Before its launch, I said that the Apple Watch would be as much a watch as the iPhone is a phone. Recall that when the iPhone was launched it was anchored on three tentpoles, one of which was being a phone and that when the Apple Watch was launched it was also anchored on three tentpoles, one of which was being a watch.
Realizing that on the iPhone the “phone” is but an app — one which I find populated with FaceTime calls rather than cellular calls and whose messaging history is filled with iMessage threads rather than SMS — I consider it safe to say what the iPhone is today not as much a phone as a very personal computer. And so the question is whether the Watch will quickly leave behind its timekeeping anchor and move into being something completely different.
I had the chance to use the Watch for a few days and can say that timekeeping is probably as insignificant to its essence as it’s possible to be. It feels like a watch in the physical sense, looking good in the process (as the iPhone physically felt like a phone, also without being hard on the eyes)
However it does not feel like a watch conceptually. I find myself drawn into a conversation by its vocabulary of vibrations. I find myself talking to it. I find myself listening to it. I find myself glancing at information about faraway places. I find myself paying for things with it. I find myself checking into flights with it. I order transportation, listen to news, check live data streams and get myself nagged to exercise. It tells me where I am. It tells me where to go. It tells me when to leave.
Nothing ever worn on a wrist, or anywhere else for that matter, has done any of these things before. Not only are these things mesmerizing but they are done in a productive way on a wristwatch. In other words they are done in a mindful way.
Cynics may say it does too little. Philistines may say it does too much. But for me it does just what I want it to do when I want it done. The things which are not done stay out of the way. This discretion is just as important as the effectiveness of action.
Even more remarkably, this tasteful minder is offered not to a fortunate few but to millions of people of average means. In the true sense of technological democratization, Apple Watch is a phenomenon for mass consumption.
Its launch needs to be understood as a watershed event. It could be compared to the launch of the Mac or the iPhone but it is different as much as it is the same.
The product has a completely different character. It tries not to do more but to do less. But that which it does is more meaningful, more thoughtful. We talk of computing speeds and network feeds but we spend much more time and money to visit people who have little to say and say it slowly. We value charm and wit more than bandwidth and throughput. We are drawn to beauty more than to speed. This is what this computer captures.
A maxim of the computing of the 21st century is that the closer the machine is to us the more we value it. It does not get rewarded for being fast but for being a companion. It does not get valued for features but for beauty. It does not get hired for power but for control. It does not get worn because it’s smart but because it’s clever.
People understand these tradeoffs instinctively. They are not concepts that need selling. The product speaks plainly of itself and its success is therefore guaranteed.