I admit it. I’m excited about the Apple Watch.
I never said I was one of those gadget-averse mindfulness writers. Yes, any new device brings potential for distraction. Yes, consumerism is wasteful and destructive. Did any of that suddenly become true when mobile computers were invented? No.
All consumer technologies have these problems. The question is, which ones are worth it, and which ones are not? That’s largely a personal question, depending on how one lives and works. For me, the Apple Watch has the potential to be one of my favorite material things.
I love the iPhone because — and only because — it helps me explore the world. When I’m sitting and working, give me a Mac over an iOS device any day. But when I’m out living, the iPhone is a powerful enhancement to my body. I use its sensors to keep track of my discoveries and find new ones outside my line of sight. I use its network connection to share those adventures with the people I love. And it reminds me to go to the drug store and get toothpaste when I walk by.
What I don’t like about the iPhone is that it’s too obtrusive. The act of pulling the phone out of its pocket and putting it back requires all these little movements and careful manipulation. Every nerve and muscle involved in that process is taken away from the adventure.
As for distracting notifications, addictive, time-sucking apps, and all the other ways people abuse smartphones, they don’t bother me because I don’t allow them on my device. It’s not a hard problem to solve.
The Apple Watch stands to improve upon all the things I love about the iPhone except the camera. Since the first generation watch will require an iPhone to be somewhere on my person, anyway, that’s fine. When I want to take a picture, I’ll pull out the phone, but otherwise it can stay hidden, and I don’t have to fiddle with it. When following mapping directions, the watch will silently tap on my wrist to indicate a turn, no screen necessary. Reminders and VIP messages can be seen with a quick glance, and I can respond by voice. The computer will barely be present in my world as I move about in it.
And when I do want to use the screen to learn more about my surroundings, the watch will still reduce the disembodied feeling of staring at a phone. If I’m going to read anything longer than a sentence, I’ll still probably use the phone, but if I only need to check my travel progress, the time, or the weather, that’s a one-second glance.
Honestly, believe it or not, one of the features I’m most excited about is the ability to tell time! This isn’t the first watch to display the time, sunrise and sunset times, or the moon phase, but it might be the best. Oh, and one of its faces lets you tell time using the orbital position of every planet in the solar system, which I swear to you I am going to use.
The other feature I’m psyched about is heartbeat messaging. I’m pretty sure that’s a new one. I can’t think of a more intimate way to communicate with someone at a distance, can you?
So that’s why I’m excited for the Apple Watch.
Yesterday, I saw the news that cretins are laying the groundwork for advertising on the Apple Watch. For now, I’m going to maintain my optimism that Apple will preserve the user’s ability to strictly forbid any watch ads unless opting in explicitly by installing apps. I will never install such apps. I don’t want Facebook on my watch.
I do want it on my phone, though, and the way Apple has handled that concerns me slightly. Apple’s OS lets us disable notifications for whatever apps we choose, and that’s a good, good thing. Notifications are basically advertisements; I don’t care what they actually say or do, they compel your attention away from whatever you’re doing and towards some app, and that seems like anti-meditation to me. So I allow almost no notifications.
But Facebook decided to spin off its messaging into a standalone app, a despicable move wresting notification control away from the user. If you disable notifications for Facebook Messenger, it harangues you to turn them back on every time you launch the app, making it profoundly unpleasant to use Facebook messages on the iPhone without allowing it to interrupt you all the time. If you ask me, Apple should reject Facebook Messenger from the App Store on these grounds, but it hasn’t.
If it ever becomes possible to annoy Apple Watch users without their consent, the whole idea will be ruined.