Have Apple done it again? Set to hit stores in late April, the Apple Watch is predicted to revolutionise the world of the smartwatch. Hordes of Apple-hungry enthusiasts are currently counting down the seconds until they can flood to the stores to take a bite out of Apple’s latest treat. Hype surrounding the watch is nothing out of the ordinary. If Apple had to sell snow to eskimos, all they’d have to do is imprint that half eaten apple into it and they’ve got themselves a deal. Their success is second to none, and if the victory of the iPhone, Macbook and iPad are anything to go by, we can expect the smartwatch to be a sell-out. Apple certainly isn’t the first company to release a smartwatch, but it might as well be.
Once you’ve finished sewing together the remainders of your pocket and re-evaluating whether or not you’ll be able to eat for the next month due to the extortionate price tag, you could be forgiven for being lured in by the abundance of appealing features of the new gadget, which promises to enhance both your professional and personal life. Like smartphones, owners of the watch can expect to make phone calls, send texts, check emails and use apps, simply by tapping the delicate steel wristband. No credit card? No problem! The watch allows its owner to make a payment simply by scanning its face at the check-out. Its infinite number of features makes you wonder whether or not it could replace the smartphone. The answer, according to one reviewer, is probably not. Whilst the watch looks good on paper and undoubtedly ‘on wrist’, Nilay Patel grumbles that it has the ability to do a lot of things at a mediocre level, rather than any one thing particularly well. In fact, Patel found himself reaching for his phone for many of his daily tasks which required technology.
However, where the smartwatch lacks intelligence, Apple compensate through their skilled marketing team. In both style and content, the watch is designed to appeal to a diverse range of technophiles, rather than a specific age or gender group. It might, at first glance, appear to be targeted towards the hectic life of a young hip professional (how is one ever expected to check emails, pay for soy lattes and ‘Instagram’ executive lunches without it?) but it also contains quirky features tailored towards a younger demographic. The ‘Scribble’ feature allows the owner of one watch to draw pictures and instantly send them to fellow smartwatch-wearers. Why send real flowers when you could instantly send a finger-drawn picture of a flower straight to your partner’s wrist? And if Apple still haven’t brainwashed you into believing that this watch is ‘the one’ for you there are a multitude of specific designs, including the ‘Sport Smartwatch’ for the fitness fanatic, and a plain, ‘mature’ design, presumably aimed towards an older generation. There is no doubt about it, Apple has ensured that every taste bud is tantalised.
With taglines such as ‘It’s built to know you better’, this watch is not just an accessory; it’s an extension of you, and requires constant TLC. It’s ‘cute’, and will both monitor your heartbeat and allow you to send and receive ‘physical taps’ from other wearers. It sounds a bit like a needy toddler to me, but if its attention seeking nature hasn’t driven you to run for the hills (without your wrist telling you how many calories you’ve burned in doing so), it can also talk to you throughout the day. In what can only be described as a more advanced, sophisticated Tamagotchi, the Apple Watch is advertised as being at best a pet, and at worst, an extension of self. The moment you strap it to your wrist, this watch will complete you. Or so we’re made to believe.
It’s not the price tag, the mediocrity of features or even the ‘personal’ advertising which concerns me most about Apple’s ‘smart’ watch. There is a distinct irony over a watch which, by definition, claims to give time, whilst paradoxically stealing it from its owner. It’s difficult to imagine having the willpower to ignore an incoming notification when it’s tapping you on the wrist, however ‘gently’ Apple insists this tap is. The also watch could potentially blur the line separating work and personal life. How long before people sit at their dinner tables gazing at their wrists, unable to ‘switch off’ after a long day of work, needing to “just send a quick email”?
The smartwatch might appear to be small, compact, and unobtrusive, but it’s sneaky. Unlike a phone, which has a distinct presence as it sits on the table, brashly interrupting conversation with every ring, the watch subtly interrupts by sending its owner secret, physical taps as a reminder it’s there. And it can be forgiven, can’t it? After all, it’s quick and it’s harmless, and you wouldn’t want to neglect it, would you? Patel’s review recalls the embarrassment felt when out for dinner with a friend who addressed his constant preoccupation with his wrist. The watch might be more subtle than the smartphone in its demand for attention. However, it bears the potential to slither between relationships, permanently wedging itself in there and leaving non-wearers to feel like they are interrupting the intimate relationship between the watch and its owner. After all, no one knows you better than your smartwatch. Don’t be fooled by its modest appearance: for a watch that intends to connect people, it may well do the exact opposite.
And don’t we all enjoy the guilty pleasure of missing the odd call from our mums, or taking over two hours to reply to an email whilst indulging ourselves in a bath, safe in the knowledge that we can claim that our phones were simply “out of reach”? Imagine the scenario of bumping into that annoying work colleague you have been desperately trying to avoid going for that drink with. Tucked away in bags and pockets, the mobile phone allows for some degree of discretion in rejection. We can pretend that we’ve been busy, and not had time to check our messages. However, it seems less plausible – and acceptable – to believe that the owner of a smartwatch could be unaware of the physical tap of an incoming notification. Attached to our wrist, in plain sight for all to see, the smartwatch acts as a glaring reminder that yes, I did receive all ten of your messages, and no, I wasn’t intending on replying. If we are expected to have the watch attached to our wrists, there is little excuse for not being readily available 24 hours a day.
The upside to this is that, providing said colleague has a smartwatch too, they will probably be too distracted to notice your wrist in the first place. There has been a surge of studies eager to display the detrimental effects which using a mobile phone can have on our abilities to memorise and multitask. It seems only natural, therefore, that the smartwatch will further exacerbate our goldfish memory and lack of attention span; something which could result in ‘half-lived’ experiences. It is surely only a matter of time before, standing at the altar, a bride-to-be accidentally calls her husband ‘Siri’, or asks him to speed up his vows so that her watch can capture it in a single Snapchat. The watch increases the risk of a life experienced through gazing at your wrist, rather than fully devoting both body and mind to the experience itself. Before salivating over its endless features, ask yourself whether or not you want something to constantly ‘connect’ you to the rest of the world, literally with you every step that you take. You might just find yourself shuddering at the thought.
However, in a world which is technologically advancing at an unstoppable rate, perhaps it was only a matter of time before the boundaries separating reality and the virtual world collapsed. In fact, critic Blen Perez insists that, rather than aggravating what he terms a “head down tribe” – a society obsessed with looking down at their phones – the watch could cure this. Perez proclaims that the ‘Glance’ feature of the watch allows its owner to customise and limit the notifications received, to ensure less time is wasted scrolling through never-ending notifications. He suggests that the watch could be “revolutionary”, decreasing time spent exploring the virtual world on smart phones.
I’m sceptical. Marketed as being a ‘part of you’, how long will it be before people begin to depend on their watch for every aspect of their daily life, feeling lost and exposed when their wrists are bare? Next time you begin to feel hunger pangs for Apple’s latest accessory, do the smart thing and steer clear of this seemingly innocent, unassuming steel watch. Rather than mindlessly tapping your wrist, spend your time devouring the pages of a book instead. Better still, free yourself from the constraints of both time and technology. Unbuckle your watch, switch off your phone and step outside into the real world for a moment.