Having affection for an Apple product isn’t usually an unpopular opinion. From the earliest days of the Mac to the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, people have forged deep connections with the devices Apple makes, quickly declaring that they could never again live without this or that gadget. It’s a pretty ubiquitous phenomenon, and even the hoards of detractors who (often sight unseen) declare the latest Cupertino creation to be dead on arrival generally climb on board the good-tidings bandwagon after a new Apple product has been on shelves for a few months.
But the Apple Watch hasn’t followed the same trajectory. While the first impressions were mostly positive, initial reviewers were somewhat reticent with their accolades, and few since then have offered much in the way of praise. Apparently, according to many early opinions, the Apple Watch isn’t the transformative device that the iPhone and iPad were, and anyone who buys one will eventually relegate it to a drawer of forgotten jewelry after just a few weeks.
Well, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, everyone else must be wearing it wrong. In the five or so weeks that I’ve had my Apple Watch, it has changed my life in a far more measurable way than any other Apple device was able to do in such a short amount of time. In a sense, it’s taken me back to a time when my iPhone hadn’t yet taken over my consciousness, and I wouldn’t want to give it back for anything else Apple may have in its pipeline.
Like most people who bought an Apple Watch the moment it was available for preorder, I had certain expectations. Aside from the three main aspects Apple touts—timekeeping, messaging, and fitness—I had already earmarked a handful of apps I couldn’t wait to install, essentials like Dark Sky, Workflow, and Clear that I regularly use on my iPhone.
But where I dutifully check the App Store each week to see what’s new for my iPhone or iPad, I barely pay attention to the apps being designed for Apple Watch. It’s kind of the opposite of the iPhone effect—after using Apple’s original handset for just a few days, I craved a store where I could download games and utilities to enhance its usefulness, but with my Apple Watch I want it to be as simple as possible. I have plenty of apps installed, but if they don’t have an accompanying Glance I rarely refer to them. (The exception is 1Password, which offers a secure digital locker for important bits that I might need throughout the day. It’s made stuffing a scrap of paper into my pocket obsolete.)
Apple Watch is a conduit, not just to my iPhone, but to the world around me. While I haven’t used Digital Touch much (mostly due to the fact that I haven’t been able to convince my wife to buy one yet), the concept is central to what Apple is trying to achieve with Apple Watch. It’s not about replacing your phone or even leaving it in your pocket—it’s about using technology to stay more connected, not just through simple or multimedia messages, but through real digital contact. And that concept seems to be lost on many.
When Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPad, he sold us on the full-screen-only mode by describing using Safari as “holding the internet in your hands.” It’s an overblown, hyperbolic description, yet it’s still totally apt: no other screen lets us interact with our browsers in such a way, and as such, the iPad elevates the web experience simply through its presentation.
The Apple Watch does something similar. While there are plenty of things it doesn’t do well and likely never will—such as reading lengthy emails or swiping through voluminous photo albums—its unique form factor allows for a deeper visceral reaction to tasks I had grown accustomed to on my iPhone. The best example of this is when I receive a picture: getting tapped on my wrist to notify me that I have an incoming message and lifting my wrist to see a photo of my son appear is such a joyous interaction, it makes me linger a few seconds longer than I do when a text comes through on my phone. And I’m much more inclined to share it with the person I’m with, something I never did when my face was buried in my iPhone.
Getting a notification on my Apple Watch allows me to stay connected to both people near and apart from me: it’s hard to quantify to someone who hasn’t used one, but getting a message from someone on my watch makes it feel like they’re with me. Much like the iPad put the Internet in our hands, the intimate, personal nature of my Apple Watch adds closeness to messages that my iPhone doesn’t.
When I first heard Apple describe its new watch as its most personal device yet, I naturally assumed it was referring to the fashion aspect—with so many band and body options, there’s literally an Apple Watch to fit any personal taste, from the bright and bold to the decadently lavish. But once I started using it, I understood the deeper meaning of the marketing tag.
Technology generally brings us closer together by pushing us apart—every time a new device enters our lives it sucks a little more time from them. My wife and I bought the original iPhone for each other as a his-and-her wedding presents, but nothing about them brought us closer together. We may have been able to stay in constant contact with each other, but what we gained in long-distance closeness we eventually lost in actual closeness. While we can certainly point to areas where our iPhone have enriched our relationship (particularly with things like near-instant video recording and FaceTime), rare is the time when one of our iPhones isn’t at arm’s length, commanding at least part of our attention.
By comparison, the Apple Watch’s main function has been to take away much of the noise the iPhone brings into my life. I know what you’re thinking—just put your iPhone in a drawer and unplug it if it’s having so much of a negative effect on your life—but the point is that Apple Watch allows me to stay present in both places. Unplugging is one thing, but it’s hard to shut off the part of your brain that wonders what you’re missing in the world. With Apple Watch, I can concentrate on my life without constantly checking my phone to see if I missed an incoming email or refreshing At-Bat to see the Red Sox score.
Keep it simple
I can understand how someone could want more from their Apple Watch, but I’m not looking for Apple to add more apps and functionality. If I had one wish it would be for the Apple Watch to do the same things it does now but let me leave my iPhone at home. But even when future revisions make this version look extraordinarily basic, its core benefit will remain: Apple Watch has returned something extraordinary that I never really knew I could get back.
The iPhone’s original three main features (iPod, phone, and Internet communicator) have all been watered down by the hundreds of things it can do now, but I suspect Apple Watch will never lose sight of its trio of tentpoles. I can’t imagine not wearing it for a week or even forgetting to put it on when I leave the house—and that’s without using the fitness end of it much at all—but I can also understand how people are confused by it.
After delivering so many products that do such great things, it can be strange to have a product that excels at doing so little. Each time I read another article deriding Apple Watch for its dearth of features or general lack of purpose, I’m not surprised—we’ve been conditioned to judge products on how much they do, and the Apple Watch is a clear departure from that.
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.