Commentary

The Apple Not-So-Smart Watch: Do I Own It, Or Does It Own Me?

“I am standing up,” I snap back at my Apple Watch. Every morning it alerts me every hour or so that it is “time to stand,” even though I have been working all this time at my standing desk.

Having calibration issues, my new friend? I think sarcastically. Indeed, this is the guarded and mixed relationship that I have already formed with my first smartwatch after two weeks. It says something about the wearable category that the new device’s weaknesses and lapses seem to leap to mind first when describing it.

Jony Ive and Apple propaganda be damned. Attempts to convince us that there is something elegantly stylish about the Apple Watch unit itself are daft. Steve Jobs’ infamous reality distortion field lives on. This first generation of Apple smartwatch looks decidedly like a first generation of something that will have to be sleeked and slimmer soon. Wrap any number of overpriced wrist bands around this thing. It is still a slab of black strapped to a wrist that looks at least as geeky as competitors. In fact -- worse -- it reminds me a bit of house arrest monitor.

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And it often behaves like one.   

There is a lot to be said about wearables from a purely impressionistic standpoint, so that is where I will start. In coming weeks I will be chronicling my evolving relationship to the Apple Watch and its use by media and marketing. But one of the things that is already apparent to me emotionally is that intimacy breeds impatience. The missteps and annoyances of the new platform are that much more glaring and irritating because of its skin-level interface with me.

“Your hand is buzzing,” my wife whispers to me during a weekend movie. It is the Apple Watch trying to get me to stand. There is a delicious juxtaposition of screens and themes at work here. We were watching Disney’s new “Tomorrowland” sci-fi fantasy on a four-story-high iMax screen with ear-shattering surround sound as the tiniest of futuristic screen is trying to get my attention. Here are the two countervailing thrusts of consumer media technology - the largest screen and the new smallest screen -- vying for my attention at once.

Of course, it only occurs to me now that I have a screen strapped to my wrist that this device should know where I am and that it is unlikely I want to be pestered with standing commands. Interestingly, I have had my muted smartphone buzzing my ass for years in movie theaters and this desire for greater contextual sensitivity never occurred to me. But a wearable made me wish almost immediately that it be would be smart enough to pause alerts -- especially stand up commands -- when it should know I am in a movie theater.

The other obvious problem with the Apple Watch is that too many apps simply push their phone alerts to the Watch. The annoyance level ratchets up considerably when you move from phone in a pocket to the wrist. In order to fine tune the notifications to a reasonable level you have to manage the (very good) Apple Watch app. But the apps themselves are not nuanced enough yet to parse their messages into ones that merit a watch buzz and which should just go to the phone. Of course, most of us are not ready to think through that distinction either.

I do have a lot of positive observations about the Apple Watch and wearable experience, but for now this one impression really hits home. The intimacy of the device raises my expectation of its contextual awareness and personalization. On some irrational level I find myself resenting the amount of tending it requires in a way I don’t with my phone. At its worst, it feels like a Tamagotchi that needs a lot of attention and training.

Or maybe I have that entirely wrong. Maybe I am the Tamagotchi in this relationship who just isn’t responding well to behavior modification.

Time to stand.  

1 comment about "The Apple Not-So-Smart Watch: Do I Own It, Or Does It Own Me?".
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  1. Haley Dilling from Sportody, May 28, 2015 at 2:18 p.m.

    Thanks for the comment about cutting down push notifications for the Watch vs. phones, Steve. I'm part of a start-up company that just launched our smartphone app, and thinking about our strategy for push messages. We haven't really considered the implications of a smartwatch yet, but your point underscores just how important it will be to factor that into our messaging strategy (and be much more selective on our watch alerts).

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