Apple’s Spring Forward event and Apple Watch are not without controversy, much of it arising from Apple’s choice to release the expensive Apple Watch Edition and foray into “fashion.” Most analysts understand that fashion is important, but few actually understand why. The more observant have argued that, in order for Apple to built a computing platform of wearables, the form must first be attractive, and so Apple must care about fashion.
While this is true, it unhelpfully views Apple’s goal as being a platform and the means of achieving that goal as being fashionable products. A close examination of Apple’s marketing, however, suggests that fashion is not merely a means to an end, since a computing platform is only a part of Apple’s vision. Rather, the form and function of AppleWatch both serve a bigger vision: that the future of computing itself will be deeply personalized, even intimate.
Uniquely Personal Marketing
To see this vision of the future, consider a small sample of Apple’s marketing on Apple Watch, all emphases are mine. A complete list is in the footnotes if you want to examine the marketing in more detail:
On March 9th, Cook said “Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we’ve designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences.”
Apple Watch home page: “A device you wear is vastly different from one you keep on a desk or carry in your pocket. It’s more than a tool. It’s a true expression of your personal taste.”
Timekeeping: “Apple Watch actually understands what time means to you.”
Ways to Connect: Apple Watch “gets your attention the way another person would — by tapping you.” Heartbeat sharing is “a simple and intimate way to tell someone how you feel.”
Health: “You can also adjust the suggested [Move] goal, making it higher or lower, until it feels just right for you.”
In all of these cases, Apple is using language that is highly personalized and customizable, something for which Apple is not famous. In fact, on just four pages for Apple Watch, the word “personal” is used eleven times, the word “custom” ten times, and the word “style” three times, not including other references to personalized computing that don’t use those specific words. To put that in context, on eight pages about iPhone–twice as many as Apple Watch–Apple never uses any of these words except to refer to “console-style games” (which isn’t remotely similar). iOS 8 and iCloud are described on fourteen different pages–over three times more than the watch–and the closest Apple comes to describing a personalized experience a personalized experience is to say that “Spotlight is a great personal shopper.1
These numbers are all the more significant because when Apple describes personal things in iOS & iPhone–like family sharing and health–they never use these words. When Apple talks about custom keyboards, they awkwardly avoid the word “custom.” On the iPhone cases and accessories page, featuring two different cases in eleven different colors, Apple doesn’t even use the word “style.” Apple’s marketing for Apple Watch is uniquely personal.
When Apple says that Apple Watch is a personal device, they mean it. There is no other product Apple sells that they describe as “intimate,” and the language they use to describe the watch is infinitely more intimate than that which they use to describe the next-most-personal device, the iPhone.2
Embarrassingly Intimate Descriptions
Not only is the quantity of those terms significant, but the manner in which the terms are used is deeply, even blushingly intimate. Let’s examine those same quotations again:
Timekeeping: “Apple Watch actually understands what time means to you.”
I’m not sure even I know what time means to me, let alone my closest friends or wife, but that’s ok because Apple Watch does. Apple could say that the watch knows what events will happen next; they could say the watch will understand your calendar. Instead, they chose to say the watch understands what time itself means to you, a phrase that can only be true if Apple Watch deeply understands your personality, philosophical and religious views, and psyche. No one knows me the way Apple claims their watch will understand me.
Notice that Apple didn’t choose to call this page “Messages” (like the iPhone’s page is called) or “Communications” or even “Staying in Touch.” Instead, they chose the phrase that is so intimate, if you change your tone it can be a sexual euphemism.
AppleWatch “gets your attention the way another person would — by tapping you.”
Whereas Apple Watch’s understanding of time required them to deeply understand me, now Apple is directly comparing the watch to another person. But think–how many people are you comfortable with actually tapping you lightly on your wrist? If you’re like me, not many can break that touch barrier without making me uncomfortable. Apple wants the watch to be one of them. But think again–how many of those who can tap your wrist are allowed to let their hand linger and stay there? For me, only my wife, but she wouldn’t stay there all day. That is how intimate Apple Watch will be.
Heartbeat sharing is “a simple and intimate way to tell someone how you feel.“
Before you get sucked into the Reality Distortion Field, consider what Apple is actually saying. A heartbeat can’t send Morse code (unless you have crazy manipulation over your heartbeat); it can’t communicate depth, nuance, or color. Your heartbeat can merely get faster, stay the same, or get slower, none of which have inherent meaning. A rapid heartbeat can indicate feelings of terror, surprise, or sexual arousal–yet Apple says that Apple Watch will communicate those feelings, not just a heartbeat. Apple Watch will be better at reading my feelings than I am or my wife is!
Health: “You can also adjust the suggested [Move] goal, making it higher or lower, until it feels just right for you.“
Apple could have said that you can adjust the Move goal until it helps you lose weight, get fit, stay active, or be healthy. Those terms would actually be far better phrases to use for health and fitness because what “feels right” might be quite unhealthy (exercise can be uncomfortable!) Instead, Apple describes the watch in far more intimate, emotional language, that it will feel just right for you.4
Add all of those together, and Apple is making AppleWatch to be something even more intimate than our closest friends and loved ones. Not only is this language blushingly intimate (imagine describing a first date this way), it is also nearly completely false. There’s no way any electronic device can understand my philosophical understandings of time, touch me like another human being, interpret my feelings, or make my exercise levels feel right for me.
Perhaps of greatest significance is that these intimate descriptions do not refer to the fashion of the device. Many in tech communities see the customization of the hardware and chalk it up to “fashion,” but miss how deeply personalized the functions of the device are. As I argued previously, since you cannot separate the hardware from the software, the device’s function must be as customizable as its form, but both of these serve a greater vision: personalized technology.
Notice how Apple describes even Apple Watch apps in personalized terms:
The more you wear Apple Watch, the more you’ll realize just how personal a device it is. Because with so many different apps available, you can choose the ones that are most relevant to you, and create a customized experience.
iPad apps are marketed for productivity,5 iPhone apps make you “more powerful than you think,” but Apple Watch apps give you a customized personal experience. Both the software’s function and the hardware’s form serve a common goal: deeply personalized technology.
Apple Watch v. Android Wear
This personalization is not inherently obvious. Consider, for example, the way that Google is marketing Android Wear: while there is a small blurb about “wear what you want,” the rest of the page is very utilitarian, what Android Wear can help you do or accomplish. Whereas Apple Watch “understands what time means to you,” Android Wear “organizes your information, suggests what you need, and shows it to you before you even ask.” Apple Watch shares “how you feel” and Android Wear lets you “See who’s calling, or read texts, instant messages and emails as soon as they arrive.”
In Android Wear’s marketing, you can almost feel its algorithmic computer, churning data to make your life more convenient, but Apple Watch’s marketing feels more like a personal companion who understands you in intimate ways and interprets your feelings.
Google and Apple’s philosophies are nowhere as starkly contrasted as in the area of wearables:
Difference of Google & Apple’s wearables: AppleWatch has a taptic engine that only you can feel. Glass has a screen that no one could ignore
— Mark Miller (@MarkDMill) December 1, 2014
It’s not surprising that Google Glass met with such social backlash simply because it broke social norms of human behavior. Stated differently, it asked its users to act in what society has decided is a “non-human” way. What some tech geeks viewed as its positives–an ever-present screen and camera–was derided by general society as making its users look like a cyborg which is, to say, less like a human.6
Apple Watch Intersects Liberal Arts and Technology
Why, in contrast with Google, is Apple’s marketing so deeply intimate? Why is their vision of future computing so deeply personalized? I believe the answer is that Google is a company heavily focused on data and algorithms, but Apple strives to live at the intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts.
The concept of “liberal arts” is often reduced to meaning that Apple wants to help you create things like music and art. While that is certainly the case, liberal arts means far more than this. The realm of liberal arts–music, art, philosophy, literature–is the realm of what it means to be human and not an animal or computer; it is the realm of what it means to be alive and not simply to live.
Technology that intersects the liberal arts will not make you more like a computer, but will use computers to make you more human; it is not incentivized to maximize your time on the internet, but to maximize the elements of life that are truly human and not machine; it won’t put a computer on your face but a silent tap on the wrist. It is no accident that Apple’s marketing creates the aura that Apple Watch has a soul, that it acts like another person, that it understands your philosophy and feelings.7
This, above all, is the vision of Apple Watch. The goal is not fashion, nor is it technology, but both together becoming deeply personalized, to make us more of who we are, to help us become more human, to make us uniquely ourselves. Apple Watch, with its deep personalization, embodies more than any other product Apple’s vision of intersecting technology and liberal arts.
Related posts on Apple Watch by @MarkDMill:
- Apple Watch: Right and Wrong Questions
- Apple Watch is About Content Reception
- The Apple Watch, China Edition
- The Apple Watch Halo Effect
- Apple’s Vision of Computing
1. List of personalized references in Apple’s Marketing (this may be incomplete, let me know if there are others I’ve missed and I’ll update it):
Last Fall, Cook introduced Apple Watch saying “It’s as much about personal technology as it is style and taste.”
In the event on March 9th, Cook said: “Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we’ve designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences.”
From the Apple Watch page:
“Our most personal device yet. Our goal has always been to make powerful technology…more personal. Apple Watch represents a new chapter in the relationship people have with technology. It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made, because it’s the first one designed to be worn.”
“It even lets you customize your watch face to present time in a more meaningful, personal context that’s relevant to your life and schedule.”
“Apple Watch uses [activity] information to… suggest personalized all-day activity goals. It even provides custom reminders to encourage you to achieve them.”
“A device you wear is vastly different from one you keep on a desk or carry in your pocket. It’s more than a tool. It’s a true expression of your personal taste. So we designed Apple Watch to reflect a wide range of styles and preferences.”
From the Apple Watch Timekeeping page:
AppleWatch is “connected to your calendar and your contacts. So in addition to showing you the time, Apple Watch actually understands what time means to you.”
“Faces. Choose a face and customize it however you like.”
“Complications….You can see information that’s relevant to you.”
“Glances. A quick swipe shows what’s important to you”
“A device you wear is unlike one you put in your bag or pocket, because it makes a bigger statement about your personal style. So Apple Watch faces are designed to be extensively customizable, from how they look to what they do. When you combine all the possible options, there are virtually endless ways to make Apple Watch your own.”
The Solar face: “Based on your current location and the time of day, you can see the sun’s position in the sky”
One Apple Watch face can have a multitude of looks…So when you glance down at your wrist, you see time precisely the way you like.”
“We all share the same time. But what happens during that time is different for everyone. So Apple Watch doesn’t just keep accurate time. It allows you to see time in the ways that are most meaningful — and useful — to you.”
From the Apple Watch Ways to Connect page:
“You’ll express yourself in new, fun, and more personal ways.”
“You can even customize taps for different people.”
Heartbeat sharing is “a simple and intimate way to tell someone how you feel.”
AppleWatch “gets your attention the way another person would — by tapping you.”
“Apple Watch can predict what you want to say from the context of your message and from the ways you most often respond.”
From the Apple Watch Health and Fitness page:
“You can also adjust the suggested [Move] goal, making it higher or lower, until it feels just right for you.”
“Personalized feedback keeps you moving forward.”
“Apple Watch is designed with customizable coaching reminders…Over time, Apple Watch learns about your activity. It knows how active you are…You can adjust your Move goal up or down to make it perfect for you.”
From the Apple Watch App Store Apps page:
“The more you wear Apple Watch, the more you’ll realize just how personal a device it is. Because with so many different apps available, you can choose the ones that are most relevant to you, and create a customized experience.”
2. There are five references to “personal info” or “personal data,” all in the context of Apple protecting it, and one reference to a “personal hotspot;” intimate is never used; “style” is only used for QuickType learning your messaging style; custom is used three times, but in radically different contexts than the above:
iPad has one phrase that is this personal, in reference to the Retina display: “everything you do — playing games, surﬁng the web, enjoying photos and videos — becomes more personal, immediate, and immersive.”
3. Technically, I suppose you can’t divide by twenty-five by zero and get infinity. Sorry math nerds.
4. This is, perhaps, the least intimate of the above descriptions, but say it with the right tone and it, too, could be a sexual euphemism.
5. The page states, “Whatever you’re into, you’ll find an iPad app to help you do it better.”
6. None of this is static, incidentally; society may decide that its ok for humans to wear computers on their faces; but the roots of these social norms go deep and I do not think likely to change quickly. This social dynamic is one reason I don’t believe Microsoft’s HoloLense will ever become a more than a destination device.
7. Ironically, Google’s strength in data and algorithms means that they have the data to determine the immediate relevance of “time” to me, but the meaning of time is not determine from an algorithm, but from the liberal art of philosophy. Likewise, Apple’s strength in humanities means they are better equipped to understand the meaning time has for me, but they lack the data by which they can personalize this.