I’ve had the privilege of being one of the first owners of Apple Watch and the last week has been a delightful one. This is the first of six weekly reviews in which I’m going to share my thoughts about Apple Watch. My goal is not to focus on whether you need Apple Watch, the limitations of the device, or how to use it. Instead, my goal is to write from the intersection of technology and liberal arts, that is, exploring how this technology impacts our lives in what it means to be human and to truly live.
I don’t think Apple Watch is a device you can evaluate in a week. It’s neither technology, nor fashion, nor both; it is something utterly different than we’ve experienced before. You won’t find a “pronouncement” about Apple Watch’s future in this piece and only as time goes by will I offer more of my opinion about Apple Watch and its strengths and weaknesses. For now, let me relate reflections on how Apple Watch has helped me be more fully human in the last week.
Apple Watch and Being Human
I got my Apple Watch and, as I always do when unboxing Apple products, took time to savor the moment, to notice intricate details like the direction the tabs pointed, the pill on the tabs matching the notification center pill, and touching the soft material on the top of the watch container–before I even touched the watch. Apple knows about first impressions. Love at first sight is real.
The first hours with the watch were fun, but not life changing. I played around with a bit and was incredibly excited, but it was a bit of a let-down honestly. It took a long time for everything to load onto the watch, apps I initially launched didn’t quite work, and I was simultaneously giddy, disappointed, apprehensive, and elated.
But the next day changed all of that. I was at work when my wife iMessaged me a picture of my 3-month-old son. She does this all the time and I typically view the picture on my Mac or my iPhone, depending on what’s closer at the time. This time, though, I got a tap on my wrist and raised it to see his face on my arm.
Words cannot describe how incredible that feeling was. This wasn’t just another picture; my son felt close, we felt intimately connected, it felt like he was touching my skin, like he had tapped me when he came to me–and my heart overflowed with love and closeness in a way I have never felt getting a picture on my phone. There is something so special, so intimate about the wrist, being on the skin. I wish I was a poet to describe the sensation, and I suspect those of you reading this without a watch will think I’m crazy, but seeing my son on my wrist, nearly touching me, was unbelievably special.
During the keynote, and weeks afterwards, I just couldn’t figure out why Apple put pictures on the wrist and to highlight Instagram in the keynote. As I tweeted:
Instagram on the wrist seems the worst use case to highlight in the keynote.
— Mark Miller (@MarkDMill) March 9, 2015
I was thinking that such a small screen would be horrible for viewing pictures. For weeks, I thought constantly about why, of all the apps Apple could have shown, they highlighted one that didn’t make sense on a small screen. Boy was I wrong.
A small screen is not the best way to view a picture. But something worn is a deeply intimate way. That’s why, for hundreds of years, both men and women have put tiny pictures into lockets, pocket watches, and wallets. None of those were good ways to view a picture. But they are a dearly intimate way to see the ones you love, an intimacy that comes from the medium of the picture and not merely the message of the picture. Coupled with a tap on my wrist telling me about it, Apple captured that sense of intimacy in a way simply indescribable.
This isn’t just another electronic device. This isn’t fashion. This isn’t function. Apple has captured something deeply human about this. Apple is delivering on the vision I wrote about earlier, of deeply human computing, in a way only Apple could. And suddenly my Apple Watch was transformed from not just another gadget and place to get notifications, but something that deeply connects me to my wife and family when I’m away from them.
Apple Watch and Time
Nothing else that happened has come close to the wonder of that moment, but Apple Watch has continued to benefit me in small but meaningful ways. For example, when I drive, I pull my phone out of my pocket, unlock it, open Overcast (hands down the best podcast app), choose my podcast, hit play, lock the phone, and then set it in the center console (a process that took 13 seconds when I timed it just now). With Apple Watch, I tap my wrist to wake, swipe up for my “Now Playing” glance and hit play. That’s it. Just 3 seconds. And I never have to take my phone out of my pocket. Pausing, rewinding, or skipping is just as fast and easy, just one swipe away. For those of you scoffing at seconds saved, just remember that you’ve pulled out your phone when you put something in the microwave for 10 seconds. Never underestimate the power of convenience:
For those who doubt the value of convenience, just remember that millions of people don’t have a passcode on their smartphone to save 4 taps — Mark Miller (@MarkDMill) April 23, 2015
I’ve even turned to Apple Watch to do things that would be faster to do on my Mac or iPhone, because Apple Watch was with me and the others weren’t. Sitting in my chair at home, I’m far more likely to use Apple Watch to ask Siri how long it takes to go somewhere than to walk across the room and get my iPhone (even though that would probably take less time overall!). One day, I left my computer with music going. I got to the door of my office–3 steps away–and realized my mistake. I lifted my wrist, went to my apps, launched Remote, and paused the music. I’m sure that took far longer than taking 3 steps and pressing one button on my computer, but the ever-present nature of Apple Watch was more convenient.
ApplePay, likewise, is absolutely incredible. You thought it was amazing to not have to pull out your wallet and slide a card to pay? Wait ’til you don’t even have to pull out your phone.
The only thing more amazing than using ApplePay on my phone…is doing it on my wrist. Wow.
— Mark Miller (@MarkDMill) April 29, 2015
ApplePay was made for Apple Watch. It just happens to work on iPhone as well.
Apple Watch and Life
This should come as no surprise if you’ve read people’s first impressions with Apple Watch, but I cannot communicate how nice it is to be untethered from my phone. Last night, I realized that I didn’t know where my phone was, which surprised me, not just because we have two rooms in our apartment and its hard to lose things but also because I never don’t have my phone with me. Never. But suddenly, having my phone doesn’t matter. If I walk to the garage or help my wife with groceries, I don’t have to grab my phone. That act is not only significant in reality, it is freeing mentally.
Shopping for groceries with my wife gave me another moment where I saw how powerful that notification convenience was. Our son was crying and, to finish shopping as quickly as we could, my wife and I split up. My hands were full pushing the stroller and grabbing items off the shelf when I needed to ask my wife a a question. Normally, I would have grabbed my phone and used Siri, but that would have required using my hands, both of which were full, and one of which I could not use or else my son would start crying (long story). It was so powerful, in that moment, to say “Hey Siri” and send a message to my wife. It was even more powerful to get her reply on my wrist, see it, and dismiss it in less than a second.
I want to revisit something I wrote a few weeks ago about the right questions to ask regarding Apple Watch:
Better questions to consider [than “Do you need one?” are] whether the new gadget offers unique benefits, whether those benefits [are] worth the cost, and what [is] the cost of not having those unique benefits…I don’t think we yet know how to answer these questions regarding Apple Watch…Whether or not Apple Watch will make your life better and richer is an open question and one that people will answer differently–but it is the right question to ask.
Having reflected on this, and having experienced Apple Watch, I believe the first two questions are wrong. What matters is not the cost-benefit analysis; what matters is whether Apple Watch makes life deeper, richer, and more fulfilling. As I started to write this article, I initially tried to evaluate whether Apple Watch was worth its price. But that thought obliterated the joy and delight I had the way an elephant’s foot smashes a banana.
There are just some things that cannot be evaluated monetarily, where even the attempt to do so destroys the value that they had. Things like love, joy, delight, intimacy, and time make our lives richer; they make life worth living; they make us deeply human. They can’t be bought, paid for, earned, deserved, or evaluated. They live in the realm of the liberal arts, of poetry and song and art, not of accountants, bottom lines, and spec sheets. In my first week, Apple Watch helped bring them to me. And you can’t put that in a spreadsheet.
This is part 1 of an ongoing series of weekly reviews of MarkDMill’s experience & reflection on Apple Watch.
- Week 2-3: Its Form Is Its Function
- Week 4: A Foundation for the Future
- The Future of Apple Watch (WWDC & beyond)
- Two Months with Apple Watch
My thanks to LongScreen for sponsoring markdmill.com this week. LongScreen does one thing and does it well: merge screenshots vertically or side-by-side. It takes overlapping screenshots of text, merges them into one seamless image, and can even cleans up menu bars. Read more of why I like it or get it today!
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