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How We Still Misunderstand  Watch


Find Silvano D'Agostino's online prose.

How We Still Misunderstand  Watch

Silvano D'Agostino

Articles inevitably keep popping up regarding  Watch’s pricing and purpose, particularly since the March 9 event has been announced and we are rapidly approaching the April launch. However, regardless of its technical purpose, especially IRL but on the interwebs as well, the Watch still appears to be misunderstood deeply on the most basic level of attraction.

Somebody, it might have been Neil Cybert, recently brought up an old video of Steve announcing Apple was changing its legal name from Apple Computers to Apple, Inc. — at their core were still computers, no doubt, but no longer what people perceived and probably still largely perceive as actual computers: A thing you sit down by at your desk or maybe put on your lap. Whoever really thought of the iPod as a computer? In talking about the iPhone especially in the pre-announcement days, who figured it would be a legit computer? They all compute, but we wouldn’t put them into the same “computer” category.

Undeniably, the iPhone is more computer than what we used to think of as mobile phone. Likewise, of course, the Watch will be more of a computer than any watch before it. But even more so than the iPhone, it’s also the least computer-y computer we’ve ever owned. Apple has raised this point in a less obvious manner in their marketing repeatedly:

“Our most personal device yet.”

This is true because we’re physically closer to the “computer” than ever before and can customize it more (easily), yes, but we don’t think of our Watch as a computer, and — unlike with the iPhone — I don’t think Apple necessarily wants the world to.

I forget who exactly said this, apologies, but on some podcast recently somebody made a point along the lines of “computing isn’t saturated yet”, mainly regarding the Car rumors. And I agree, but it appears to me that so does Apple, albeit somewhat more soubtly now. As much as Apple has moved into fashion with Watch and as interesting as that move is strategically and in the way it differentiates them from really every other company, at the most basic level Apple still makes computers. Packaged more subtly than ever, appealing to us in completely in new areas; in a few years, most might not even be aware they’re using one, but they’ll be computers nonetheless.

When I’ve talked to friends about my plans to get an  Watch, they question me. “What does it do?” It does cool things like displaying notifications, and interesting communications things, and there’s going to be a lot of value in terms of identity with things like home automation and Apple Pay, I say, but that’s not even the point; you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about what the Watch does[1]. It’s about what the Watch is. It’s a fashion statement, an accessory that just happens to super[2] useful, a shiny new awesome piece of art of a gadget. When Kanye West launches sneakers, you don’t question their functionality. When most people buy a watch, they don’t question functionality. Smartwatches, like smartphones and to some extent tablets before them, haven’t found their place in our lives because they have been less appealing compared to any regular watch, just not done well.

Apple is the one to change the game here. Tech people find the Watch interesting, sure, but there is a reason Apple is buying up two-page ad slots in Vogue. It’s a device that appeals to the fashion world, even though may not quite understand it. Likewise, the tech world continues to wonder why one might pay thousands of dollars for a device you could literally get in a different color for a fraction of the price[3]. But that’s exactly why the purported and unprecedented range of prices is central to  Watch: No fashionable luxury watch could sell for $350; no wrist-based tech gadget could sell for multiple thousands. The collections make a lot of sense: Those who mainly seek functionality can get it (Sport); those who are really looking for a fashion accessory can get it just as well (Edition). The “regular” Watch… I am not entirely sure how it differentiates itself. Band-“compatibility” could be one thing; the sapphire screen another.

Regardless: Surely March 9 should clear up many if not all of these questions. Come April, we can then re-assess. And by October if not by WWDC we should be able to tell how well understood  Watch really was.

  1. To be fair, the sport collection may be a little different, I believe. But I’ll get to that in a second.  ↩

  2. Kinda?  ↩

  3. A different kind of metal, also, but hey…  ↩