Turning inner space into outer space

March 7, 2015

Apple just might succeed in getting us to put time back on our wrists

Self magazine with Apple Watch
A recent cover of Self magazine with the Apple Watch strategically placed.

Back in ancient times when everyone had a smartphone except me, I was out boating with one of my kids. I needed to get back at a certain time, but didn’t have a watch so I asked a couple of young people in a nearby boat.

They had forgotten to bring their phones with them, so they weren’t able to help me. They were baffled by the concept of wearing a watch.

I wasn’t wearing a watch either, but for a different reason. I used to wear one all the time, but a few years earlier had accidentally left it in my jeans pocket and put it through the wash. It was ruined.

Lesson learned, don’t ever do that again. Sure enough, I bought a new watch and put it through the wash a few weeks later. Another one ruined.

Lesson learned, I am not meant to own a watch. And really, most of the time it’s easy to get along without one. The time is on clocks in the car, on the wall, on the computer, on outdoor signs. And, of course, it’s on the phone that you can easily dig out of your pocket.

On Monday, Apple is making a big announcement about its upcoming new product, the Apple Watch. Just as smartphones are really mini computers with a phone built in, these watches will be even tinier computers that happen to tell the time.

It’s not like Apple is inventing something new. There are already many so-called smart watches on the market, but none has really captured the imagination of consumers. But circumstances were similar when Apple came out with the iPhone. It wasn’t the first smartphone, but it was the first smartphone that really caught on. Now they’re everywhere.

So now the question is whether Apple can do a repeat performance with the watch.

I had my doubts until I read an article on TechCrunch by Matthew Panzarino called The Apple Watch is Time, Saved. After talking to people who have used a prototype of the Apple Watch, he has concluded that the Apple Watch may become “the primary way you access your iPhone during the day.”

One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

So in other words, Apple gets us addicted to iPhones and the other smartphones that came after them, then offers a way for us to wean ourselves off them. And it won’t come cheap. Prices will range from hundreds of dollars for the low end to thousands of dollars for the high end. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance where most people wouldn’t simply continue to make due with pulling out their phone.

It definitely seems like a luxury, but this might be where Apple finds success in the market. These watches appear to be nicely designed — aimed at people who not only want to a convenient way to check notifications from their iPhone but also like to flash some bling.

Early advertising seems to point in that direction. The cover of a recent issue of Self magazine, for example, features a svelte young woman looking sporty with an Apple Watch conspicuous on her wrist. It’s declared to be a spring must-have. In Vogue magazine, several full-page ads show close-up fashion points of the watch itself, with hardly a mention of what it does.

Will Apple’s strategy work? Only time, ahem, will tell.