Let’s start by ignoring the $10,000 elephant in the room, shall we? Before we evaluate the most expensive Apple watches, we should start by asking why Apple is making a watch at all and if it’s a good idea. Only with that foundation will we be able to make sense out of their decision to make expensive watches. Actually, before we start talking about the Apple watch, let’s talk about watches in general.
The Purpose of Watches
Aside from people who buy watches purely as a status symbol (whom we’ll deal with later), most people buy a watch so that they can know what time it is at any given, well, time. But there’s a reason underneath that reason which we can’t ignore. Knowing the time is sort of like knowing where you are. It’s unhelpful to know exactly where you are unless you know where other things are in relation to you. So also, it’s unhelpful to know what time it currently is unless it’s in relation to something else.
Knowing the time allows us to make better decisions about how we are using the time that’s right in front of us. We can decide it’s time to leave a party, go to work, call our parents, or start cooking dinner based on what time it is. People look at their watch because they want more than just the time. They want to know what they should do next and time is the critical factor in making that decision. People buy watches, generally, to help them make decisions about what to do with their time.
Other things people like to do with their watch (if it supports such feature) include checking the time in other parts of the world, timing something with a stopwatch, and reminding themselves of something with a countdown timer. It should be noted straightway that in all of these cases, the watch is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to assist the user with other things he is already doing. It runs constantly but is only occasionally used. When it is used, it’s for only seconds at a time.
Why Apple is Making a Watch
We don’t need to speculate about how Apple thinks this watch can help its users. They’ve stated this plainly on their website. It’s marketed first as a timepiece, then as a communication device, and lastly as an aid to health and fitness. Let’s look at each of these three uses in more depth.
The Apple Watch first seeks to be a better version of the timepiece it replaces. It does this through keeping better track of time, but also through answering the questions you’re asking when you look at your watch. Apps will be able to remind the user—either through a notification or simply when he looks at the watch—of things he wants to remember at various times.
As I mentioned above, people often look at their watches to determine if it’s time to leave. Through the iPhone’s GPS, your watch could tell you not only the time, but how long until you need to leave without you needing to do the math in your mind. This leaves you free to think about other things.
It’s worth noting here an objection to the Apple Watch that many have made. The advent of smartphones has no doubt made texting and social networking more popular; this hasn’t been altogether helpful for in-person conversations. The fear is that with people able to access all the software from their phone on their wrist, this condition will worsen. But I actually believe the opposite may happen.
You see, we may actually find that we won’t have to think as much about time if our watch is able keep track of that for us. This, if anything, is an aid to in-person conversation. If you’ve ever tried having a conversation with someone who is constantly checking his watch, you know how frustrating it is. A smarter watch may actually need to be checked less often.
A Communication Device
The Apple Watch will alert you when people text you and allow you to respond. This is perhaps the greatest argument put forward by those who fear the Apple Watch will be the end of social interactions. Again, though, I’m convinced that the opposite is the case.
A friend of mine has an Android smart watch and he says that one of his favorite things about his watch is that he can see who texted him at a glance and choose to ignore it if it’s not important. Two important things should be said about this.
First, pulling your phone out of your pocket or purse when you receive a text is an obtrusive process in a conversation. This is especially the case if your phone’s ringer is on. Now that you’ve pulled the phone out and interrupted the conversation, there’s a lot less reason to ignore an unimportant notification. You might as well respond to that trivial text since the whole conversation has paused for you to check your phone. A silent alert on your wrist that you can check quickly and subtly is a lot easier to ignore.
Secondly, in larger groups when you’re not necessarily involved in the conversation, it’s easy to respond to a moderately important text and then check Facebook while you’re at it—oh, and what’s new on Instagram? This tweet is fantastic, I need to retwee—Well, you get the idea. Phones are inherently distracting, but I want you to try something. For the duration of this post, hold your arm up to your face as if you’re checking the time (but make sure you can still read, of course). See how long it takes you to get tired of holding it there.
All that I’m asserting, of course, depends on Apple making it easy to control the flood of notifications that come to you throughout the day. You might want to be alerted on your phone that someone retweeted you, but probably not on your watch. Apple will need to expose these controls in an easy-to-use way that encourages users to take control. Otherwise these quick glances will add up to what begins to look like a nervous tick.
What’s that? You’re tired of holding your arm up? You barely lasted thirty seconds. There is a big difference between how long you can hold your wrist like that and how long you can read on your phone’s screen—heck, some of you are even reading this post on your phones.
All of this to say, I think the Apple Watch as a communication device may lend itself to helping people’s social skills instead of obliterating them like some doomsday anti-Apple prophets have foretold.
A Health and Fitness Device
The last thing Apple intends the Apple watch to do is help people with their health. Other devices have done this in the past and they haven’t caught on. Besides the fact that Apple just wants to make insane amounts of money, Apple is also hoping this device will catch on because of the help it can be in the field of medicine.
If the Apple Watch becomes popular and millions of people are wearing them by the end of the decade, this will help doctors because they will be given access to information about the patient’s health and fitness that they could never before have. Your doctor could already know your heart rate while resting and active before he even enters the examination room to talk to you.
Apple is pushing this even farther by creating an entire series of apps and API’s that doctors can use to create apps for various tests that people can volunteer to undergo throughout the day without having to think about it. Sleep studies and blood pressure medication trials come to mind, but the possibilities here are quite vast.
The $10,000 Dollar Model
Now that we’ve taken the time to understand the purpose behind the Apple Watch, you’re probably wondering why in the world Apple would make a model that costs so much but does nothing more than the $350 model. That’s a good question. If you’re asking it, you probably don’t own many articles of clothing that cost substantially more than the Walmart-branded versions of the same article.
We need to understand that the Apple Watch isn’t just tech, it’s a kind of clothing (or accessory, at least). In the technology field, almost no one spends more money than they have to on something. In the world of clothing, this is entirely normal. People wear expensive things because they say something about the person wearing them. Not only are there people who spend $900 on shoes and $10,000 on a bracelet or watch—there are people who won’t wear something unless it costs as much as a car.
For some people this is vanity—but it can be a job requirement for others. Highly paid lawyers, for example, are expected to dress a certain way. A $350 watch could put their clients ill at ease, wondering if something is wrong at the firm. Only making cheaper watches would prevent entire demographics of people from buying an Apple Watch simply because—as crazy as it sounds—it just isn’t expensive enough.
No one would think twice if they saw that lawyer using an iPhone, iPad, or Macbook. If anything they’d speak to his credibility because they are top-of-the-line devices. But a $350 watch may cost 40x less than what he had been wearing before. The Watch is something that is worn, not carried. It’s entering an entirely new market with prices that range from $10 to $10,000 for what may seem to most of us like no particular reason. If Apple wants to appeal to that part of the market, they’ll have to sell things that demographic would buy.
If you think spending $10,000 on a watch is absurd, I strongly suggest that you don’t buy one. Apple hasn’t made them for you (just like their new Macbook might not be for you). Moreover, if you’re going to complain about Apple even making something this expensive, you should probably start logging complaints with dozens of other watchmakers.
Excursus: Battery Life
Much has been said about the Apple Watch’s 1–2 day battery life. I’ll admit that this isn’t what I had expected, but it’s also not altogether surprising. It seems like Apple is trying to build all their devices now with the intent that they last one day and you charge them every night. So if you’re already charging your phone each night, this is just another thing to plug in.
Something that not many people are talking about is how long the Watch takes to charge. It can charge to 80% in 1.5 hours and 100% in 2.5 hours. If I decide to buy an Apple Watch, I’ll probably try wearing it to bed and charging it when I get home from work. That way I could use it as an alarm clock. This could be a viable plan for a lot of people.
Single-day battery life isn’t a deal killer since many people have bought and enjoyed Android watches with this kind of battery life. It’s also not entirely dissimilar from needing to wind a watch once a day, especially given how quickly it charges—although one could hardly call the difference trivial .
On launch day, the Apple Watch will not be nearly as useful as it will this time next year. Apple practically relies on clever third party apps to market their products for them. At this point, I’m leaning away from buying a watch—but I’m also aware of the possibility that a third party app may be released that entirely changes my mind.
The digital crown, the force touch input, and the overall user experience of the Watch, however, fascinate me as a designer and I’m excited to try them in an Apple Store and to see how the advancements made in the watch will inform and transform other technologies in the future.