This week Apple announced their "one more thing". A smartwatch.
Uncharacteristically for Apple, I am none the wiser as to why I might want to own a smart watch, especially one from Apple. As Ben Thompson described in his article about the Apple Watch, in his keynotes Steve Jobs sold customers on the story of why someone may wish to buy the iPod, iPhone and iPad. That story was completely missing for the Apple Watch on Tuesday.
Also missing on Tuesday was a bit of that Wow factor. With the iPhone and the iPad (and maybe the iPod too but I don't remember back that far) there was an element of disbelief at the announcement. The iPhone seemed to be so far ahead of its time, yet so obvious in retrospect, that it felt like we had suddenly come into the future. Likewise with the iPad Apple somehow managed to take a computer and condense it into a tiny package for a reasonable price. It seemed impossible.
The Apple Watch just seems like an obvious evolution of existing technologies. It doesn't feel like the future but instead the 1950s version of the future.
Where's my story?
The many different variations of the Apple Watch are all beautifully designed with a lot of exciting, futuristic features but I haven't been sold a story as to why I would want one. It does a lot of things that my phone will do, and to get the most out of it, I'll need to have my phone nearby anyway.
So, what's the point? I'm still not sure.
Personally, I haven't worn a watch for about 5 years. I own a nice analogue watch but it is sitting in a drawer somewhere after the battery ran out. If I am to spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on a smartwatch, I need to know how it'll improve my life.
It does however look like Apple have created a well thought out device that has lots of potential.
After the Samsung and Motorola Android Wear watches were released in the past few months, it became apparent that technology companies had no idea how to make a watch. They could make a single device that appeals to a particular taste. But unless you wanted to buy a smart watch and liked the particular style of the device, you weren't going buy it.
In contrast to the Android Wear devices, Apple have really understood the history and traditions of watchmaking. They have paid attention to detail like no other company would.
A great article about the physical design of the devices is this one at Hodinkee:
The Apple Watch, in its own way, really pays great homage to traditional watchmaking and the environment in which horology was developed. We have to remember that the first timekeeping devices, things like sundials, were dictated by the sun and the stars, as is time to this day. The fact that Apple chose to develop two faces dedicated to the cosmos shows they are, at the very least, aware of the origins and importance of the earliest timekeeping machines, and the governing body of all time and space – the universe.
To me the different designs look interesting and I expect they are much nicer in real life than in pictures. It does look like the watch is a little too thick and rounded for my taste but again seeing it in the flesh could change that opinion.
Watchmaking and electronics
Given that the outside of the watch is beautiful and well-made, what about the inside? I assume that horophiles appreciate the craftsmanship inside a watch as much as, if not more than, the craftsmanship on the outside. Lots of tiny parts moving in harmony.
An Apple Watch just doesn't have the same sort of craftsmanship on the inside. The moving parts are a million times smaller and the work that has gone into making the integrated circuits is much more incredible than traditional watchmaking. But it's on such a tiny scale that we just can't appreciate it. It's a black box full of electrons rather than a work of art.
Also I'm just not convinced about the idea of wearing a back-lit screen on my wrist that will light up like a Christmas tree on demand, even in the cinema. The benefit of a wristwatch is that I don't need to make it show me the time. The time is always there whether I rotate my wrist or just have the watch lying flat on a table. It's a backwards step from an established technology.
I also think that the watch itself looks a little too thick. In pictures it looks like it stands out a little too far from the wrist and could do with being 30% thinner. Maybe in another year or so that will be possible, although maybe it's not a problem with the actual device.
I do wonder what Apple's future plans for the Watch are. Most of the devices that Apple makes get a yearly upgrade which is the norm in the computer and phone industries. Watches are a bit different though.
I'm sure many of the well known brands release new watches every year, but often incremental changes. The Omega Seamaster was first produced in 1948, but if you were to buy one today it wouldn't look that different from the original.
Interesting concept but bring on version 2
There are still a number of things we don't know about the Watch such as size, battery life or how much magic it brings to our lives. As with many Apple devices, the magic of it can't be seen in pictures but needs to be experienced firsthand. I would need to try it out and see how it fits into my life. The actual device could prove me completely wrong about everything written here.
Overall, it looks like an interesting concept that has been well-executed but it will benefit from being out in the world and used by customers.
I'm sure the next few versions will build on what has been announced and refine the product into something very special. But maybe not just yet.