The Apple Watch has been around for almost four and a half years, and I’m just about to (maybe) buy my first one. This isn’t a new habit. I held off the iPhone for five years, until I could get a decent cellular data plan without a contract, and I’m still using an old iMac as my only Mac, 10 years after buying it.
So what is it about the Apple Watch 5 that finally makes it attractive? Well, there’s one obvious answer — and one reason that’s a lot less obvious.
That always-on Apple Watch screen
I wear a regular watch, the kind with a dial and a battery that lasts a year or more. I’ve always worn a watch, and replacing it with a blank screen that had to be woken just to see the time was ridiculous to me.
The Series 5’s new ultra-low-power screen mode, which lets it stay on all day in a glanceable sleep state, takes care of this. And I have a feeling that this will be the tipping point for many other potential buyers. Not just watch-wearers, either. With an always-on face, the Apple Watch looks less like a dorky wrist computer, and more like a proper watch. And remember, a watch is not just a timepiece. It’s a piece of jewelry. For many men, it’s the only piece of jewelry they wear. Replacing it is a big deal. (And to be honest, I still love my watch, so I’m considering wearing the Apple Watch on the other wrist.)
Apple Watch Series 5: Good enough to last
The other big issue that kept me off the Apple Watch for so long is that it’s both a $500 watch, and that it’s not a $500 watch. Like almost everyone in the world, I’ve never spent close to $500 on a watch. A $50 Casio was pushing it for me. But if I am going to spend $500 on a watch, then it should be something that lasts a lifetime.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is far from being a potential heirloom. But it’s the first time I’ve looked at an Apple Watch and thought that it might last for more than a few years. It probably won’t last as long as my iMac, but it has evolved enough that subsequent updates won’t make it look like an iPhone 3GS looks next to an iPhone X series.
Against this view is the fact that the Series 5 is using last year’s innards. The Series 5 is pretty much a Series 4 with an amazing new screen. That means that the 2020 Apple Watch will likely be the one that gets thinner, or has a huge jump in battery life.
But right now, Series 5 seems good enough.
Notifications and biometrics
We’re almost 500 words in, and I haven’t mentioned the Watch’s functions. The whole purpose of the Apple watch is to make notifications convenient and keep track of your health. Nobody’s getting any younger, so having the Watch keep an eye on your health is great, as is the Watch’s ability to trick you into exercising more.
But the real killer for me is notifications. I’m forever pulling my iPhone out of my pocket to check an incoming message, or to check the map directions, or to check what song is playing now on shuffle. And so on. For years, I thought that an Apple Watch would be just another source of unwanted stimulation. Then I realized that it’s the opposite.
I already have my notifications pared down to the bare essentials. That means if I get an alert, it’s almost certainly one I want to see. And I’m not about to say that pulling my iPhone out of my pocket is a pain, that it’s a monumental inconvenience. It isn’t. But, like advertising billboards in the city, it’s noise. Constant, obtrusive noise. And that kind of pollution isn’t good for you.
The Apple Watch, then, is a way to make notifications — and routine consultations of music tracks, map directions, etc. — less obtrusive. In this case, the iPhone is the pocket watch, and the Apple Watch is the wristwatch. You can glance to get the information you need, exactly when you need it. There’s no interruption of flow, like you get when you drag out your iPhone.
And civilization has had a few hundred years to get used the people glancing at their wrists. There is a social expectation involved. This is still far from the case for our pocket computers.
Wearables are the future
Wearables seem to be the future of computing. Or at least, the future of mobile computing. You can take care of most tasks with your watch. You pull out your iPhone only to read, write or take a photo. iPads and Macs are where more intensive work gets done.
But more importantly, smaller, specialized computers are ever less intrusive. You’d never pull out a MacBook to read the news on the metro. Nor would you — unless you’re some kind of a savage — light up your iPhone to check messages in the theater. I’m hoping that the Apple Watch Series 5 will let me use my gadgets less, not more. We’ll see if that works out.