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The Ever Present Apple Watch

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I haven’t owned a watch since the faux-department store Bradley’s went out of business at the end of elementary school. Back then, kids’ sport watches were cool in the same way that the Tiger Electronics Paperboy handheld was cool. Objects so beautiful in part because of all their colorful plastic and limited utility.

I don’t recall ever really checking my watch to see what time it was. More likely I turned it over in my hand to play with the neon yellow and green synthetics that banded it to my wrist, or tested it with friends at the swim club to see if it really was waterproof, or to officiate all manner of competitions using the stop-watch function. I can still remember the first time I upgraded to a watch that could do more than just tell me the time. Watching the digital numbers flip by in the hundredths column kind of blew my mind at the time–opened it up to a whole realm of numerical possibilities.

Once I stopped going to the swim club, or racing friends down the block, or generally playing outside, I pretty much just stopped thinking about watches. My grandfather had a gold watch, I think. Or at least it looked gold. And he gave my older brother a gold watch for one of his birthdays, or at least it looked gold. That was the first and only time I ever coveted a wristwatch. It seemed very sophisticated, as if putting that much money, thought, and effort into something as complex and boring as a wristwatch was an essential signifier of adulthood.

My grandpa liked to work on watches, or so that’s what I’ve been told. I never saw him working on them, though the detritus of his alleged hobby remains strewn about odd corners of my grandmother’s basement, long after he was put into the ground.

When wristwatches first became a thing, they were apparently worn almost exclusively by women. It wasn’t until they were put to use synchronizing war maneuvers that they were adopted by men as well. And though I have no real evidence to back it up, my assumption is that the ease and constancy of having the timepiece fixed to a limb rather than dangling from a strap or hidden in a pocket is what made it better for coordinating the slaughter of men by other men.

And this remains one of the only advantages of the wristwatch over a smartphone. Apart from being a more acceptable form of conspicuous consumption and wealth signaling (phones now pretty much all look alike), the wristwatch is ever present in the way a small brick window never could be. As some Apple dude said, “It’s not just with you, it’s on you.”

What I like about my phone is how it lets me manage distraction and communication. I prefer texts, tweets, and email because I can enter and leave conversations at my leisure. It’s hard for me to imagine living in a time where you actually had to answer a call to find out who it is and what they wanted. For an introvert like me, caller ID and voicemail is a godsend. This is why I keep my phone on silent. In order to conserve power the screen turns off after scarcely twenty seconds of inactivity. Not to mention half the time it’s in my pocket anyway.

A smartwatch is different. It’s always there, ready to be looked at. And in Apple’s case, bombarding you with personal data and reminders. It will tell you when to stand up and move around after you’ve been typing too long at a desk, like I’ve been doing for the past two hours. It’ll also monitor all kinds of biological feedback, guessing at, analyzing, and no doubt critiquing all the ways in which you slowly degrade your body over days, and weeks, and years.

So the benefit of the smartwatch is also its draw back. It’s ever present, but it’s also ever present. Just like the Internet, that thing we love to hate and hate to love (well, some of us anyway). And like the Internet (that is, the Internet as it’s popularly used and thought of, not the totality of it or the technology from which it’s constituted, but, like, cat gifs and those nauseating Facebook updates from old high school acquaintances), it’s a solution in search of an adequately matched problem. I mean, it lets you DO MORE STUFF (KNOW MORE, FEEL MORE, etc.) which is pretty much the sole motivating force behind everything that’s currently Tech.

But in the end, watches aren’t about more. They’re about less. A reminder of how fast time is going by, and how little we have left until the end: the end of a lunch, the end of the a day, the end of a life. Like most modern Tech, the Apple watch isn’t a solution to how little time is left, but rather a welcome distraction from the anxiety of seeing it ceaselessly tick by. The anti-watch, in a way, whose purpose isn’t so must to tell us the time as to keep on reminding us of all the things we can do with it when we’re not noticing its passage.

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43 thoughts on “The Ever Present Apple Watch

    • When I’m cooking, I sometimes use recipes that involve several steps of less than a minute. It’s much easier to deal with these using a wrist watch than any other kind of timing device.
      My father, a WWII veteran born in 1906, always used a pocket watch. He also learned to drive in a Model T. Therefore all our cars had to be black with a stick shift, and he drove them like a two speed Model T, getting rolling in first gear and immediately shifting into third gear.

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  1. I have a question.

    Apple released a smart watch. I suppose that’s news. At the same time Samsung, LG and Sony already have smart watches. Why does the tech press collectively pretend that something isn’t really out until Apple releases it?

    I sort of get the legacy that Apple has in this area. They invented the iPod, which was enough unlike anything already on the market that it could truly be called new. Apple was also the first company to release a smart phone, so I get that as well. At this point in time, though, if Apple is releasing some product or feature, there’s a good chance that feature has been available for some time from an Android phone. The iPhone 6 is the perfect example of this.

    I also get the social cache that people seem fond of attaching to Apple products. What I don’t get is how willing and able the tech press is to be spun in this manner. What gives?

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    • Apple was also the first company to release a smart phone

      Ahhh, but they weren’t! I would actually say that there was less difference between pre-iPhone smartphones and the iPhone than there was between the iPod and its predecessors. Both represented changes in the trajectory of their respective areas, though.

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      • There’s certainly an Apple dynamic at play. I remember when the first iPhone came out because almost over night, every exec at my Silcon Valley Software company had one… even though (at the time) it was nearly impossible to connect to exchange servers for email – and we were a dedicated blackberry company – so they carried two phones. For a while. Then you could tell who had juice by the fact that *their* phone synched with the email app (i.e. they got someone to make it work for them). Eventually IT was forced to make iPhone’s work with email… Android? Nope.

        Same with the iPad… one conference every exec was using it to take notes and run their business; next conference, none of them were. The distinction I make is that the iPhone and peers have become ubiquitous and essential… iPads, niche – morphing more into personal media consumption devices more than anything else.

        I suspect the iWatch will become something other than whatever we think it will be now, whether that something “sticks” I’m not sure yet.

        I haven’t done a systematic survey, but at my company the doers skew heavily Android, while Execs (and, worse, wannabe’s) skew heavily Apple. And what’s weird is that this goes across all department types.

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  2. On my 21st birthday, my Dad bought me a dive watch. A simple watch that could take 300 meters of underwater pressure. This was before the dials and gauges on diving equipment went digital. I’ve had the watch for a long time and still wear it. Two new bands, numerous batteries, and one refit. I wear it every day unless I’m getting dressed up. Then I wear something nicer.

    It does one thing exceedingly well. It needs do nothing more. You know what will excite me? There was a sci fi book I read many years ago where folks were attending a conference and everyone’s “personal secretary” that they carried on their clothes, like the star trek communicator, recorded the entire meeting, who attended, and spoke without the user having to do anything but speaking one command word. Full video and audio, wireless, with full recall and playback.

    Call me when the Apple watch can do stuff like that.

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  3. I think I can demur on getting an iWatch. The iPhone was the first techie device that I thought I just needed to have for some reason. It just felt so much cooler than a regular cell-phone. For watches, I like them more on the jewelry side than the utilitarian side. I’m especially fond of watches with metalic rather than leather bands. The electronic needs of the iWatch probably means you can’t create something jewelry enough for me.

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      • The watch case (not the band) is a total of 69 grams. Even if every single component was gold, that’s 2.4 oz of 18k gold worth $2,000. Let’s add a merchant uplift of 50% on the gold then tack on the “Apple” portion of the value (the price of a non-gold watch). and you have a $3,550 watch… we’ll call it $4,000 for the special workmanship and upgraded(?) band (remembering that there’s probably not even 1 oz of gold in the weight).

        Fascinating how luxury goods are priced. Clearly the price is pure signalling… designed to cost more than a Rolex and all the other “working man’s” luxury watches. The curious thing is that the super luxury watches trade on a certain mystique of craftmanship and one-off design and fabrication. This watch is just a mass-market Foxconn mash-up in a box with a splashing of gold. At $10k it doesn’t signal wealth and power, it signals I’m bad at math and ROI and shouldn’t be on your board.

        I’m keeping my eye open for the Luxury backlash… among Those-that-matter will this pass muster, or will it be seen as a career ending stupid purchase.

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      • Ah, worse than that. Some of Apple’s new patents involve how they made the 18k gold.

        See, calling something 18k gold means it’s 75% gold by mass. Now, for any two volumes the actual amount of “gold” varies according to the specific alloys used.

        Apple patented a technique involving ceramics. High volume, low-mass ceramics. Which means that the 18kt gold in the Apple watch contains less actual gold than the same volume using a more traditional alloy.

        Of course, they’re selling it as lighter and less prone to damage (the first is true by default, the second is probably true) but using less gold is a nice bonus.

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      • Got no idea. Part of the back of my brain is insisting it’ll do weird things if you just try to melt it out to recover 24kt gold (pure), but I can’t imagine what.

        At best, it’s probably slightly more work.

        I doubt it was a money saving thing, as ceramics probably do fun things to the properties of it — I think some jewelers use ceramic alloys like that to do fun things with colors.

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  4. I actually intend to get a smarter watch than I have now. At some point. By the unassailable logic outlined in my opening comment, I am going to have a watch on my wrist. And if I am going to have a watch on my wrist, I might as well have one that can do more things rather than fewer.

    I am thinking of getting a Pebble, though, because one of the things I want the watch to be able to do is last more than a day without needing a recharge.

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  5. What I want is the calculator watch that I had in 3rd grade. I never needed it as a calculator (and teachers actually made us — and since this was the 80s, and those things were both inexpensive and popular, there were a lot of us — take them off during math tests), but man was it awesome in an almost absurdly geeky way.

    I hear swatches are back, too.

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  6. It *is* funny how consumer demand for “smartphones that do more stuff” has led to smartphones being so big and clumsy that a tiny-screen device is seen as a viable product.

    What’s probably going to happen is that people will start saying “why doesn’t my smartwatch do (thing)”, and (thing) requires juuuuuust a bit more display space and size, and the smartwatch starts getting bigger, and eventually we have smart-fob; a tiny-screen totem object that you carry in your pocket, or clip to your lapel or your belt, etc.

    And so on.

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  7. The day before this came out, I got a new pro. I’m using it right now, and I really, really like it.

    And I don’t particularly care if they make some bling, or if people want to use it. And so long as there’s some recognition that people need good cheap solutions, too. Even there, it’s not does any specific company provides them, however, it’s if some companies provide them. But there’s nothing wrong with bling, particularly if it’s well made and comfortable. But ya’ll know I think a lot of the crap sold to people is theft, and the manufacturers relied too much on ISO9000 efficiencies and not enough on quality control standards.

    So I guess it’s the quality of the bling; does it justify its price by its performance? I certainly think this computer does. And I don’t really get the notion of making people feel bad about buying things; it means they’ve got money, they can afford to, it stimulates the economy. And there’s all different measures of tacky, mine include red lipstick (except for special occasions) and yoga pants. I think they’re tacky, and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them.

    But I like nice watches. They’re works of art.

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  8. I wear a wind up watch. Hamilton Military from the early ’80’s, the last military wind up. If I am getting dressed up, I will wear my ’20’s Illinois, gold with pigskin band. I prefer windups for all the same reasons that I like hardback books and stick shifts. They are correct.

    I absolutely refuse to have any apple product unless I am issued it by my employer. Because while the build quality is generally superior, the operations system is god awful useless. Then again, if left to my own devices, I wouldn’t carry a cell phone.

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  9. I used to have a Blackberry, until I got tired of paying for Internet service I didn’t really need.

    I discovered that when you go to the Verizon store and tell them you want to downgrade to an older simpler model, they call the manager, who seemed for a while to be on the verge of calling security .

    I may be on some no fly list somewhere, under “Suspicion of Neo-Luddism”.

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  10. I wear a wristwatch that I got for my graduation from college that has the school crest on it, although it’s fairly hard to tell. I wasn’t wearing it for a while because I have a cell phone and can check the time on that, but I realized that, if you check the time on your phone, people will think you’re looking at your messages and ignoring them, so I went back to the wristwatch. I’m thinking about getting rid of the phone altogether, so I guess I’m going in the direction away from the apple watch.

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  11. I used to discount all the criticism of lot of apple users as just fanbois. They do make pretty good stuff and the design IS nice, but this thing….ugh. I’d have to reconsider my dismissal of all that criticism. They may have been correct.

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