By Dan Moren
September 17, 2014 9:35 AM PT
The Apple Watch is computing at its most personal
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Tim Cook’s no dummy—the man reads the news. Expectations for an Apple wearable have been stratospheric if not astronomic, and the pundits finally all agreed on one thing: the company “needed” to hit a home run.
Of course, given the way the press stacks against Apple, what that really meant was that Cook needed to hit a grand slam. On September 9, he came up to bat at the Flint Center—bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs—and hammered a deep, high drive to left field.
All in one
In advance of Apple’s event, many—including yours truly—thought we’d see a modern day analog to the iPod: a laser-focused, precision device that didn’t do a lot, but did it supremely well. Instead what we got was much more like the iPhone—and not the original iPhone, mind you; it was as if, in 2007, Steve Jobs had stepped up onto the stage and introduced the iPhone 6.
Communication, apps, fitness and health—really, there’s little the Apple Watch doesn’t do. During the event, Jason Snell and I kept exchanging glances as the company rolled out feature after feature; hell, Tim Cook didn’t even have time to discuss all of the device’s capabilities, rattling off several at the end, like one of those dizzying WWDC slides disgorging all the extra features in iOS or OS X.
In retrospect, none of this should have been surprising. If you draw a straight line through Apple’s product history, it’s easy to see the overarching trend of Apple’s philosophy, and the Apple Watch is simply the next logical step.
Putting the “personal” in computing
We’ve all lived with “personal computers” for decades now—and I’m not just talking about the PC as we know it today; that’s a connotation that’s grown up over time to mean something almost entirely distinct from the original turn of phrase. But despite what we’ve come to know as the PC, personal computing is still the best description of one of Apple’s core values.
Think about it: We’ve gone from computers that fill a room to computers that sit on your desk to computers that sit in your lap to computers that fit in your pocket. I wouldn’t necessarily call the Apple Watch the culmination of that ideal of personal computing—given the technology packed into it, it’s not hard to imagine a computer that fits in a contact lens or one that resides in a chip in your body. (Give it twenty years or so and we’ll all be talking about the “injectables” market.) But the Apple Watch is clearly just part of the logical progression.
And Apple’s own trajectory is towards increasingly personal computing, from the Mac to the iPad to the iPhone to the Watch. (In this progression, the iPod starts to look like the aberration, though let’s not forget that modern-day Apple is the House that iPod Built.) Apple’s always been about making technology a part of our everyday lives, and as our lives become more entwined with technology, our relationship with it has become ever more personal. Technology is privy not only to many of our most private thoughts and moments, but increasingly to our most fundamentally personal details—right down to our heart rate.
Going … going …
Just as all politics are local, all computing—especially when it comes to Apple—is personal.
The Apple Watch is certainly the most personal computer that Apple has ever made. There’s a reason the company spent so much time explaining the different ways to customize the device or emphasizing that it’s something you can wear all day long. Even more than a phone, this is a computer that is always with you. And that’s one major reason that the company didn’t choose to focus only on certain features. Your personal computer shouldn’t be about throwing up arbitrary walls, but about enabling all the things you, personally, want to do.
Because the Apple Watch—like every other device in the nascent wearables field—will live and die by whether people actually use it. I gave up on my Pebble smartwatch after a few months, not because I didn’t like it, but because it wasn’t useful enough to convince me to keep wearing it. I don’t have that problem when I pick up my phone in the morning—it’s proved its worth. Apple’s goal is to make its smartwatch as indispensable as the smartphone.
It’s a tall order. Tim Cook may have hit the cover off the ball, but for the next six months, we’re the slow-motion crowd, rising to our feet, watching it sail in a glorious arc, and waiting to see if it falls short or makes it out of the park.
[Dan Moren is a former Macworld Senior Editor. Read more about him on Dan Shot First.]
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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