Why the  in WATCH is More Important Than the Watch

With every major Apple event comes coverage of said announcement by the Apple Press (referred to as The AP for the rest of this piece)—blogs, link lists, rumor sites, podcasts, analysts. I am an ardent follower of The AP, and I am a writer (as well as a link lister and a podcaster), but I am not part of The AP. But with Apple’s official unveiling of the Apple Watch on March 9th (I know, there was an earlier watch-centric event. After much consternation, I’ve dubbed the 3/9 event an ‘unveiling’ and the 9/9/14 event an ‘announcement.’) and with the excellent coverage the watch has received since, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into something deeper than just the normal internal do I want to buy one? I’ve tried to figure out where and how the Apple Watch would fit into my technological landscape (I’m going to use this phrase a lot). When Apple first announced the watch on 9/9/14, I couldn’t see it. Beyond the beauty of the industrial design and the dual evil tickle-under-the-chin luster of Shiny and New, I couldn’t see it’s practicality (or lack thereof) justifying the price of what, at the time, appeared to be an accessory.

But then, a couple of days before the 3/9 event, word started to come out from the usual sources about the watch and its usage and, more importantly for me, what it meant for the usage of other Apple products. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino, who, I believe, was the center of the reporting, wrote:

Over the course of investigating the Apple Watch, I’ve spoken to several sources who have spent extended time with it.

There are a lot of interesting details, some of which we’ll get into. But, by far, the biggest recurring theme is how little you use your iPhone once you have one.

After these discussions, it seems certain that the Apple Watch will shortly be the primary way you access your iPhone during the day.

People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.

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.

And for me, that’s when everything started to click into place.

My introduction to Apple products came in 2005. For Christmas, I received the then two month-old 5th generation iPod, what I want to say was called the ‘iPod Video,’ but I can’t find any mention of that on the web. It was noteworthy because it was the first iPod that could play video and the first “classic” iPod that was available in a color other than white. I, as well as my brother, each got one. We both still have them and they both still work.

But more important than knowing what I possessed once I opened my present on Christmas Eve is understanding what my technological landscape looked like at the time. I was a senior at Manhattanville College. I didn’t have a notebook computer. I didn’t have wifi in my mother’s house, or in my dorm at school. I had a flip phone, a Motorola v60, but I hadn’t even begun texting. I had a desktop computer, a Sony Vaio (a computer I still look back quite fondly on, to be honest) that I used mostly for illegally downloading and storing music, a few movies, and pornography. I had no regular backup plan (the Vaio died twice; once because of a power surge during a blackout in the dorm and, miraculously, because the Vaio shipped with an already partitioned hard drive, I didn’t lose all of the music, movies, etc. that I’d downloaded. I only needed to use the restore disk to summon it back to life and once I did, all of my content—which no one called it back then—was still there. I still don’t know why that happened, actually. The Vaio would die for good in 2007 and I would lose everything, but we’ll get to that). Seeing as I was a college student and a writer, I did have a thumb drive that I kept all of my documents on. I would plug it in to a machine in the Library, work on my papers, and when I got back to my room, I would copy the files to the Vaio.

What I’m getting at here is this—ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined, didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe, what my technological landscape looks like now. And we’re not talking about a series of incremental changes that just streamlined daily tasks and operations. We’re talking about a shift much in the same way putting a man on the moon was a shift—it changed the boundaries of what we then considered possible.

The biggest mistake that The AP makes is the assumption that their usage of Apple products mimics the usage of Apple products by all. There are some that account for this bias, but on the whole, they are characteristically blind to how infrequently Normals update their desktops and/or notebook computers; how perfectly acceptable Normals see buying a year-old phone in return for a $100 discount is (or, *horrified gasp,* how even more acceptable buying a two-year-old phone in return for a $200 discount is); how many people never change the default layout of the iPhone home screen; how many people see the idea of paying for apps as completely ridiculous and foolhardy.

I see myself as having a foot in both worlds. In Apple parlance, I’d be a Normal+. I’m certainly not a member of The AP, but I’m not a Normal either. But I know that my usage, as well as my knowledge and understanding, of Apple products informs the people around me, especially older family and friends. I don’t remember the last family function where I wasn’t asked for some kind of Apple tech support. Every Normal+ knows exactly what I’m talking about.

With the unveiling of the Apple Watch, the discussions have already begun. And because it’s an entirely new product category, all of the questions and conversations essentially boil down to:

1. What will the Apple Watch do that currently can’t be done with the iPhone?
2. How will the Apple Watch fit into my current technological landscape?

The answer to the first question came during the 3/9 event. We got demos that showed off the watch’s mobile communication, payment, travel, and home automation capabilities. And Apple inferred that the apps that will almost certainly be developed for the watch in the future will provide even more value.

But the answer to the second question—that’s what interests me most.

The kernel of this piece came to me as I was driving. As I kept trying to imagine the Apple Watch usage that would cut into/replace my iPhone usage (which seems to be the most logical leap to make, considering the reliance the former has on the latter), I realized that I was trying to predict something that had already happened.

Apple excels at creating desire. They anticipate (correctly) your needs and in some instances, create need where there previously was none. In 2005, the iPod filled my mobile needs—music and videos and very (very) rudimentary games. Previously, that was a space that had been filled by a Discman. And even then, I was still tethered to the past; I connected my iPod to my car stereo using one of those cigarette lighter/cassette tape connectors that required you to tune the radio to some obscure station.

And then there was the work that I did on a computer. There were two paradigms: sitting at a desktop computer, with a monitor that was connected to a “tower,” which was usually on the floor or some dedicated shelf on the bottom of the “computer desk;” or working on a notebook computer in some location that you went to. For me, that didn’t happen until 2007, when I started graduate school.

As you’ll see, not much has changed. I would go on to add (thanks to Apple) one more category, but thats it. I define the four categories in the following ways:

-Mobile (Mobile)—technology that is meant to be used while on the move and/or away from all stationary technology.

-Mobile (Stationary)—technology that is easy to move, but usually winds up living in one or two places.

-Work (Mobile)—technology that still places an emphasis on productivity, but is portable.

-Work (Stationary)—technology that, once it is plugged-in/set-up, is never moved. You go to it. It usually has the best “specs.”

So, with those four categories in mind, let me explain the last decade of my technological landscape, and how I think the Apple Watch will wind up playing out not just for me, but for a great number of people:

1. 2005-2009

30GB ‘Classic.’ At this point, it wasn’t Mobile (Mobile); the battery life was terrible, and it wasn’t Mobile (Stationary); the emphasis was still on it as a mobile device, although the video capability certainly hinted at a stationary future.

-Work (Mobile)—MacBook
The ‘White’ MacBook. Simply put, it was purchased after seeing just how wonderful the iMac was. The cheap Toshiba laptop that I had purchased for graduate school work felt like an insult to the iMac in the other room. The power of Apple, indeed.

-Work (Stationary)—iMac
Purchased in 2007 after the Vaio finally died for good and a home-built (not by me) Windows machine died. After the Windows machine’s death, I wanted something reliable that just worked. I wouldn’t replace that iMac for another six years.

2. 2009-2010

-Mobile (Mobile)—iPhone/iPod Touch
My first iPhone was the 3G. I bought it three months before the 3GS was released. I still wasn’t really “following” Apple blogs yet. I sold the 3G and bought the 3GS. My wife did, too. She still cites it as her favorite iPhone. The iPod Touch, the first generation Touch, was for the gym. We got it for free after signing a year-long contract with Cablevision. As I actually worked the gym into a daily routine, the iPod Touch was eventually replaced by various iPod Shuffles.

-Mobile (Stationary)—iPod
The same 30GB ‘Classic.’ It was basically a music repository by this point. I only took it out of my car when I wanted to swap in a fresh 30GB of music.

-Work (Mobile)—Macbook
The same ‘White’ MacBook. I upgraded for about a day to a 13” MacBook Pro, but I suffered some severe Buyer’s Remorse (there was nothing wrong with the White MacBook at all; I just wanted something new.) and sold it to a friend.

-Work (Stationary)—iMac
The same machine that I’d purchased in 2007. I still remember friends and family seeing it and marveling over the fact that there was no tower.

Please note: if it wasn’t clear, this second cycle was defined by the revelation that was the iPhone. When the 3G came out in 2008, I was still locked into a contract with Verizon. I tried to quell my touchscreen desires with a Samsung Glyde, a Palm Treo, and a Blackberry Storm, but I finally bit the bullet, bought out my contract, and got the iPhone.

3. 2010-Present

-Mobile (Mobile)—iPhone
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve purchased every model since the 3G. My wife is an every-other person.

-Mobile (Stationary)—iPad
The 1st gen. I bought it because it was new and felt like a paradigm shift, even though, similar to Apple Watch, it wasn’t totally clear from the start what you would need it for. We both got the iPad 2 (it was so thin and so light!) and I got the 3rd gen. because of the Retina display. We purchased the iPad Air for my wife, who never had the 3rd gen., and I waited for, and am still using, the first iPad Mini with Retina display. It has become the couch/bed computer for reading and for music and social media. It’s also the jukebox—in the garage when we’re having parties outside, or in the house, connected via AirPlay to the home theater. It should be noted that around this time, I began paying for streaming music services.

-Work (Mobile)—MacBook Air/MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display
The MBA was purchased in 2010. I loved that machine. Like the iMac, anyone who saw it couldn’t believe how thin it was (I always laugh at how The AP is constantly irked by Apple’s fascination with making thin devices. The first thing every Normal notices about an Apple product is the thinness). The MBA was finally feeling a little long in the tooth, so I upgraded in December after seeing the dead-on-balls accurate 9to5Mac leak that the long-awaited MBA w/ Retina Display would not be as big as the 13” MBA. I needed more room, not less, no matter how much I wanted the Retina Display in the Air body.

-Work (Stationary)—iMac
Upgraded in 2013. By 2013, the iMac had basically become the content repository that the iPod Classic once served as. More on that in a second.

4. The Projected Future

-Mobile (Mobile)—Apple Watch
If you read/listen to The AP, you would think that none of them drive. But us Normals and Normal+’s? A lot of us do. None of The AP pointed out just how useful it will be to receive and take calls on your wrist, whether it means using a car Bluetooth pairing or not, while you’re driving. This applies even more so if you have kids. The Apple Watch as a device for parents, though, that’s a whole separate post.

-Mobile (Stationary)—iPhone 7+
I currently have the 6, and not the 6+, but part of the reason for that is because I’m still taking my phone in and out of my pocket throughout the course of the day. Out of the 28 apps on my main screen, I’ve got Kindle, Instapaper, and Newsstand (for The New Yorker and The New York Times). I spend long amounts of time reading in all four of them. Most of the time, if I can, I seek out my iPad Mini for those apps because the larger screen makes reading more enjoyable. But to cut a device out and still have a fair amount of screen size (as well as improve the reading experience when I’m away from my iPad) seems to be a fair tradeoff. Beyond those “pure” readings apps, there’s Tweetbot, Unread, Facebook, and Instagram, all of which will benefit from extra screen space as well. And of course, using the 7+ as my Rdio/Music.app/Overcast portal when we’re sitting around in the house or outside will be fine, since I’ll still be getting my notifications on the watch.

-Work (Mobile)—MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display
As beautiful as the new MacBook looks, I’m glad I didn’t wait for it. I’m enjoying the 15”’s extra screen space like I always thought I would and while a one port future might be inevitable, I’m not ready for it. I’v got a podcast to produce.

-Work (Stationary)—iMac
As beautiful and reliable as it is, it will keep regressing further into a very expensive external hard drive. I essentially only use it to work with photos (process pictures in Aperture, sync my iPhone pictures to iPhoto, and make books in iPhoto) and music (rip and sync the few CDs I buy every now and again). In the past few months, since I’ve been working on my podcast, I thought it would be beneficial to use the larger screen for Garageband, and even after jumping through all the ‘Target Display Mode’ hoops, and piecing together a second mouse and keyboard setup, there’s something painful about going back to a non-Retina display. You can’t un-see it. And I don’t regret buying the iMac when the Retina iMac was on the way because I wouldn’t have paid $2,500 for it.

During the Apple Watch event in September, I tweeted:

Apple going the Nike route with  Watch. Fuck the alphabet. You know what  means.

It’s one of my during-an-Apple-event observations that I’m proudest of. I own, and have owned, many pairs of Nikes. I debate and ponder and research every purchase in an eerily-similar way to my Apple products. I own Nike sweatpants and Nike hooded sweatshirts and Nike pullover hats, even Nike socks and Nike bathing suits. Buying my daughter her first pair of Nikes was a momentous occasion.

Nike isn’t just sneakers. It isn’t just apparel. It’s a lifestyle. The Nike swoosh says something (whether or not that’s a good thing isn’t what I’m debating right now). It projects an image, or at least creates the sensation or projecting an image. Sure, Nike started with the sneakers. And I’m sure, at some point, in some marketing meeting, there was a slide with a shoe in the middle with arms protruding off of it that listed sweatpants and sweatshirts and socks and bathing suits as accessories to the shoes. But the sneaker isn’t Nike’s greatest value anymore.

The value is Nike itself.

The value is in the swoosh.

What if, along those lines, Apple is shifting away from the notion that any one of their products are the “hub” of your technological landscape? The iPhone no longer “needs” a computer to sync to. The iPad can be your couch/bed computer, or it can be your all-the-time computer. In either situation, it too does not need a place to sync to.

And, sure, in the same way that Nike started with sneakers, Apple started with the computer. But Apple’s greatest product isn’t the computer anymore.

What if at the September watch event, the unveiling of the WATCH branding  was just as important of an announcement as the watch itself? (It isn’t a coincidence that the only obvious identifying mark on Apple computers/products for years has been the glowing .)

I think that Apple’s new hub is .

All of their products? Accessories.

Because the value is Apple itself.

The value is in the .

It certainly has been this way, unofficially, for a while now. And the other 3/9 event news, the introduction of the new MacBook, fits perfectly into this breakdown. It’s essentially an iPad with a keyboard. It can be a ‘Work (Stationary)’ machine for a Normal or a ‘Work (Mobile)’ machine for The AP or for a Normal+.

When I began as a student at Manhattanville College in 2002, Windows XP was installed on all of the college machines. I was a student from 2002 through 2006, and then was an employee of the college from 2007 through 2013. In my ten years at Manhattanville, I never worked on a machine that didn’t have Windows XP on it. Part of that was Manhattanville’s lackadaisical upgrade cycle, but part of that was also the fact that Microsoft supported XP for 12 years.

That is not the Apple way.

It’s purely anecdotal, but I’d argue that my technological landscape is a decent representation of the average American technological landscape. (Oh, and I just wanted to shove in here at some point that I recognize and fully cop to the garishness of this exercise as a whole.) My update cycle is more frequent than most, but that’s the only major difference.

If I’m right, the unveiling of the Apple Watch marks the beginning of the cannibalization of the iPad. But that’s okay. Because it'll be no different than watching the iPod be cannibalized by the iPhone, or like watching the iPhone cannibalize itself every year. And for now, the iPhone is safe anyway; your Apple Watch will depend on it to function. If I were a betting man, though, I’d wager on that dependence ending in the near future.

I keep going back to that one sentence in Panzarino’s piece:

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.

I believe this because I trust the writer, but I also believe it because that’s what good new technology—and especially Apple’s good new technology—does. It obsoletes what came before. It makes you feel dumb for ever thinking that old piece of junk was great. So if I’m Apple, of course I’m looking to make the hub, the center of the company’s existence, as obsolete-proof as possible. Apple knows better than anyone that computers, phones, tablets, watches are all fleeting. Nothing lasts forever.

So—. Is it strong enough to outlast the boundaries of silicon, aluminum, steel, glass, gold?

Only time will tell.