Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple Watch

Before the event, I was skeptical about a potential iWatch for two reasons:

  1. Competing smart watches are giant, unattractive bricks. Apple may have better taste, but how could they do much better without overturning the laws of physics?
  2. I have been incredibly happy not wearing a watch since I started carrying an iPhone. What could this type of device possibly do that would change my mind?

Apple itself hyped the announcement like crazy. So I thought, “I have no idea how, but maybe they really did crack this thing.” But, in the end, I don’t think Apple Watch (not so fond of WATCH) answers either of my questions.

  1. Maybe it’s different in person, but in the photos it looks big in every dimension, probably more so than a calculator watch. I don’t think it blows away Samsung’s products in appearance, and it’s not that far off from a parody of a mini original iPhone on a band. It will apparently need to be charged nightly. We don’t know yet whether it’s waterproof.
  2. There are lots of impressive features and creative ideas. But, based on the presentation, Apple itself doesn’t seem to have a clear explanation of what it’s for. Even if I somehow got one for free, I doubt I would wear it. The original iPhone announcement was the opposite: I wanted one yesterday, even at $600, even though it didn’t have apps, even though it only supported AT&T.

Right now, I think Apple Watch is an amazing technical achievement, but I just can’t see this one being a mass-market success. It seems like the type of product where you’d really feel burned buying the 1.0. In five to ten years, when it’s much thinner and lighter? And when, I presume, people will have more use cases figured out? That could be really interesting.

Today, though? What I want from Apple today is not new product categories. I would rather they put all those brilliant engineers to work fixing bugs and maintaining the apps that I use. That’s what would really make my life better.

Update (2014-09-10): John Gordon:

This isn’t the usual Apple 1.0 product. The usual 1.0 Apple product is interesting and somewhat useful for early adopters with high pain tolerance and it comes with a clear path to a strong 2.0. This is version 0.5. It’s far too ambitious for its time -- and it’s 6 months behind schedule.

Dave Winer:

The Apple Watch was basically paying a debt, and it’s not a product Steve Jobs would have shipped. The debt is that the new Apple management has to show investors that they can ship something new. It probably indicates that they don’t have anything better in the pipe, and that’s fine. It could be at this point in history there aren’t any new devices that make sense.

Clark Goble:

I just can’t quite figure out how many people would want the watch. I didn’t see that Apple made a compelling need case for it. Say what you will about Jobs. But he always had a killer function — even for the iPad. Exercise seems to be the attempt for the watch, but even that isn’t that compelling given the limits of the watch itself.

Brian Dunagan:

That’s the question for Apple’s iWatch. How does it go beyond a novelty? I use my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad every day, not for the sake of using them, but to do things. The current assortment of smart watches still seem geared toward early adopters, who are interested in the device itself rather than doing things with the device.

Khoi Vinh:

As first sight, the look of the Apple Watch struck me as boxy and inelegant. Its vaguely space age-y curves seemed like the antithesis of what I personally favor in watch fashion, which is something more conservative.


There aren’t quite as many SKUs for the Apple Watch as there are, say, in the Nixon watches catalog, but there are far more variants on offer than for any Apple product that’s ever come before. And remember, this is a company that, at the onset of its comeback, prided itself on selling fewer things, on an almost flagrantly reductive product matrix.

Ben Thompson:

Then came the introductory video, and we never got an explanation of why the Apple Watch existed, or what need it is supposed to fill. What is the market? Why does Apple believe it can succeed there? What makes the Apple Watch unique?

Benjamin Clymer:

The overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350. There is nothing that comes close to the fluidity, attention to detail, or simple build quality found on the Apple Watch in this price bracket.


If I had to criticize the actual form of the Apple Watch, it would be a complaint you’ve heard from me before (most recently with the Habring2 in our latest Three on Three); the Apple Watch doesn’t fit under my shirt cuff without serious effort, if at all. I believe that great design should not disrupt daily life, and a watch that doesn’t fit under a shirt sleeve is missing something. Apple is amazing and building thin, elegant machines, and I was surprised by how bulky this is, especially when the 45 minutes prior to the introduction of the Apple Watch were spent discussing how svelte the new iPhone 6 is. I understand the physical limitations and the required dock on the rear of the watch, but the Apple Watch is bulkier than I would’ve liked.

Update (2014-09-13): Dave Chap shows how the Apple Watch is slightly thinner than two iPhones.

Om Malik has lots of photos.

Rainer Brockerhoff speculates that Apple Watch doesn’t run iOS.

Mark Bernstein:

My guess is that, somewhere around 2017, looking at your phone in company is going to be considered bad manners, but looking at your watch will be OK.

xkcd on smart watches (and thinkpieces).


The Apple Watch will use a unique system to authorize NFC mobile payments, reports say. Normally Apple Pay is authorized via Touch ID, but there's no such sensor on the Watch. Instead, when someone puts on the device for the day, they'll have to enter a PIN to authorize transactions. The sensors on the bottom of the watch can detect skin contact, and once that's lost, a person will have to re-enter their PIN.

Ken Segall:

One could also argue that the i has been hijacked by many other companies, while the Apple-word is un-stealable. So, the naming of Apple Watch could well be the start of a new naming direction, with more importance placed on Apple and less importance placed on the i.


What Samsung did with the Gear is somewhat predictable. It created a wrist-sized version of a phone. Apple took a more unexpected route, based on the realities of the small screen — with the digital crown being a highlight. Apple’s strength is in imagining solutions that feel simple and natural.

Alex Vollmer:

This is going to sound funny, but I think the tactile pulsing feature of the Apple Watch is one of its most intriguing. It got me thinking about how, paired with the right software, it could be a fantastic way to teach a wearer certain timing-related skills.

Update (2014-09-15): Andy Ihnatko:

This has been bothering me since Tuesday. I was at the iPhone and the iPad launch events and though I left with some questions and concerns, I left San Francisco tingling a little bit. I wasn’t unimpressed by Apple Watch, and my thoughts are overall positive. But it concerns me a little that it’s such an important new product for Apple and that they put so much effort into this event … and I’m still not entirely sure what the Apple Watch is or what role Apple thinks it will perform in people’s lives.

Marco Arment:

Apple didn’t find a way around the laws of physics. They didn’t somehow unveil a revolutionary battery or screen technology that the world had never seen before. They punted again. In the absence of any better alternative approaches, they just did what they could with today’s technology.

It’s kinda big, but the touch screen isn’t big enough for good touch input and can’t fit much text or UI. It seems fashionable enough, but it’s unquestionably electronic-looking. It’s about as thick as it could reasonably be, but the battery only lasts a day. And the primary functions still seem to be telling time and showing phone notifications.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise, though. This is what Apple usually does.

Update (2014-09-16): Kyle Baxter:

But that idea of what smartwatches are for, making it more convenient to deal with the flood of notifications and information our phones provide us, is unimaginative. I think what the smartwatch can do is make the phone unnecessary for many purposes, create new purposes altogether, and allow us to benefit from a wrist-sized screen’s limitations.

Benedict Evans:

If you wanted a nine inch touch-screen tablet, the iPad executed that idea pretty well, but did you want one? Was it a good idea? If you want a very small computer on your wrist, both Apple and Motorola (and perhaps Samsung, if that’s your taste) have each made one that’s pretty good, but do you want one?

Update (2014-09-17): Jean-Louis Gassée:

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — we’re still barely past the demo. We’ll have to wait for the actual product to come to the wrists of real users. Only then will we have the Apple Watch make-or-break moment: Word-of-mouth from non-experts.

John Gruber:

I think Apple Watch prices are going to be shockingly high — gasp-inducingly, get-me-to-the-fainting-couch high — from the perspective of the tech industry. But at the same time, there is room for them to be disruptively low from the perspective of the traditional watch and jewelry world. There’s a massive pricing umbrella in the luxury watch world, and Apple is aiming to take advantage of it.


The most intriguing and notable thing about Apple Watch’s design, to me, is the dedicated communication button below the digital crown. The entire watch is fully operational and navigable using just the digital crown and touchscreen. You can go anywhere and do everything using taps, force presses, or turning and pressing the digital crown. There is no need for that extra button (which, in the unveiling video, Jony Ive described only as “the button below the digital crown”).


I’ve seen some skepticism about Apple Watch’s use of “force presses”. To wit, that this capability is unneeded — anything you can do with a force press could be done on a regular (non-pressure-sensitive) touchscreen using a long press. I disagree. Force pressing means you won’t have to wait. Talking to Apple people behind the scenes last week, they are very keen on the force press thing.

It would be nice to be able to force press to select text in iOS.

Amy Worrall:

thing it was lacking was something telling us “Here’s why you need Apple Watch”. There was a big list of things the watch could do, but nowhere did they tell us how much better our life would be for being able to do those things. I bought the Pebble (which was less than half the price of the lowest end Apple Watch) because I was interested in what the future might bring for smart watches. Do I buy the Apple Watch for the same reason, or do they have a unique selling point yet?

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

I borrowed the Pebble for a day and I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed it, and I haven't used a watch since the nineties and the Pebble has such limited use.

What appealed to me was to that it was very convenient to keep my iPhone in silent mode but still not miss a call. All to often I keep it in silent mode and miss calls because it's not physically close enough to feel the vibration and this, I guess, causes a very slight anxiety that the Pebble removed. And no more phantom vibrations either :)

Beyond that I see some other use cases:

When I'm grocery shopping I use AnyList, a great app, but it's not convenient to walk around with the phone in one hand, or to pull it out all the time. An interface for AnyList on my arm would work quite well I think.

When I move the lawn and listen to music I sometimes need to interact with Spotify (or whatever I'm listening to) beyond the clicker on the cord. And my favorite headphones does not even have a clicker. Here too an interface on my arm would help, I think.

The reactions to Apple Watch reminds me of iPad, there were a lot of "Why on earth would I need an iPad?" from people who later praised it. But that being said, this first generation Apple Watch is bulky and almost ugly. I agree with the comment about this being "version 0.5". It is going to look very dated two years from today. But I think the uses cases are real, this is not a solution that is inventing the problem.

Fitness is the killer app for me, and a few people with whom I've talked. I haven't seen any wearable with such comprehensive and well-integrated fitness functionality. That sold the watch to me instantly. The rest of it is cute, but I'm not sure I need it. (I also wouldn't normally wear a rectangular watch.)

The Dave Winer comment above is fascinating. Tim Cook has been running the company since 2011 (longer by some measures). What would the hurry be, exactly?

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