Tuesday 10 March 2015
Apple Watch: Let's face it, this is a really stupid idea
As well as being a useless and expensive iPhone accessory, it may actually be inconvenient, and further alienate those around you
Apple, which once put a U2 album on everyone's iTunes without asking, announced the release date for its much anticipated Apple Watch yesterday. The device is a smartwatch, so sort of like a phone, but with a much smaller screen. And you wear it on your wrist.
According to some tech experts, “it’s not unreasonable to imagine a potential 90m Apple Watches on wrists globally by the end of 2016.” This is a message to those 90m people: don't do it. Please. There are better things to spend $17,000 (or £13,500 in the UK) on.
To be fair, not all of the Apple Watches will cost $17,000 – only the luxury “Apple Watch Edition” model will. Some of the cheaper watches will cost as little as $349 (£299). But the $17,000 price is important, because it signifies a betrayal of Apple's previous commitment to producing high quality products at a mass-market level.
The price positions the Apple Watch as a luxury, which indicates that he watch itself is essentially useless. Luxury products are not distinguished by their utility, but by their price tag. Their point is not be useful, but to show how much money their owner has, and, indeed, they are more effective at demonstrating wealth the less useful they are: only the very rich can afford to spend thousands of dollars on nothing at all.
The Apple Watch falls perfectly into this category. Its use is best currently described as "it can do all the things your smartphone does, but on your wrist, and on a smaller screen." It can't actually work without an iPhone; it is a $17,000 iPhone accessory.
Worse than being useless, it may actually be inconvenient. Some early users have complained that the interface is not particularly intuitive, and takes a while to learn. The watch is meant to stay dark until the wearer raises her arm, and might require users to wave their arms around a lot.
Added to the social stigma associated with checking a watch, I can't see this waving requirement endearing many Apple Watch users to those around them. Imagine sitting in a meeting or on a date, waving your arm around for a bit, then casually looking at your watch to see whether you've got any emails. I think it's safe to say there may be some social teething problems.
The Apple Watch may not be that convenient when you're on your own either. It has an 18 hour battery life given a normal day's use, so you'll need to charge it every day (and the Apple page on battery lifeuses the phrase “actual results may vary” an awful lot). To charge it, you'll need a special cable that won't be compatible with anything else you own, and you'll have to carry it around with you too, unless all your friends have Apple Watches as well.The Apple Watch also allows its wearer to transport themselves into a desert with the model Christy Turlington
Buying the Apple Watch might also prove arduous. Before its release, it will be available by appointment to try on, and after release you will only be able to buy it in stores by reservation.
These minor inconveniences mask more insidious problems. A device that functions as a gatekeeper for people who receive too much information on their iPhones will inevitably encourage more information to be sent.
Also, Cook isn't lying when he says the Apple Watch was “the most personal device [Apple] have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you.” This very intimacy is problematic: it represents a further intrusion of the busy world of notifications and ads into modern life. The watch will normalise, with its soft notifying vibrations on your wrist, the connection of the world of data and the physical body. “Wearable” computing is the start of the drift from owning computers to have computers inside of us: it is not a great conceptual leap from Google Glass to eye implants, or from the Apple Watch to having a chip in your arm that gives you a small electric shock every time your boss sends you a message.
These dystopias are all in the future though. For now, the Apple Watch is a weird luxury, and the question remains: do you really want to pay $17,000 – or even $349 – to get more email?