It’s Not the Apple Watch That’s Inadequate; it’s Me

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 Tech / Writing

Until last Friday, nobody actually owned an Apple Watch except for Tim Cook, who has a custom version with a red crown since the 38 possible variations are inadequate for him; a special one had to be made (Beyoncé and Karl Lagerfeld also have custom solid-gold Apple Watches they were given for free). Nevertheless opinions of the new device have been dispensed everywhere and, in fact, despite a general enthusiam, “inadequacy” is a main theme: not enough battery life; not enough computing power; not enough capability without a “parent” iPhone (as the phone tethers to the PC, the watch tethers to the phone; with there next will be a ring that tethers to the watch?); not enough speed; not enough of that mysterious unnamable quality that makes Swiss watches actually worth tens of thousands of dollars even though they use 100-year-old technology and are therefore not in danger of becoming obsolete (this last part confuses me but this is the claim being made by the Swiss).

But it’s not the Apple Watch that’s inadequate; it’s me. I finally came to grips with this when I sat down to explore all of the device’s capabilities in detail, on Apple’s website. They have a series of short films in which a very chipper person explains, in encouraging tones, how it all works, while we see the phone in that same infinite white Platonic void where all Apple products actually live before they must descend, like Primeval Greek Gods, down into our mundane lives. (Maybe we’re seeing the inside of Jonathan Ive’s imagination; I have looked closely at the smooth reflections in the stainless steel version of the Apple Watch that floats in that white void and can make out nothing of the surroundings.)

The watch has a special button that lets me, immediately, get access to the ten or twenty people whom I must contact so instantly that pulling out my phone is simply too slow. I can then text them (in a rudimentary way; without a keyboard I’m reduced to Paul-Revere-level communication, unless I direct my message through Siri, who frequently has trouble grasping what I’m saying) or I can actually call them by speaking into my wrist like the secret service agents in the movies.

But, who are all these people? Yes, I have a fairly extensive contact list, thank you very much, but closer examination reveals that it’s my dentist, and people like that, who take up most of the space (along with former co-workers and the other people in my building whom I contact about steam problems). There are business contacts, to be sure, but I’ve been finding over the years that Captain-Kirk-style communication with them is sufficient; if I were moving faster every day, or had more people dependent on my immediate feedback about everything (as does, say, the President), then that “dedicated” “hardware” button on the phone would make more sense.

I can also keep track of my investments, literally, with the flick of a wrist; all the beautiful Apple Watch faces can be customized to include a stock ticker. I have trouble remembering the last time subtle Wall Street fluctuations had this kind of urgency for me (mostly I just stare glumly at the readouts of certain web pages, with a vague feeling of regret, like everyone else). Those same watch face customizations let me seize control of my daily calorie burn and workout progress by showing me beautiful rotary displays of energy expenditure and sprinting times. Again, I don’t think I quite measure up to this; if they had one for sandwiches or beer consumed I would be better served (it could tell me when it was time to offer to buy a round).

The Watch has “Taptic Feedback,” which means not just that I can be alerted subtly by means of a “tap” on the wrist, so I can continue reading My Pet Goat uninterrupted; the same mechanism (those introductory films explain) allow me to “pair” my watch with another so that the participants can feel each others’ heartbeats or send each other little finger-swipe-based hieroglyphs like the hearts girls would draw on the edges of notebook pages, in school. Would that there were such a person. The scenario of being invited to feel somebody’s heartbeat happens, shall I say, infrequently enough that the process does not require telecommunications.

Apple had a media event for explaining their watch and invited “a friend” to help demonstrate its utility: Christy Turlington, who’s been making people feel inadequate for decades. The supermodel/philanthropist/scholar got up on stage to introduce a segment describing her important work in Africa and her preparation for the next marathon she’ll run: the Apple Watch, Turlington assured us, has been invaluable. Good. When I do those sorts of things, I keep wishing I had the right gear with me. The Watch’s fitness systems actually “remind” you when you’ve been sitting too long and have to go outside—I think this feature, alone, would drain the battery of mine so fast that the device would be impractical.

So I can’t get an Apple Watch not because I don’t want one but because I simply don’t measure up; my life doesn’t have any of the absences it would fill. I’m not good enough. I think Apple knows about me; there has to be a reason they included the Mickey Mouse face.