So in the midst of all that bleakness, Apple’s timing for its news conference seemed pretty darn spot-on. The company gave us some bright shiny objects to focus on instead. Three new products were launched to rapturous applause from audiences in sunny Cupertino and live-streamers all over the world. The press started chanting that Apple had gotten its groove back, and the whole company town celebrated. (Remember when we had real businesses with real profits and real jobs?)
Of the new goodies introduced, at least two were surprises: Apple Pay, which seems to be a true game-changer, in that the technology could allow Apple, already richer than many nations, to become the new World Bank. Second, not unexpected but still pretty juicy, Apple launched a smartwatch.
The company’s first foray into luxury and wearables, the little horological wonder of chip miniaturization comes with all sorts of bands, customizable options, and faces (11, including a butterfly, and Mickey Mouse, which are not exactly fashion-forward.) To me, it seems ripe for parody.
Of course, the watch won’t be released until some time in 2015, and its look and functionality could be improved by then. Keep in mind that I haven’t seen, held, or used this techno-dynamo -- but being completely uninformed about a subject has never stopped me from having an opinion before.
Sorry, but for starters, the name is as dull and pedestrian as the looks of the thing. Apparently, there were copyright troubles afoot all over the world in calling it an iWatch, especially with Swatch.
Forget the name. The most disappointing part is that the watch is tethered to one of the new iPhone 6 models. (Although that’s obviously a boost for the Apple ecosystem, in that you can’t have a watch without an upgrade on your phone. Dominance! Revenue!) But $349 seems pricey for an add-on. (That’s the starter price, which will go up steeply for options like rose gold.) And it’s yet another device that has to be charged at night! Plus, it looks kind of clunky. (Honey, does this watch make my wrist look fat?)
I know the younger generation won’t associate it with the 1970s design blight of brown polyester leisure suits and chains on hairy-chested men. Or if they do, it might seem even cooler. But the watch looks a lot more like a Casio from the “Saturday Night Fever” days than I would have predicted. Or maybe it’s more like something Bill Gates would have worn while playing late-night card games at Harvard.
Then there’s the idea that notifications will just show up on it, like being informed that a certain Facebook friend just posted a picture. Now you can be annoyed on three different screens simultaneously -- although a vibrating wrist is a new sensation, which could be really good or really bad.
Still, there is a buzzy little breakthrough in communications built in: We will be able to exchange the tap-tap of our beating hearts. Yup, it’s all about the haptics, baby, or as Apple has recoined the term, taptics. (Haptic technology, or haptics, according to Wikipedia, is a tactile feedback technology that recreates the sense of touch by applying vibrations to the user.)
This idea of exchanging heartbeats with someone -- not just visually, but actually feeling them on your own wrist -- is a real imagination-grabber. (Taptic also slightly suggests Tantric, as in Tantric Yoga, the hours-long sex practice Sting always brags about.)
This could be truly romantic. Or it could be a big problem. Imagine if you’re in a conference room setting, and your start feeling love taps on your wrist, and you realize they're coming from the man across the table, who creeps you out. Or that you are a kid at college, wanting to feel independent, and your mom keeps sending you her heartbeats on your wrist device.
I can also imagine some spastic taptic experiences -- because it’s really difficult to hold your phone and get a hand free to manipulate your watch. And presumably the idea is that it’s easier to check than surreptitiously pulling out an actual phone in a meeting. But it would still seem rude to be focused on your wrist. George H.W. Bush lost an election that way -- he kept checking his watch in a debate, as if he didn’t want to be there.
I guess the biggest problem, initially, is that this wildly new technology is housed in the oldest of forms -- unlike such Apple breakthroughs as iPods, iPhones, and iPads, which were wholly new designs. But clocks in various miniaturized forms have obviously existed for thousands of years. In the 19th century, the availability of pocket watches were integral to the growth of the railroad. Then wristwatches came in around the time of World War I, when, according to Wikipedia, “officers in the field began to appreciate that a watch worn on the wrist was more easily accessed than one kept in a pocket.”
And there we have it. Full circle. For the last 10 years or so, many people abandoned their wristwatches for a smartphone in their pocket. So using the new product involves unlearning habits.
It’s interesting that with Apple Watch, the uber-secretive tech monolith has inadvertently brought new meaning to the idea of wearing your heart on your sleeve.