Smart Watches: Am I F*cking Missing Something?

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I love gadgets. Love love love them. I love software—yesterday I opened my applications folder in front of another writer and he actually stepped backward. “Whoa,” he said. “You have…a lot. Just…a lot.” I think trying new things with technology is the bee’s knees. I’m all about it.

But y’all. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out the smart watch thing. Which is unusual—I’m all about wearables like Google Glass. If I had any disposable income at all, I would have immediately purchased Google Glass and worn it everywhere. Alas, as of January of this year, I will never get to do that. I’m not immediately on board with all new tech, however. And this is one that might require a little convincing.

Maybe it’s because I have a watch. It tells the time, and that’s all I need it to do. It does this without my needing to charge it every two seconds. Maybe it’s the extreme out-of-touch-ness of a $10,000 piece of technology that needs replacing every two or three years.

 

Seriously. It’s the darn silliest investment of ten thousand dollars I can think of. Like I’d rather hear about someone buying a pony with their disposable ten thousand dollars.

Normally I wouldn’t care. I’m the kind of person who’s all, “Bah. If I don’t like it, why bother interacting with this information at all?” But I got pissy, I think, because of the press releases. I won’t say who all they’re from, names removed to protect the guilty and all that. But this week I got, like, four separate enthusiastic emails from different people about their exciting new Apple Watch accessories. Everyone is “thrilled” to present me with myriad charging stands, band enhancements and the like.


 

I’m sorry, but the exciting thing you’re emailing me about is an accessory for an accessory? Have we really reached a point in the tech industry where people are putting accessories on top of accessories? Do we, as a society, really need this?

Maybe I’d be excited, too, if I were sold on smart watches. Or sold on the Apple Watch. According to Wired‘s profile of Kevin Lynch, “Apple decided to make a watch and only then set out to discover what it might be good for (besides, you know, displaying the time).” When I was watching the release announcement, it felt like that. It felt like Apple went into this without answering the ‘why’ of it. They finally hit upon a problem they themselves created—we’re always looking at our phones. So the Apple Watch is designed to take our face out of technology, the opposite of Google Glass which was designed to put technology in and on our face. Also from the Wired piece:

Take the feature called Short Look: You feel a pulse on your wrist, which means you’ve just received a text message. You flick your wrist up and see the words “Message from Joe.” If you put your wrist down immediately, the message stays unread and the notification goes away. If you keep your wrist up, the message is displayed on the Watch’s screen. Your level of interest in the information, as demonstrated by your reaction to it, is the only cue the Watch needs to prioritize. It’s interactions like this that the Watch team created to get your face out of your tech.

But really. Is looking at your watch every two seconds as the tap-tap of incessant emails and messages any less invasive or rude to the people around you than looking at your phone? Is this solving a problem or creating a new one? Making it’s even less possible to disconnect by strapping something to your body that vibrates every time another person somewhere on the planet wants you to LOOK AT THIS LOOK AT THIS LOOK AT THIS.

Or maybe it would be that way if the Apple Watch didn’t run out of battery several times in a work day. The battery, in fact, is what’s preventing this piece of tech from being more of a blockbuster, according to “You Guys Realize The Apple Watch is Going to Flop, Right?” over on Fast Company:

As a result, the novel interactions that could have made the Apple watch a must-have device aren’t in the company’s launch product, nor are they on the immediate horizon. And all Apple can sell the public on is a few tweets and emails on their wrists—an attempt at a fashion statement that needs to be charged once or more a day.

Whyohwhy do we have this when Google Glass is being discontinued? Sure, Glass made you look kinda awk, but it also enabled things like:

Perhaps it’s foolish to compare Google Glass and Apple Watch, but it’s hard not to—they’re the highest profile wearables so far. To me, Glass is an actual real technological development—it allows for entirely new and life-changing interaction as seen in the above video. It’s not some text messages on your wrist. I suppose what really gets me about the Apple Watch is this: there is no innovation here. Nothing about this makes the world a better place. It doesn’t even make the world a more connected place—the Apple Watch does nothing that existing technology can’t do. I’d go so far as to say it does nothing that Apple’s own existing technology can’t do. And despite titles like the one above, like “You Guys Realize The Apple Watch is Going to Flop, Right?” people will probably buy it anyway. The preorder is next week; the launch is April 24th. To me, the only thing the Apple Watch will do is solve a problem they created—their phones are two damn big to interact with meaningfully anymore.

Then there’s the problem of the complete elitism of the $10,000 Apple Watch—something that the aforementioned Fast Company article thinks is directly related to the lack of innovation present in the new device:

The Newton, Apple’s original, failed tablet, didn’t sell because tablet technology wasn’t polished, and we didn’t have the wireless networking infrastructure to make its experience particularly meaningful. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, the iPhone was a mega success, not just because it put the Internet in our pocket like every other smartphone out there, but because it had an interface that made the world’s information truly searchable and legible from anywhere. Whether it was the original Mac or the iPod, Apple’s best moments haven’t been about building elitist filigree but about democratizing meaningful function, and releasing a technology only when the time was right.

And now the controversial thing I’m going to say: I think, even if you’re a gadget person, even if normally you would try this out, I think we should just not buy this iteration of the Apple Watch. A commercial flop might be necessary to spur the same kind of true innovation in wearable technology on Apple’s part. If you really, really feel like maybe you need to try a watch, consider breaking out of the Apple spin cycle. Try the new Pebble Time or Pebble Time Steel when their preorder date comes ’round—a smart watch that’s compatible with both iOS and Android, is an e-paper display and lasts for seven days rather than less than one. Check out their video from their successful Kickstarter:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycPjktP8rjg

And bonus, they have this image on their website:

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So if you are sold on the concept of the smart watch, do us all a favor—pick something other than Apple Watch so Apple can get back to making the world a better place.


 

This has been the one-hundred-twenty-second installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to bookmark to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.


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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

33 Comments

  1. The SmartWatch is in its early stages of a bright future. The possibilities are endless in healthcare, where one day your watch will be monitoring your vital functions like blood sugar, blood pressure, cardiac rhythms, oncoming epileptic seizures, etc., and empowering patients to control life threatening health conditions before they become acute. The watch will wifi that info to your doctor or hospital in real time so you don’t need regular doctor visits to have your vitals checked. If you’re having a heart attack or seizure, the hospital will have your info before the ambulance even arrives to pick you up. Health Insurance carriers will eventually give you a discount if your health would be improved by wearing one, and lower health costs for everyone.

    More uses will be revealed to us within the year when the app developers get their hands on it. Perhaps you will pay for your groceries, concert tickets, toll booth or subway fees simply by walking through the turnstile. A wrist-computer will be HUGE within 2 years.

    • What about the health effects of wearing technology on your body like this? Cell phones already have caused breast cancer (stuffing the phone in your bra) and wifi can cause EMF sensitivity.

      I don’t think these should be considered as health devices and should not be worn for hours on end.

      Smart phone companies won’t bother addressing this issue because it’s bad for business.

      Right now technology companies are not making anything revolutionary. Nothing about wireless is revolutionary, but I’m not going to get into that rant.

    • All those uses you described can be done with the phone, or further developments on the phone. Having it wrist mounted is not novel or important.

      Plus I don’t think enough can be said about the aesthetics of the apple watch, the thing is fugly.

    • A measure of blood pressure is not going to be so meaningful if you do it at random intervals during the day- when you’re bored, when you are annoyed and trying to make a point about how someone increased your blood pressure- you have to be calm and relaxed. Otherwise “white coat syndrome” wouldn’t be an actual problem. So if you want to measure your blood pressure routinely, a better strategy would be to get a home monitor (maybe one of those wrist ones since we are into watches now), and at a certain time everyday, hold your arm at heart level and take a measurement. Having this device cost thousands of dollars is not a breakthrough to medical science. Its not a reason to buy this device.
      And if you end up in the hospital for something heart related, guess what? You are going to have your blood pressure and heart rate monitored pretty continuously anyway. Because having one measurement from ten minutes before you get to the hospital isn’t going to give enough information about how you’re doing now, and how your responding to medications etc.

      • Also, as an epileptic, I sure as hell do not give a shit if my watch can warn me that I’m starting to have a seizure. Because in the amount of time it would take me to look at my wrist and try to do anything in response, I’d already be unconscious.

    • Apple isn’t actually proposing any of this, even if it was a good idea. Apple wants this to be a smaller, less functional version of the iphone, not a revolutionary medical device (there are wrist wearable health monitoring devices, and that isn’t what Apple is going after with this). Also, the idea of having my vitals relayed to Apple and doctors/hospitals in real time is not something I’m comfortable with, partly because out of context that data isn’t terribly useful, partly because that information feels a bit too personal to be constantly sharing with a corporation that doesn’t actually care about my health.

  2. THANK YOU for talking about the lifechanging possibilities of Google Glass. Everyone I know keeps making it out to be the Anti-Christ, and I feel like there’s a huge failure of imagination there.

    You know what something like Google Glass would be so handy for? Citizen journalism. Covert recording of police brutality. More reliable eyewitness accounts.

  3. You are totally on point here. Also, one thing I’ve seen mentioned in other places is you are paying 10k for a watch that will be outdated or even out of style at some point. It’s not like a Rolex or any high priced watch, which doesn’t really get outdate, because there is no software. Sure, most of the people who are spending the money on the gold Apple Watch might not care as they could just get the newer gold Apple Watch when that come out; but, then why not spend that money on watch that is worth?

  4. I didn’t want an Apple Watch until I read this article:

    http://www.wired.com/2015/03/disney-magicband/

    and got SO SUPER PUMPED about the idea of a smart gadget on your wrist.

    Phones are so easy to break or lose– I would personally love to see smartwatches develop to the point where a smartwatch + tablet combo completely replaces and extends the functionality of the smartphone!

    You’re spot-on about the first gen being crap, but that’s true of ipods and iphones too, and look where we are now. :)

  5. I personally feel that this watch is innovative. In a society and era where technology is always changing and being improved, the least we can do is give the Apple Watch a chance to prove itself. Also, people do realize that there are less expensive versions of the Apple Watch right? it starts out at $549 and although that price tag does not make it any better, it’s unecessary to say that it’s a waste to throw out thousands of dollars just for a watch

  6. I personally find it ridiculous, and I’m glad I can laugh about it with Douglas Adams (who laughed about it in the 70s):

    “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.”

    <3

  7. Ali, although I am literally sitting one metre away from you having a face to face conversation about this article, just wanted to say YES YES and YES AGAIN. Thanks for calling out this offensive piece of crap. Also the idea that this watch gets people’s faces out of their tech? What a load of rubbish, it just shoves their tech even more in their faces. At least you can put your phone in your bag and ignore it.
    BLEEEGH.

  8. The apple watch is absolutely ridiculous, but smart watches are still valuable pieces of tech. I am a developer, so I splurged on buying the Pebble smart watch about 2 years ago. Pebble makes smart watches that are compatible with both Android and iPhones (maybe even Windows? as if anyone cares). It is important to note that these watches also last ~7 days on ONE charge. I love my watch and here’s what I’ve come up with as to why smart watches are amazing:

    -Silent Alarms [ I live with room mates. Sound alarms are extremely annoying to everyone and wake other people up. I now wake up to wrist vibrations that no one hears or feels but me]

    -Call notifications [ I am in class, work, and the library a lot. My phone needs to be on silent, but I NEVER feel my phone vibrations since I always throw it in a book bag or in a pocket. Now I never miss calls which has saved me a lot]

    -Controlling music in the shower [ Pebble is water proof. Which means that when I turn on my shower jams, get in the shower, and realize that somehow Nickelback has made the rotation, I can just press a button on my wrist and get past it. This is also REALLY useful for controlling my music in my car via my phone because it’s a tactile control that I can do without taking my eyes off the road. It’s also nice in the blistering cold so I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket.]

    -Phone Finder. [MAKE MY PHONE RING. I THINK IT’S IN THE COUCH CUSHIONS! You never lose your wrist, but your phone seems to try to make an escape at least twice a day.]

    -vibration upon disconnect from phone. [This has saved me numerous times when I unknowingly drop my phone or walk away from it. My wrist vibrates and then I know I have left my phone behind somewhere. Then proceed to above step of Phone finder upon reconnection.]

    -and best of all, it’s Open Source. This means that there’s apps out there for all sorts of not built in features like locking my phone from afar (good for when I have parties, use my phone for music, then walk away) or making a QR code so that I can have interviewers scan my wrist for my resume, or writing an app that hosts my ICE contacts in case of emergency or for when my phone dies and I’m drunk.

    There’s more, but these are the main ones. I have worn my Pebble every single day since I bought it years ago. Right now, it’s arguably the best smart watch on the market. I suspect Google may surpass them in the near future, but no one is quite there yet. Especially with battery life. Plus it’s definitely not even near $10,000.

  9. Thing is, the Apple Newton was pretty much the first of its kind. The infuriating thing about the Apple Watch is that it is coming out at a time when numerous other smartwatches have been available for years (Pebble being one of the best known examples, but Samsung, Motorola, LG, and others have launched multiple _generations_ already). Contrary to the iPod when it first launched, the Apple Watch does nothing really new, nothing different enough to warrant the hype they are trying to create (and don’t get me started on the price). It is rare that one looks at Apple and thinks they are bringing out a “me too” product, but somehow I can’t shake that feeling this time round.

  10. I’m going to be super caveman about this and ask is it waterproof? Because if i cant wash my hands properly or do the washing up while wearing it, it is as good as lost before I’ve even bought it. (With my spare thousands, duh)

  11. As someone who has a never ending cycle of trouble with tech, I do not understand why anyone would want to make their watch high tech. The batteries can be improved, sure, but how long will they last before you have to shell out a ridiculous amount to replace them. Because Lithium Ion batteries degrade rapidly. The screens on watches are small, as you get older your eye sight isn’t going to remain great, so good luck reading them in the future. What good is it to have your text messages on your watch, if you can’t read the print? My phone already hides messages from me, I don’t need my watch doing it too. I just need my watch to tell me the time, that’s all. You people want to go on about losing your phones? How much easier is it to lose a watch? Can you watch TV on your tiny watch screen? Are you supposed to use it for GPS? There are reasons the phones keep getting bigger. One of those reasons being we like to see things. Like directions on the GPS or the messages people send. Sure, being able to control your music in the shower is good, but who wears a watch in the shower? If you’re not wearing it, you might leave it in there and not be able to find it. Seems like a waste of money in a world where that’s a dwindling resource for the working class.

  12. the thing that bothers me is that smartphones already make us hyper-connected, esp. concerning work emails, which we now get to read / respond to during non-working hours.

    I’ve been trying to unlearn this, leave my phone in a different room when I want to go read a book for example (before, i’d just keep it with me and break concentration every 10 minutes to check something on my phone !).

    And now they want me to buy a device that makes sure I can NEVER EVER get away from notifications ?

    No thanks. If I miss a call, people can leave a text or a message, and I’ll call them back.

    • This is the reason I don’t even have a smart phone (gasp!)… I do NOT want to be bothered by people’s notifications when I am out and about… but I’m an introvert so that shit is important to me. I’m already bad with my laptop, having a phone would mean no personal time ever.

  13. I went to lunch with a guy who wore a smart watch and I wanted to stab him with my fork. I could see everytime a notification popped on his screen and he did the trying not to look look and I wanted him to just pull out his phone and actually check his damn email instead of fretting over what it might say.

  14. My feelings on the Apple watch: just a continuation of the long tradition of watches as status symbols, starting way back with gold pocketwatches up to Rolexes and other $$$ timepieces that are mostly a gender-appropriate way for men to show off their disposable income.

    Mostly what owning an Apple watch says about you is that you can afford to own an Apple watch. People will shell out for that.

  15. Smart watches are a stepping stone to having technology REALLY integrated with our lives – Apps that can predict your behavior and get you what you want before you even know it’s what you want. Like the one Disney MagicBand article already linked, but for your whole life, not just Disney World.

    What really made the iPhone remarkable was the app store – it’s essentially the crowd-sourcing of imagination and development. I don’t think there was anything like it at the time, at least not to the same scale. The same should happen with the Apple Watch. There will be useful and magical apps that we can’t even imagine yet.

  16. Just realized that the other awesome thing about a smartwatch– when I’m wearing a dress without pockets, I have to put my phone in a bag and then miss all the notifications. With a smartwatch, I can wear a dress without having to worry about missed calls!!

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