Through the Looking Glass
THE APPLE WATCH IS NOW A REALITY—AND IT HAS ALREADY DIVIDED THE INDUSTRY ABOUT ITS POTENTIAL IMPACT. Sean Li PONDERS IF THE DEVICE MIGHT BE A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE RATHER THAN A MERE TIMEPIECE
There’s little doubt that one of the most anticipated announcements this year was for the Apple Watch. Making its debut on September 9, alongside the new iPhone, Apple’s entry into the nascent marketplace for wearable technology was the subject of much conjecture. The watch industry couldn’t help but notice, as there were rumours swirling that Apple had approached a Swiss watch manufacturer to build the watch, though that was never confirmed. While the iPhone images were roaming the web for weeks in advance, there was nary a sighting of a watch—certainly nothing related to the product that Apple ultimately unveiled.
While I generally focus on finely crafted mechanical timepieces, the Apple Watch is significant enough that I feel the industry would be remiss to simply dismiss it out of hand. Will it have an immediate impact on the watches that are available in our favourite boutiques? It’s unlikely; the Apple Watch is certainly not going to be held in the same light. It’s not that it’s not well crafted—if anything, Apple has shown a knack for craftsmanship, and the company has a definite grasp on combining functionality and user friendliness that many have emulated but few have been able to duplicate.
What did grab my attention, though, is that Apple certainly seemed to have done its homework with the Apple Watch. The company presented a much more complete offering, even if it’s not going to be available for a few months yet, than anyone could have expected. You only need to look at the multitude of strap offerings, the two case sizes (38mm and 42mm) and even the various materials that Apple has already said it would produce—stainless steel, diamondlike carbon (DLC) coated steel, aluminium and gold. All these are familiar to those who have more than a passing interest in watches. The ease of use with which the straps can be changed, and even the bracelet itself, with a simple push button used to remove individual links, shows a watch-related maturity that
was quite unexpected. Questions still remain about the battery life; it’s an aspect that’s been conspicuously absent from any of Apple’s presentations so far, other than showing the watch will be charged via a magnetic pad with no visible connectors. Perhaps this is why Apple has been vague as well about the launch date, only referring to “early 2015,” to allow for more time to address the battery life while gearing up for production.
Admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to see the product in person, but Apple’s videos of the interface have given me a decent impression of what could turn out to be the best smartwatch yet. The interface is an interesting mix between the touch controls we’ve become accustomed to with iOS, along with a mechanical component through the digital crown and associated push button. A lot of thought has gone into user interaction and the way that the information the Apple Watch will show its wearer is parsed, with a simplicity very much associated with the ethos that Steve Jobs obsessed over.
What it doesn’t have is that historical aspect, the sense of ultimate craftsmanship in decades—nay, centuries—of experience, and the true sense of wonderment you can enjoy by seeing a tourbillon or hearing the chimes of a minute repeater. The Apple Watch won’t be able to replace that. But it doesn’t aim to do so, either. What it does provide is a link to our future, one where the perpetual connection to our digital space will be even more intertwined in our daily lives. Perhaps it could lead to redressing the imbalance that we can observe in some places, where people are sitting together all the while so engrossed with the screens on their smartphones that they might as well be worlds apart. The Apple Watch could permit us to filter the onslaught of messages and other critical information, and to respond to it quickly and discreetly.
This is the link that should perhaps concern the watch brands, for it’ll be the one that will be much more difficult to sever in the nottoo-distant future. Today’s watch collectors, enthusiasts and buyers will not be looking to the Apple Watch to replace their prized timepieces. However, it might immediately replace the health band, or the rugged digital watch worn while exercising or participating in sports where a mechanical timepiece isn’t suitable. While past generations actually had to consult the TV guide for their favourite shows or, more recently, used email rather than short bursts of text or images via social media to communicate, the younger generation are the ones that have never known a world without an internet connection or on-demand video. This is the market that will be drawn to the newness and connectivity of the Apple Watch.
It’s a device that’s also sure to evolve, perhaps more quickly than we can anticipate. Just look at the iPod—it left many scratching their heads when Apple decided to branch out into digital media. Today, the iTunes Store is the world’s largest music retailer and the iPod has become synonymous with portable music, much as Sony’s Walkman was for two decades before it. I’m very curious to see the Apple Watch in person, so I can judge for myself whether it’s another Apple product that opens a window into the future.
ONE FOR EVERYONE The Apple Watch comes in two sizes with various straps and case materials, including 18K rose gold and DLC-coated steel
The Apple Watch is designed to work with the iPhone The watch’s apps are arranged as bubbles that zoom in and out when the crown is turned