After September’s tease, Apple fully unveiled its first foray into the horological sector at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Monday. The Apple Watch, stylised as Watch because why not, is much the same as previously glimpsed, which is to say an accessory that you shouldn’t buy but many people will.
The timepiece itself is inoffensive by the lacklustre standards we have seen developing over the past few years since Pebble overwhelmed Kickstarter. It has a face either 38 or 42 millimetres high, comes in a moderate plethora of metal alloys (aluminium, steel, gold) and straps (plastic, leather, metal of some sort), and runs a custom version of iOS with a new Roboto-esque font, designed for increased legibility at smaller point sizes as Helvetica Neue is a chocolate teapot on normal displays, like the diminutive sapphire crystal panel on display here.
“Apple Watch represents a new chapter in the relationship people have with technology. It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made, because it’s the first one designed to be worn,” claims Apple in their online marketing fanfare, conveniently ignoring the majestic second generation iPod Shuffle. Not worn for long, apparently, as rumours abound (of course, nobody outside Cupertino has properly used one yet) that the battery will last for 18 hours at best and, if used, should only be for 10 second bursts.
Yet, the Apple Watch makes little sense in any context. The very raison d’être for smartwatches is to stop you from looking at your phone all the time by charging you some money for another screen that only does things that your phone can do better whilst still relying on the phone as its source of knowledge. They are the ultimate accessory to opulence; a sign that someone either has more money than sense or some tremendous difficulty in moving their hand to their pocket to see what’s occurring.
Apple’s site brags about how, with Apple Watch, you can leave emoji comments on Instagram, check the charge status of your BMW i3, stay on top of eBay auctions, check sports scores with ESPN, read your Twitter feed, unlock your room at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, read news with CNN, and a scant few more things that they think justify an extra £279+ expense come April 24th. I don’t doubt for one second that they’ll eclipse the existing smartwatch marketplace within minutes, if not days, but what I fail to comprehend is whether putting more onto your wrist actually benefits user experience in any way. The fear is that trying to interact with applications in this form will equate to sheer frustration once the gimmick has worn off and the return window concludes.
Then, there’s the Apple Watch Edition. A worthy rival of fellow smartwatch producer will.i.am’s i.am+ foto.sosho iPhone camera case for the worst product name in the history of consumer technology, the Apple Watch Edition is technically identical to the bog standard Watch Sport (the base model, for those who aren’t following the ineptitude), yet commands a base price of £8,000 thanks to its ceramic-reinforced 18-karat yellow or rose gold casing and fancier strap. You can nudge this up to £12,000 quite easily, and though I’m certain that the target market for this Edition is going to splash out for the sake of it rather than for the value, a typical pricy timepiece is hand-crafted within a Swiss mountain hut and, in some respect, worth it. Flung together by those on the factory floor at Foxconn, the Apple Watch can’t demand such lustre.
Perhaps the reason I don’t understand this impending zeitgeist is because I’m not a connoisseur of timekeeping. As I write, what lurks on my right wrist is a £25 digital Lorus contraption with a scratched face, broken strap and a frustrating method of adjusting the time guaranteeing that it dwells two minutes into the future. Why do I persist with it? Because it can give me a good enough idea of what time it is, just as it has for the last five or so years without any issues, battery charges or extraneous expenses.
If I want any more information, I’ll check my phone. Often, I’ll even look at the phone for the time because I’m already responding to an email or something. You know, those alerts that make a noise or vibration in your pocket and don’t intrude unless they need to, rather than something on my wrist that provides yet another distraction, reeks of torpidity, and provides a dreadful way for users to interact with their technologies. There’s a reason smartphone displays have become bigger of late.
Pebble spent the whole evening mocking Apple on Twitter, and rightfully so. If any smartwatch was a viable commodity, it would be one of Pebble’s. Their emphasis on consuming information rather than interacting with it is reflected in the price tag (£99 for the plastic model, £179 for the steel one), and choice of display, with a Kindle-like e-paper display which is visible in sunlight for those of us that dare to venture outside, and a battery that is claimed to last a whole week.
The Apple Watch, in all its forms, is solutionism embodied. The world’s foremost consumer technology firm has fallen into the trap of building what is by early accounts a clunky and overpriced attempt at resolving the issue of smartphones imposing on our lives – an issue that either they created with the iPhone in 2007 or that they fabricated to extract more from our pockets.
Perhaps the Watch is an attempt by Apple to position itself as a luxury fashion brand rather than a consumer technology giant. Perhaps there is a legitimate market for technology as a fashion accessory that the Apple Watch will spur. Perhaps Jony Ive and co., in all their wisdom, genuinely thought that they should jump on the wearable bandwagon.
All I know is that I won’t be joining them any time soon.