Why I’m Breaking Up With the Apple Watch
I wanted it to work. I wanted to fall in love, like so many of my friends. “It takes a while,” they said. “Don’t expect a coup de foudre. Let it build over time.”
So I did. I knew other people looked at what I had with envy. But a month and a half after we first got together, I have decided it is time to — well, call time.
I am breaking up with my Apple Watch. The relationship was, despite all expectations, not what I needed. All the focus on San Francisco and Apple’s next big innovation this week (streaming!) made me realize it was not playing my tune.
Still, I will never regret the weeks we spent together. They taught me some valuable truths about myself.
Like, for example, that I do not want to be defined by a talking point on my wrist.
There is a reason that I carry the same (no logo) handbag everywhere I go, a reason my (pre-Apple) watch had no bells or tourbillon whistles; a reason I gravitate toward clothes that are not identifiable by season or designer and do not appear in any advertisements I have ever seen.
I spend a lot of time in a world where products are shorthand for people, and I know too well the risks of having such semiology attached to myself (though I fully acknowledge my willingness to attach it to others).
But when I started wearing the Apple Watch (the 38-millimeter case with a Milanese Loop band, which is the smaller size with a flexible stainless steel bracelet), it became a subject of conversation no matter where I was: in meetings at work, at the bagel store, at my son’s track meet. It has been so everywhere, marketed to so many people, there was just no mistaking it.
First everyone wanted to know about it. Then they wanted to try it. Then they made certain assumptions about me.
Which, frankly, I would have made about any woman like myself walking around with a big black box on her arm.
Because no matter how attractive the Apple Watch is in the context of other smartwatches or smartbands, no matter how much of an aesthetic advance its rounded corners and rectangular display, it still looks like a gadget. Especially on someone, like me, with relatively small wrists.
Not only does its face effectively span the width of my forearm, but the cool little screen saver that so many reviewers have lauded — the Mickey or the butterfly or the galaxy (which is the one I have) or the pseudo-watch hands (the one that, notably, is always on in every picture of the watch, and actually makes it look like a watch) — is also functionally sleeping most of the time.
Every time I see it, I want to shriek, “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Not that it would do much good. Typing doesn’t awaken the picture. Even when I rock my arm back and forth energetically, it often takes a few tries before up the earth pops. The default position is blank.
Just as my default position when trying to read an email or the text of a headline on the small screen involves raising my wrist to near eye level — or, if a phone call is involved and my actual phone is not reachable, talking into thin air. If your children or acquaintances come upon you, it’s pretty much an invitation to ridicule.
“Why is that more embarrassing than endlessly looking at a phone?” my friends said when I complained.
It’s a valid question, but after some contemplation I think the answer is simple: A phone is hand-held, and we are used to seeing people read things held in their hands. Like, say, books. But seeing somebody staring at her wrist (or merely sneaking a surreptitious glance at it) telegraphs something else entirely: (1) rudeness or (2) geekiness.
This doesn’t seem to have bothered the tech writers, most of whom wrote persuasively positive reviews of the gadget, primarily based on what it could do for you. And it is certainly more subtle than Google Glass, though I am not sure that is saying much.
Granted, all of this would likely pale in importance if the watch were truly transforming my life, as my iPhone has. But I have never had a problem turning away from my emails when I need to concentrate on something else — I’ve effectively trained myself to compartmentalize — so I need specific alerts as to what is important.
And the small screen is simply too small to really read on, so I’ve been more annoyed than happy when it alerted me to texts from my loved ones; and when I saw a headline, all I wanted to do was find the rest of the story.
Besides, the busywork the watch’s apps can replace — handing over airline boarding passes, opening hotel room doors — seems less like an advance than a loss of control. Call me a Luddite, but honestly, I don’t mind unlocking things with my actual hands. The new watches announced this week may change the situation, but I am not sure I have the patience to wait.
Likewise (and I know this will be heresy to anyone really excited about the coming Fitbit initial public offering), the fitness-app aspect — the tracking of my steps, the measuring of my heart rate, the telling me to stand up when I am in the middle of an article — seems more like a burden than freedom.
I have worked hard to wean myself from a reliance on exercise machines telling me how hard I had worked — how many calories I had burned, how many stairs I had climbed — in part because I knew I was cheating pretty much all the time anyway and thus could not trust the results, and in part because it became an excuse to modify, or not, my ensuing behavior.
But the truth is, I know when I am in shape; I can see the difference in my body and feel it when I ride my bike in the park. The watch threatened to drag me back into a numbers-driven neurosis, and that’s a temptation I would rather not have. (Also, I have too many friends who look at their fitness tracker in the middle of conversation, then immediately spring up and start walking around energetically, to feel it is really additive to my life.)
I did like the fact that I could turn my phone ringer off, and the watch would vibrate when, say, my children were on the line and I needed to take the call. But in the end that wasn’t enough.
When I told a colleague about the breakup, he observed that perhaps I wasn’t the target for the Apple Watch. That I should be sure to tell the Siri on my wrist, “It’s not you, it’s me.” He may be right.
Except I don’t think so, and not just because often, opposites do attract. But because I actually think I am the intended: a nontech person who wouldn’t otherwise have too many gadgets (a phone, an iPad, a laptop), but who could be seduced into buying another because of its desirability.
That’s the way Apple increases market share and owns a category, after all: by sucking in those who are not Apple addicts. It’s why the company worked so hard to get close to the fashion flock.
But here’s the thing: The watch isn’t actually a fashion accessory for the tech-happy. It’s a tech accessory pretending to be a fashion accessory. I just couldn’t fall for it.