The Apple Watch and The Pointless March of Progress


Not that it’s any particular surprise to anyone who knows me, but I didn’t watch, listen to, or otherwise actively pay attention to Apple’s much-anticipated new-product love-in on Tuesday. Not because I didn’t have a passing, if marginal, interest, but because, along with anyone else paying attention, I already knew goddamned-well what they were going to announce. The only real reason for watching was to hear Tim Cook describe how Apple’s Revitalizing Miracle Tonic would cure my rheumatism, dyspepsia and receding hair line and leave me with minty fresh breath.

And so I waited until the end of the day when the various blogs and media outlets had sufficiently finished with their requisite orgasms to see what they had actually announced: a plus-sized iPhone (or pair, rather) and a watch, all of which we already goddamned-well knew they were going to announce. But the fervor is never so much in the product itself, so much as learning how it will invariably bring us closer to God.

Although I generally have no truck with iPhones, I admittedly respected Apple for previously sticking to their alleged design principles in refusing to participate in the smartphone dick-measuring contest of screen size. I’m still using a Nexus 4, which is just short of being too large for me to use somewhat competently with one hand. In all fairness, I have relatively small and scrawny hands, which means that at a tender age, I realized that I would never be an accomplished professional magician (much to my dismay), but more recently, as subsequent generations continue to swell in size, it means that I’ve forwent upgrading my phone with the fleeting hope that someone would realize that there’s a viable market for people who don’t actually want to shove a tablet down their pants.

But for all the bluster about how the previous iPhones were meticulously engineered to be eminently usable with one hand, it was inevitable that they would eventually cave to the ostensible market pressures that decreed bigger is better. Of course, the relentless and seemingly pointless increases in smartphone sizes aren’t actually due to any (consumer-driven) market forces, but rather a conspiracy perpetrated by smartphone manufacturers to spur the adoption of smartwatches which will soon be the only practical way to interact with our phones because the phones themselves will be too goddamned big to actually use as they were intended.

This, of course, brings us to the Apple Watch, whose most notable feature is that it’s not called the iWatch. I’ve owned a number of watches in my time, ranging from quite shitty to quite expensive, and the only thing I’ve taken from those experiences is that I don’t really care much about watches. The most remarkable thing I can say about it is that it’s not nearly as homely as Samsung’s attempts at a smartwatch. But despite Johnny Ive’s assurances that he jerks off to it several times a day, so far as I’m concerned, it still looks like the contemporary version of the Casio calculator watch I had in fourth grade. But then again, the Apple Watch is not made for people who care about watches; it’s made for the same assholes who, before this week, would have said “why do I need a watch, when I have a smartphone?”

To wit, the Apple Watch isn’t really a watch, so much as it’s a miniaturized iPhone strapped to your wrist. This might be a rather nice thing if it actually replaced your phone, but rather it’s essentially just acting as a middleman between you and your phone, making it the mobile equivalent of the person who takes your order at the drive-through.

The real significance of the Watch, however, is not so much in what purpose it actually serves, but rather that it legitimizes the smartwatch as a bona fide piece of consumer technology. This might seem a bit unfair to anyone sporting a Galaxy Whatever-The-Hell-They’re-Calling-It-Now Watch, but just as Apple didn’t invent the smartphone or the rectangle, they didn’t invent the smartwatch, either, but they do bring the built-in chic and herd mentality necessary to establish a new market, not just for smartwatches, but for the broader category of so-called “wearable computing”.

“Wearable computing”, of course, is a euphemism for technology that is largely redundant or superfluous that people will nonetheless pay good money for. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have the potential to do something genuinely useful, but the wearable movement thus far and for the foreseeable future hasn’t and doesn’t promise anything that dramatically improves my actual quality of life or productivity, so much as it just acts as another proxy for my phone’s screen, threatens to make me look like a bionic asshole or inundates me with information that I realistically have no practical use for and no sane person would give a shit about if I bothered to share it.

The most obvious example of the latter is the “intelligent” fitness accessory, often manifested in the form of the bracelet that keeps track of a lot of seemingly interesting, but relatively useless physical and biometric activity. Even assuming that these are more accurate than the heart rate tracker on the treadmill at my gym, which at any given moment indicates that I’m either in cryogenic sleep or my heart is about to explode, I came to the sober realization that the only intelligent fitness device I actually needed was my own brain, which is more than capable of recognizing when I’ve been sitting on my ass all day, rather than going to the gym or otherwise getting some legitimate exercise. If my benchmark for whether I’m “fit” is established by how many laps I’ve made around the water cooler at work according to my fitness band, then I probably need to reevaluate my overall health goals.

More telling than the number of people I’ve known who’ve owned some manner of FitBit or Up or FuelBand or their ilk is the proportion whose fitness-minded “smart” accessory now sits unused in a drawer (for the inquisitive, that proportion is roughly 100%). The only people who will consistently derive some manner of satisfaction from these types of devices are information junkies for bragging rights and the A-types who’ve wistfully convinced themselves (or more often, tried to convince others) that they can effectively micro-manage every facet of their existence.

Of course, the Apple Watch naturally “innovates” on this concept by taking it to its most pointless extreme. You can now share your heartbeat with your contacts, a new benchmark in the evolution of useless shit masquerading as ground-breaking technology, which I suppose is useful if you have a friend or family member on their deathbed and you can’t be bothered to visit them, but you’d still like to know the exact moment they kick, or if you’re a technologically-inclined serial killer.

(I won’t go into Apple Pay, for now. While I could spend several thousand words brandishing my thoughts on Apple Pay and mobile payments in general, for the sake of brevity, suffice to say that, depending on the day of the week, I’m either slightly ambivalent or largely indifferent on the subject, which is not to imply that I don’t have an opinion on the subject, but rather that I do have a quite strong opinion on why I don’t care.)

Overall, the best thing that can be said about the Apple Watch (or any of the other existing smartwatches, for that matter) is that it’s a seemingly functional doppelganger to your iPhone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s not bullshit ourselves and pretend that it’s something magical or revolutionary. At best, it’s a solution to the minor inconvenience of having to pull your phone out of your fucking pocket.

About 5-10% of the time, my phone is an incredibly and indispensably useful tool, and if we’re truly honest with ourselves (which most of us aren’t), the other 90-95% of the time, it’s a distraction, which, in reality, means that my wife will chastise me for constantly fucking with my watch, as opposed to constantly fucking with my phone, when we’re at dinner.

Of course, none of this is to imply that I’ll boycott the smartwatch “revolution”. Odds are that I’ll eventually own some manner of intelligent wristwear, but not with the intent or expectation of revolutionizing my existence…just to have something new to fuck with.

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