About a year ago, I started wearing a watch again because I got tired of having to pull my phone out of my pocket just to check the time. It’s a Skagen, one of the thinnest, most minimal, yet stylish watches I could find. I started wearing a watch because I needed a solution to a specific task.
I’m interested in the Apple Watch because I like the idea of having a more direct, phone-less, dare I say personal, connection with the handful of tasks and people that are important to me. But I worry that Apple, developers, and the industry as a whole don’t have the right approach, and aren’t building the right tools, to let us create and focus on those connections.
As I was listening to Clockwise #63 this morning, Jacqui Cheng told a story about talking to a friend at a party who was wearing an Android smartwatch. Every 30 seconds the watch was going off with notifications—just like our smartphones—and every 30 seconds this friend was distracted. It ruined conversation and Jacqui eventually walked away.
At least we can put our phones away and easily silence them. After all, the iPhone has a dedicated mute switch, but the Apple Watch doesn’t. Plus, note that Apple removed the mute switch from the iPad Air 2 (though Do Not Disturb is available in Settings). Let’s hope this isn’t a trend.
Now consider that the advertising industry is working on new designs and delivery methods to get ads on your Apple Watch. Ads based on things like your physical proximity to a store you tweeted about, or a paid post from a Facebook Page you like, or a rewards program you may or may not have opted into.
On your wrist.
Signal versus noise
To its credit, Apple has taken good steps over the past few years to help us focus on the things that matter. The VIP feature in iOS and OS X allows us to disable general email alerts, yet get alerts when specific people email us or a conversation gets a reply. The Favorites feature in the iOS Phone app means certain people can call us even if Do Not Disturb is enabled.
But where are these mechanisms for other apps, whether provided by Apple or third-party developers? What if we want Calendar alerts on our wrist for personal events (perhaps on a specific calendar), but not work appointments? Why can’t Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and others tap into the Favorites or VIP systems? Hell, what about the people who want ads from, say, some of the companies they have in Passbook or liked on Facebook, but not all of them?
Apple excels at building powerful platforms on which developers build incredible things, but it usually lags behind in letting us personalize these incredible devices. Not being able to set a wallpaper on the original iPhone is one thing, but Apple’s most personal device yet could also be its most culturally disruptive and inflexible, possibly not in a good way. Phones can be put away, but watches aren’t really meant for purses and pockets.
The Apple Watch has a lot of potential. But I want to see more from Apple and third parties on how they’ll let us filter out the noise that will now so desperately want to reach our wrists.