In 2006, I was telling anyone who would listen — which, given that I was a nerdy 19-year old, wasn’t many people — to buy Apple stock. Back then Apple seemed to be on the verge of something amazing. I had had an iPod since 2003, and had just bought a Macbook Pro, and was blown away by OS X. The operating system and interface had a crispness and an attention to detail that made Windows PCs seem like a muddled mess.
Turns out I was right about Apple. The past decade has seen Apple blow up bigger than I dreamed they might. The iPhone and iPad have been stunning successes that have allowed Apple to redefine what personal computing is. And now Apple is the biggest company in the world.
And the Apple Watch — their first new product line since the iPad — seems like a step in the wrong direction. Admittedly, I haven’t used an Apple Watch yet. But why bring out a watch when other elements of your product line have made watches obsolete?
I’m happy to have my wrists free. A smartphone already does what a watch used to do — tell the time — plus so, so, so much more. I don’t want another screen, especially not a tiny and hard-to-click one strapped to my wrist that actually requires tethering to a smartphone to work. Interface design has been the key difference between Apple and Apple’s competitors in the past 10 years and to hear complaints about the interface seems pretty damning.
Yes, I can see some point to a biometric data-collection band, especially for athletes and fitness junkies and for hospital patients. Yes, I understand that sooner or later a new model of the Apple Watch will not require a tethered iPhone to work.
But at this point this is a niche product, functionally akin to the Apple Newton in the early ’90s. It does some cool stuff. But it’s not going to change the world.
The trouble is that I think Apple is barking up the wrong tree. This is like a successful band’s dodgy fourth album where they rehash earlier ideas in pursuit of that indefinable thing that made them great in the first place. The trouble is that that thing — the bleeding edge — has moved on. Trying to recapture it by rehashing old ideas in a slightly different form might sell some records. And Apple will sell some watches. But it’s not going to change the world.
The bleeding edge technologies that will change the world immeasurably in the next 20 years are self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, 3-D printers, ultra-efficient solar cells that can produce energy more cheaply than fossil fuels, and battery and energy distribution technology to allow the ultra-efficient solar cells to power things when the sun isn’t out. Apple are actually working on some of these things.
The Watch is — at best —an unworthy distraction. Of course, like most ageing rockstars, Apple has the time and money for unworthy distractions. And that’s why younger, leaner competitors may be the ones to bring the truly revolutionary products to market.
Of the three screens — Watch, iPhone, and iPad — the iPhone is the one most awkward to me. Too big to be conveniently kept in the pocket (especially at iPhone 6 sizes), too small to show rich data. I’d love to have a Watch, plus a tiny, minimal iPhone that essentially serves as a communications hub for the watch and the tablet.
Have you used the Watch? People who have say the interface is pretty bad. At least with the iPhone navigation/data input is okayish.
Not yet, no, and certainly it may have some fundamental flaws that can’t be fixed. I’m thinking purely in terms of form factor at the moment, as I wouldn’t pick one up until second generation anyway. But I rarely use the phone for input, either; I generally pull out the tablet for that, and just use the phone as a hotspot. When I actually interact with the phone, it’s mainly to consume small chunks of data — news alerts, weather warnings, @ tweets, text messages, that sort of thing. Unless I’m physically walking around, I switch to the tablet to read the full stories, reply, etc., because it’s just better at that. For that particular usage pattern (and I realize it may be very unusual), it seems to me that the Watch would serve me better than the phone for the consumption activity — assuming any UI issues related to that particular sort of consumption can be resolved.
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It’s possible that Apple is simply exploiting the ardent-fan base, people who will buy anything supposedly new if it’s from Apple, regardless of whether it does anything substantial for them. There are also the people who buy Rolexes and other extremely expensive wristwatches; clearly, they’re not interested in mere functionality either. They’re signaling that they have a lot of money and a certain set of cultural values. A large part of Apple’s genius and success has been marketing, not functionality. At this — judging what signals people want to send, and providing them with the means — they’ve been very good. I would not be surprised to see millions of people sporting their watches.
That’s what I was getting at with my comments about ageing rockstars. Exploiting the fanbase is what this is. They will sell some. Probably more than competitors. But it’s not gonna change the world the way some of their earlier products did.
I stopped wearing a watch when I got my first cell phone (a long time ago). Most of us did. I’m not likely to strap one on now! IMO, Apple should have skipped the watch and gone straight to an implantable device. Not that I’d want that, either, but I think more people would.
Then again, I’m old and grew up wearing watches. To me, watches are old tech. To a new generation that never wore one, it just might seem new.