Ticked Off

Apple’s iWatch Can’t Arrive Soon Enough

Wristwatches are so 20th century, just bracelets that need batteries, writes Winston Ross, who eagerly awaits the debut of Apple’s iWatch.

08.26.13 8:45 AM ET

Like most gadget-obsessed Americans with (some) disposable income, I am on an iWatch watch. I have an “iWatch” Google alert set to notify me whenever Apple finally announces its smartwatch, wired to the smoke alarms inside my house, so any time some tech blog posts a new rumor, it’s like Armageddon up in this piece.

Which is why I know all kinds of hot insider scoopy exclusive never-before-revealed stuff about this conclusion that is as foregone as Hillary 2016: when it’s coming, what it’ll look like, how it will one day cure cancer, and we’ll get to all that. But first, understand some important cultural paradigm shifts that provide the backdrop to this new era of technology on whose precipice we now precariously perch:

The wristwatch has been marching toward obsolescence for at least a decade, thanks to the pernicious rise of the smartphone. Even dumb phones tell time. Why would anyone need to buy, much less wear a wristwatch any more, pinching at the skin, painting an embarrassing tan line all your friends will relentlessly mock? Why go through the 30 seconds every day of strapping the thing on and then off and then on again every time you take a shower or root around in a compost pile?

I do not come to this conclusion lightly, as the owner of some 20 wristwatches. For an embarrassingly long time, I bought watches the way Imelda Marcos bought shoes: because they were on sale, because the one I was buying wasn’t exactly like any of the others, because I had a bad day. They weren’t really expensive: some as little as $20, topping out at $150 for a couple of my favorite Nixon Rotologs. I was both proud and ashamed of my collection, but it wasn’t long before I had to come to grips with the folly of owning 20 watches at one time:

Batteries. I’d go to put a watch on and, time after time, it’d be dead. So I’d schlep down to the watch-repair store, hand over $10 for a new battery, wear the watch for a day, and then a month goes by before it’s that watch’s turn in the rotation. On top of that, I wasn’t wearing watches every day, because who really needs to wear a watch when you’ve got a cellphone in your pocket? I could wear a watch all day and forget it was there, forget to check it. They were basically just accessories. Bracelets. Bracelets that required batteries.

Before long I realized I was renting my own watches (bracelets), for $10 a day, and not even looking at the time. I also became embarrassed when people would say, “Cool watch.” Because it reminded me I had a stupid shopping addiction. These are first-world problems, I know. But I live in the first world. So I thought, I know what I’ll do. I’ll only replace one battery at a time, wear that watch until the battery dies and then switch to another watch. That strategy kind of works. I now have two watches that actually run, and whenever I want to wear a watch I wear one of those. The other 18 just sit there.

There has to be a better way to live. These are still just bracelets. All they do is tell the time. I can figure out what time it is by looking at the sun most days. But what if there were a watch that did more than just tell the time and look pretty on the wrist?

Enter the iWatch. OK, yes, I know, there are already a dozen other “smart” watches on the market. In March, my colleague Brian Ries wrote about the Pebble, one of the early arrivals on the smartwatch scene. He got his via Kickstarter. It connects via Bluetooth to smartphones. It receives text messages. It has a timer. Caller ID. Music controls. And a ton of other app offerings that are sure to grow. It’s cool. But it’s not made by Apple, and I don’t want it.

Bring on the eye-rolling. The fist-shaking. The fanboy accusations. The momma jokes. I can take it, and I really think it’s awesome that a small independent company like the guys behind Pebble broke the mold. But there’s a reason I want the iWatch and only the iWatch. I think it’ll look cooler. I think it’ll work better. And I think it’ll do more.

I am of course guessing about all of this stuff. But I also don’t think it’s much of a leap to say that when Apple comes out with a smartwatch, it’s going to kick the asses of every other smartwatch on the market—even some of the latest and greatest ones, like the Sony SmartWatch 2.

The (rumored) evidence:

Design. Unless the most prevalent rumors are complete hogwash, the iWatch will have a curved design, likely from the same folks who make Gorilla Glass: Corning Glass Technologies. It’s called Willow Glass, and it bends without breaking. Plenty of people with too much time on their hands have visualized this, and if they’re even close, this is a cool-looking watch. I have yet to see a cool-looking smartwatch. The Pebble comes close, but it still looks like a computer sitting on a wristband. The iWatch looks like a bracelet. I like bracelets.

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Better apps/OS. We all know Apple’s apps and operating systems are better than any other apps and operating systems on the market, and we all know developers will flock to iWatch-friendly apps in a way that no competitor will be able to rival. It’s anti-competitive and monopolistic and unfair and all that, but I’m not willing to buy a watch with lesser apps just so I can stick it to the man. Your watch plays Snake, Brian? Mine will play Angry Birds. OK, I know it won’t actually play Angry Birds. But maybe Maps? Turn-by-turn directions? Health monitoring? Biometrics? Yes, please. 

Siri. Siri, Siri, Siri. When you get right down to it, there’s one thing the iWatch has going for it that no one else can even breathe on (yet): Siri. Yes, Siri has her (and soon his!) flaws. But with Siri on a watch, imagine the possibilities. You push a button on the watch, and Siri is right there, ready to answer questions from or do things with your phone. She’ll compose bawdy tweets. She’ll reply to text messages. She’ll tell you whether it’s about to rain. Set calendar appointments. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t let her make phone calls, assuming the watch is outfitted with both a microphone and a speaker. Pebble can’t do that.

Do you get it now, haters? Are you ready to hop on the bandwagon with me? Put your watch collection on eBay? Best hold off a bit. Even the most optimistic estimates put the iWatch’s arrival at late next year. Meanwhile, I’ll hang onto at least a few of my time-telling bracelets. But I’m done buying batteries.