What is the Apple Watch for?

By Alvin Soon - on 12 Sep 2014, 6:00pm

My wife woke up on Wednesday morning and heard that Apple had announced a new smart watch. She messaged me and asked; “what is it for?”

I recieved her message halfway around the world in the United States, where eight hours ago I had just seen the Apple Watch in person. As I sat there in my hotel room, I realized the only answer I had for her was “I don't know.”

Unlike the iPhone, which I thought was science fiction made real, or the iPad, which transformed the internet into a digital book, the Apple Watch failed to ignite any excitement in me.

To be sure, the Watch is a gorgeous piece of kit. It's beautifully crafted, and the digital crown is the kind of clever interface solution you'd expect from Apple.

I even like the little interactions which some have called silly; like how you can tap on the Watch and have your contact's Watch vibrate at the same time, or draw little sketches as messages, or even send a simulation of your heartbeat. It layers a human element onto a technical process, and who says you should only be able to talk and type to communicate?


What is the Apple Watch for?

But besides that, I don't see a compelling reason yet for the Apple Watch. When Steve Jobs announced the iPad for the first time, he said that in order for a new category of product to exist, it has to be remarkably better at a few key things than existing categories. It turned out that reading ebooks, surfing the net and watching videos were a lot more fun on a tablet than on a PC.

What is the Watch remarkably better at than existing products? I really don't know. For one, it's not actually a new product category, it's more of an accessory item for your iPhone, because it actually needs an iPhone to work. If you already have an iPhone, you don't need an accessory to use it, you can just save yourself the money and pull your iPhone out.

Is it remarkably better at being a fitness tracker? Setting activity goals for the user is a smart thing, and I think this feature might appeal to a lot of sedentary folks. But regular exercisers know how much we sweat doing our thing. Do you really want to wear a US$349 (at least) device to do that with?

(Sadly, the Apple Watch doesn't track sleep, which most activity trackers do and is an important metric for me. I worry that it's because the Watch's battery life is weak and can't last a day and a night without charging.)


Would you buy one today or wait for 2.0?

Could the Apple Watch eventually become compelling? Perhaps. Like how the iPhone 1.0 was remarkable, but truly became revolutionary only when 3G and the App Store showed up. Or how the iPad 1.0 was slow and clunky but the second iPad slimmed down and became more powerful. Heck, or even how the MacBook Air 1.0 was underpowered, but went on to redefine laptops as it got better.

Will Apple Watch 2.0 be a more compelling product? Maybe. I suspect what we're seeing today with Apple Watch and Google Wear is akin to the early days of the smartphone revolution. One day soon, people are going to wonder why their watches shouldn't be smart, especially kids who grow up with them, just like how now most of us can't imagine going back to using non-smart phones.

It's inevitable that one day we'll all be wearing a smart device on our bodies as wearable technology progresses. But not today. And we all - or at least, this writer - expected Apple to make it today with their take on a smart wearable. But Watch 1.0 doesn't seem to be it.

Alvin Soon

Alvin Soon / Former Deputy Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

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