The Apple Watch is finally upon us and, for the first time in recent memory, an Apple product is getting tepid reviews from many of my colleagues in the tech press. Most like the hardware and appreciate the apps, but many doubt that anyone really "needs" a wrist-worn device, because you can perform the same tasks on your phone. Their problem isn't really with Apple's device but the very idea of smartwatches.
"You don't need it. It's an indulgence. It's a luxury, like a Lexus or a filet mignon," Yahoo Tech's David Pogue says in his video review.
"The problem it's solving just isn't that big a problem," Mashable's Pete Pachal writes.
While it's easy to doubt the utility of the Apple Watch and competitors like the Pebble, Moto 360 and Samsung Gear 2, you could have made the same arguments about tablets in 2010 or smartphones in 2007. A well-made wrist device like Apple's new offering has a ton of utility today. The age of smartwatches has arrived, even if not everyone can see it yet.
According to one recent study, smartphone users wake up their phones 221 separate times per day and spend 3 hours and 16 minutes using them. How many of those sessions are spent looking to see whether that incoming email your phone alerted you to was an urgent missive from your boss or a piece of spam? And which others were spent just checking Facebook to see how many new likes your cat picture received?
If you could quickly glance at your wrist and see that your last message was from Macy's, not your mom, you could avoid picking up your phone in the first place. The time you spend reaching into your pocket and waking up your phone is not insignificant, assuming you even have the phone in your pocket. A female co-worker of mine leaves her phone in her handbag while she walks around the office, because she can look at her Samsung Gear 2 instead.
Boil any new gadget down to its essential purpose and you'll come back with the same conclusion: It's just a bit more convenient than previous methods of accomplishing the same task. You can accomplish almost everything you do on your smartphone on your PC, but because phones fit in your hand and go everywhere, they're much more convenient. You can watch videos and play games on your TV set, but a tablet lets you take that experience with you.
As technology evolves, information is on the move. The sum of human knowledge used to be transmitted by bards, using oral traditions. Then technology allowed us to migrate that data from the mouth to the paper, then from paper to local disks and from disks to the Internet. The methods we use to retrieve and share information have moved from the desk to the lap and then the pocket. The wrist is the next stop for information technology before it reaches your head and, in the distant future, the inside of your body.
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If all the Apple Watch provided was time-saving convenience, that would be reason enough to buy it. However, having a computer on your wrist allows for new use cases that just aren't feasible with your phone.
The watch can read your heart rate all day and log it so you can track your health in a way that phones with the same capability cannot. Getting and sending vibrations via its "taptic" feedback allows you to communicate silently with a friend without even writing anything (imagine the Morse-code conversations). Being able to pay at stores by touching your wrist to a terminal makes mobile payments worthwhile, where whipping out your phone to do mobile payments could be less convenient than swiping a credit card.
At $350 for the Apple Watch and over $200 for most of its competitors, smartwatches don't come cheap. However, if you can afford one, the time is worth the money.