Does an Apple Watch have a place in your life, and on your wrist?
Apple has today concluded an event they called “Spring Forward” – a somewhat odd name given that Apple does have a large number of customers for whom autumn, not spring, is just beginning, and our clocks are falling back.
The event was quite substantial. Those of us who follow Apple news have known that the thin shiny new Macbook with its single connectivity port has been in the works for some time, but there was some mystery surrounding whether it would in fact be announced today, or be held back for WWDC in June.
While some are concerned about the single port, the new notebook is an addition to the existing line-up, not a replacement for existing models which have also received a little bit of upgrade love today. For the road warrior, the new Macbook lightens the technology load a little, and most hotels offer Wi-Fi now.
It was thought we might see an Apple TV hardware refresh today. That didn’t eventuate, although the existing box has seen a price reduction, suggesting that a refresh may be imminent.
Research Kit was an announcement I wasn’t expecting, and I think it’s a wonderful initiative. The more data one can gather about symptoms, the easier it is to establish a pattern. The easier it is to establish a pattern, the more focussed some of our great minds can be on advancing medicine and improving quality of life. It’s easy for us to be cynical about all sorts of things these days, including big corporations and their motives, but to me Research Kit is a great initiative that really can change lives for the better.
The device most people tuned into the keynote to hear about, of course, was the Apple Watch, and the rest of this post is devoted to that.
From the outset, I’ll put my cards on the table and say that yes, I will be buying one, or rather, Mosen Consulting will. For me, it’s a business expense and a no-brainer. It’s in my interests to be thoroughly conversant with its use, so I can assist my clients who will ask for help. Would I buy one if it were coming out of my household budget? That’s a more complex question, and I’m not sure a compelling enough case has yet been made.
VoiceOver is activated on the Apple Watch with a triple-click of the crown, and you can configure accessibility settings in the Apple Watch companion app that is a part of iOS 8.2, released today. One assumes it’s possible to hear VoiceOver’s output through the Apple watch’s speaker, and possibly by pairing the watch with a Bluetooth headset, although at the time of writing this post, I’ve not been able to confirm that.
That brings me to my first misgiving about Apple Watch. When you want to know the time, it talks. I wear a Braille watch at present. I like my Braille watch. When I’m in a meeting, or broadcasting, or recording an interview, I can check the time with my Braille watch, and no one knows I’m doing it. I even have an advantage over a sighted person. A sighted person can be seen to glance at their watch, but if I keep my hands under a table, I can check the time as often as I want, and no one’s any the wiser.
Talking watches, on the other hand, are irritating. I’ve chaired many meetings with a large number of blind people in attendance, a number of whom periodically check the time with their noisy watches with ghastly voices. If you can pair an Apple Watch with some kind of headset, you’ll be able to hear the time in privacy, but it won’t be as effortless as checking your Braille watch.
That said, I wouldn’t put it past Apple to have found some cool way of conveying the time using haptic feedback, either now or in future. If that happens, then that’s brilliant, objection gladly withdrawn.
Of course I’m well aware that an Apple Watch is a computer on your wrist. It tells the time, just like an iPhone makes phone calls, but like the iPhone, the function we consider core to the form factor is only a minuscule fraction of what it can do. With an Apple Watch on my wrist, I can check my notifications, take calls, send text messages, pay for purchases if ApplePay ever gets to this country, play music, and a whole lot more.
But wait, I already have a device that does all those things, and it’s called my iPhone. My iPhone is in my pocket everywhere I go, and indeed it has to be when mobile for the Apple Watch to get its smarts. As a consumer, would I pay a minimum of USD $350 for another device to charge and take care of, that puts on my wrist what’s already in my pocket?
There are of course some unique things the Apple Watch can do. Using the Apple Watch as your hotel room key is wonderful, and I would find that really useful. I presume this is using some sort of NFC capability, so there’s no technical reason why such functionality couldn’t also be made available in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which have NFC that is presently locked down to Apple.
There are some great health-related features, many but not all of which can already be achieved with the iPhone. There are many wearables that can offer similar functionality, but I don’t think any are fully accessible to blind people in the way Apple Watch is.
You can send people your heartbeat, which is kind of cute I suppose. You can get tactile feedback about notifications and directions in the Maps app, so for travelling when you want to keep your ears free to listen to traffic, that could be useful.
There will be a wide range of apps for the Apple Watch available when it launches in April. I was reading this morning that Zello will have a walkie talkie app for the watch. Kind of nice to have that functionality on your wrist, especially if you’re working with a bunch of people at a conference.
But again, with a few minor exceptions, much of the functionality that makes Apple Watch exciting is the same functionality that makes the iPhone exciting.
Since I purchased my iPhone 6 Plus with its outstanding battery life, I seldom use my iPad. I find that the iPhone 6 Plus gives me enough juice to get through the most demanding of days with plenty of battery remaining, which was my primary reason for using an iPad when I travelled. So I’m struggling at present to conceptualise the value Apple Watch might add, beyond the cool factor.
If I were a woman who wore clothes that didn’t contain pockets large enough to accommodate an iPhone 6 Plus, and stored my iPhone in a handbag, I think I would be much more excited about the Apple Watch. Bonnie keeps her iPhone in her handbag. Sometimes I call her when she’s in a noisy environment, and she doesn’t hear the phone. If she were wearing an Apple Watch, the phone would ring on her wrist or I could even give her wrist a gentle knock by way of the watch. I would really appreciate being able to get in touch with her reliably and consistently. So, maybe our household budget needs to try and accommodate one Apple Watch.
But it’s something I think we will all need to consider carefully. We only have so much money we can spend on technology. When you buy a completely new kind of product, you’re essentially making a commitment to spending money every few years. Technology wears out after a while and is no longer being updated, so one has to think of these things as a new line item in your budget, not just a one-off purchase.
Since I’ll be buying one anyway, I’ll certainly share my thoughts here on the blog. It may be one of those cases where once more information trickles out, once it’s been in my hands, or on my wrist for a while, I’ll wonder how I lived without it.
How about you. Are you going to be in line to buy an Apple Watch? How do you see it improving your quality of life or productivity? Or do you see it as a device that just duplicates what you can already do with the technology you own? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.