Digital Divide No. 12: Moving on from the Apple Watch
I sold my Apple Watch yesterday, after sporadic use over the past two years or so. It was never a "sure thing" - I was always skeptical that I'd use it as an "everyday" watch option, but the initial positive hype/press intrigued me enough to get me to ask my family for one for my birthday. I figured that, at a minimum, I could use it to track my runs and time workouts even if it didn't end up being a piece of my daily carry kit. Fast forward two years later: my Apple Watch had essentially become a rather expensive bedside alarm clock and fitness tracker.
Why didn't this experiment work? It's mainly due to my continuing quest to reduce the number of things in my life that beep at me, buzz, or otherwise constantly attempt to refocus my attention on something other than what I'm doing at the moment. I found the Apple Watch highly distracting. I know you can turn off the various e-mail, text, and app alerts, but then, what's really the difference between an Apple Watch and a Timex Ironman? And you don't have to worry about the Ironman's battery dying prematurely on a daily basis. Many tout the myriad health tracking functions of the Apple Watch, but there are other specialized run trackers and GPS watches or heart rate monitors that do a better job at a lower price point.
But what ultimately did the Apple Watch in was the fact that I liked wearing my "analog" watches too much. Just as the iPad Pro is never going to replace my pens and notebooks, I love the handful of watches I have (both automatic and quartz, for those of you who care about such things) far too much to replace them with a gadget that will eventually have to be upgraded and/or will become obsolete and stop working as intended. There's something about the craftsmanship of a well-made (even a mass-produced) analog watch that a "smartwatch" can't duplicate. This has been the primary obstacle to the mainstream success of the Apple Watch, especially on the higher end where Apple has tried to compete in the watch market at multiple price points ranging from $400 to $10,000. From the Verge:
"Many companies have tried to enter the (luxury watch) market, which values exclusivity and hand-craftsmanship over mass-produced devices built by robots.... There's a reason the biggest luxury watch brands have been around for an average of 100 years. People who spend tens of thousands of dollars on a mechanical watch aren't looking for innovation or dying to know when their next meeting is ... Those watches are statement pieces, or heirlooms, or purchased just for the appreciation of a handcrafted device that largely hasn't changed in half a century."
I'd argue that these same points apply not just to those who spend $10k on a Rolex or $20,000-plus on a Patek Philippe, but even to those who spend $200 or less on an entry-level automatic Seiko or $35 on a Timex weekender. Either one of those is going to last longer than the Apple Watch. Much longer. They lack the planned obsolescence and obligatory "upgrade" inherent in all digital technology products. Even though the Apple Watch was a birthday gift from my family, I never developed the same sense of attachment to it as, say, the automatic watch my parents gave me for my 21st birthday (which still works as good as new 15 years later), or the cheap quartz Swatch my grandparents gave me when I was a kid (which probably would also still work, if I ever got around to changing the battery). I knew I would eventually have to part with it.
When the Apple Watch first came out, I recall many people in the watch industry expressing not fear, but rather a sort of smug satisfaction that Apple was going to do them a favor by showing people how nice it can be to have a watch on your wrist. The thought was that people would test out an Apple Watch and wonder what else was out there. There's definitely something to this: I know more than one person who purchased an Apple Watch only to resell it later, having discovered (or rediscovered) the world of mechanical watches. After years of hearing how the "cell phone is killing/replacing" the watch, who would've thought a cell phone company would contribute to bringing it back?
The Apple Watch for me was a fun experiment while it lasted. While it was a great reminder of how nice it is to have the date and time on my wrist, I learned that I don't need my watch to do email.