operation on people they know and trust. The Apple Watch’s potential usefulness (or superfluousness) is definitely something that needs to be experienced ‘in the field’, by watching how your friends and acquaintances use theirs, how they interact (or don’t interact) with it, and so forth.

Is this going to be my next Watch/first smartwatch?

Personal observations, here we go.

I’ve expressed my doubts about wearables and smartwatches in the past, and my conclusion was that they’re not devices I’m in particular need of. Before the Apple Watch was revealed, there also wasn’t any particular wearable or smartwatch I wanted. As I wrote then, “The current offerings are unstylish, uninteresting and unimaginative devices, which appeal only to a niche target of enthusiasts and technophiles.”

The simple, disarming fact is that I like the Apple Watch. A lot. Like with the first iPhone, I like the hardware, I like the software and UI, I like the various different customisation options, and, like I said above, I’m intrigued by its potential. I wish I had $349 to spend, because I’d really love to be an Apple Watch early adopter. This is my favourite model of the Apple Watch Sport line, the one I’d purchase:

38mm Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band

The 38 mm Space Grey aluminium case with Black Sport Band (I have small wrists).

When I was a teenager and the 1980s digital watch invasion was at its peak, I was obsessed with wristwatches. I had a few and the more they were customisable, the better. My favourite was this Citizen watch, whose various modes weren’t fixed, but programmable, meaning that it could be left in its default configuration (one alarm, one timer, one stopwatch, etc.), or you could decide to put a second alarm instead of the timer, or you could have three different timers instead. Each function had its ‘slot’ and the ‘slots’ were configurable. Back then, I had never seen such level of customisation before. So, when I first saw the various faces that can be applied and customised on the Apple Watch, that was a direct call for 14-year-old me. It was like going back in time, but with a device that’s on a whole different level, of course.

During the March 9 event, Kevin Lynch once again demonstrated a few use cases, this time involving additional third-party apps. I see myself using the Apple Watch a lot for quickly checking selected notifications without having to take the iPhone out of my pocket. In this regard, much of the debate has centered around the possible redundancy of the Watch as notification satellite. Or people have pointed out that checking notifications on the Watch is a subtler gesture, and it potentially saves you time — you only see the notification and act on it (or not), you don’t take out the iPhone every time and you’re not tempted to lose yourself in it after checking the notification. A scenario I’ve rarely seen mentioned is when you receive a notification, and taking out the iPhone to check it and act on it would be possible but uncomfortable or not much practical: when you have one or both hands occupied for example (a bag of groceries in one hand, the umbrella in the other), or when you’re commuting and you’re standing on a crowded train or bus (you could take your iPhone 6 Plus out, but with such little room for movement you could drop the phone). Checking the Watch in these and other similar instances would certainly be more effective.

I would also use the Apple Watch to glance at weather information, Twitter, to set reminders, to check songs I hear in shops, restaurants, cafés; to quickly answer texts, to pay via Apple Pay (this is great for those, like me, who don’t have an iPhone 6/6 Plus or don’t want one because it’s too big for their tastes), and I certainly would use its Digital Touch feature more than occasionally. My wife works at a university library; sometimes I need to talk with her and when I send her a message, she may not notice it (maybe she activated Do Not Disturb on her iPhone or has it in silent mode in her purse, or she’s working at her computer while listening to music from her earphones and she doesn’t hear the notification on her iPhone). If we both had an Apple Watch, it’d be great to send her a little nudge to attract her attention, and vice-versa.

Another feature I’d find useful is getting directions on the Watch in that unobtrusive way Lynch detailed back at the September 2014 event. Sometimes I visit parts of the city I’m not terribly familiar with, and in more than one occasion I’ve successfully used Google Maps on my iPhone to move around and find exactly where I needed to head. But walking down a street constantly checking my iPhone for the right turn or crossroads is awkward, and not much different from going about with a paper map opened before me. With the Apple Watch, I could move more naturally, without losing my bearings.

I’m not particularly interested in fitness trackers and I’m not into ‘quantifying myself’ at all. The ‘health and fitness companion’ aspect of the Watch is definitely one of the least interesting features for me. However, lately I’ve been increasingly concerned about the amount of time I spend sitting versus standing. I lead a mostly sedentary life, and spend a lot of time sitting at my desks. That is partly balanced by daily walks and the time I spend standing while cooking. Still I’d like to know more precisely how much I sit, how much I stand, how much I move. After seeing how the Apple Watch works in the tracking department, I think I would indeed take advantage of the functionality for this particular purpose.

These are just the first reasons coming to mind, the first real-life scenarios I think the Apple Watch would serve me well, and I have the feeling I’m just scratching the surface. What makes it a potentially compelling device is the progressive accumulation of use cases. If I review my examples above and isolate them one by one, I’d probably conclude that the Apple Watch is just an expensive iPhone accessory and I would quickly dismiss it without a second thought. I could never buy it only for Glances or Digital Touch or its fitness tracking capabilities. It’s when you start thinking, “Well, it could be useful for this… and this… and this… and that other thing… oh and what if they release an app that does this other thing the iPhone isn’t that great at doing?”, that the Watch slowly starts making sense.

So yes, the Apple Watch will be my first smartwatch, whenever I’ll be able to afford one. As for what you should do, I don’t know. As a first step, I’d simply suggest you keep an open mind, you don’t lose yourself in the current tech debate, and don’t listen to those who use their particular habits and their lifestyle as a standard to determine the Watch’s success or failure, or to judge the merits and shortcomings of the device.

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About Riccardo Mori

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!