The Apple Watch is here. Soon, it'll be in the hot little hands of a select number of tech reporters and by the end of April it will finally grace the wrists of normal people across the globe.
Today's reveal provided crucial insight into how Apple perceives its product of years and years of research and development; pay close enough attention and you can see how Apple wants you to use the product. The takeaways: as a way to stay healthy and connected to the world and those around you.
But whether this device is ultimately something wonderful or terrible depends almost entirely on how well it executes on that promise of being able to free us from screens so that we can just live. If it becomes a system that makes us even more tethered to our notifications, that's not a future I want to be a part of. Let me explain.
For all the talk of simplicity and ease — Unlock hotel room doors with your wrist! Open and close your garage door with the twirl of a watch dial! — for the first time during an Apple event I found myself coming away wary instead of excited about the new gadget. Specifically, I found myself unable to move past one key point: The Apple Watch looks like a notifications nightmare.
For the past 18 months at least, your favorite apps have been fighting a ruthless battle — across Apple, Android, and all other devices — for your homescreen. If you're an Apple user, you've watched as push notifications have become increasingly more invasive. In late 2013, Apple's iOS 7 seized on this idea and built an entire screen to collect the torrent of feeds. And if you're a heavy mobile phone user with lots of apps, chances are you are no stranger to the flurry of message notifications, comment notifications, calendar updates, weather alerts, score notifications, and app update reminders. Not to mention email push alerts. For better or worse, this onslaught of feeds is how we navigate the internet now.
About eight months ago, it became too much for me and, perhaps more importantly, my phone. The relentless pinging along, plus Siri in the background, drained my battery so badly that my iPhone 5 was almost useless after 30 minutes without a charge. Worse, I felt an enormous psychological strain too. During work my phone was a distraction and after work it was a digital shackle, mooring me to my desk three miles away. My friends couldn't believe I lived this way. Finally, I turned off notifications and Siri.
And life was wonderful. Naturally I checked my phone less, but I didn't miss anything. The internet was still there, but I was able to access it on my own terms, which still happens to be plenty frequently.
So as executives extolled the virtues of the Apple Watch from the stage this afternoon it was hard not to see this new smartwatch as a new layer of digital distractions. Apple touted features that will allow users to ping and interact with other watches (tapping to get another Apple Watch user's attention!). Users will also be able to share their heartbeat with other watch-bearing friends and even send real-time animated sketch drawings to their phones. And the notifications! Texts, phone calls, tweets, Instagram comments, Facebook event notifications, emails, arriving Ubers, CNN breaking news, sports scores, Slack notifications, Seamless order confirmations, and god knows what else.
Just look at this tweet below, which details an entire day as told through gadgets. Wake, commute, work, commute, entertain, read, sleep. A different gadget for each activity. Until you consider the smartwatch. "Always visible, always on," the chart reads.
Always visible, always on. A catchy smartwatch motto? Or a bleak version of an inevitable future?
It demands the question that feels almost strange for me to ask aloud of myself, as a lifetime Apple user and fan: Is this watch just not for me?
I don't think I'm alone. As Tim Cook and company demoed the watch I noticed a number of people growing uneasy about the emphasis on notifications.
How the Apple Watch helps us navigate these notifications and sense of unease likely will determine the watch's future. Some, like TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino, are hopeful that the watch will actually reduce notifications clutter, giving us back time from staring at our screens. You don't have to open your phone to see that you got a non-urgent text from your great-aunt or that House of Cards is now streaming on Netflix. You can simply swipe away, no harm done. Or maybe you can quickly shoot off a text via voice memo to tell your spouse you're running late without having to dig your phone out of your purse. Or better yet, send haptic confirmation that you are indeed living and breathing by sending your heartbeat to a loved one's wrist. Brilliant. The future made simple!
That very well might be the case. And honestly, I hope it is. Right now I'm looking for pretty much any excuse to look at my phone less, save for awkward social encounters where I use it as an aluminum and glass shield to pretend I'm the busiest person in the world. But right now, I can't seem to get past the worry that Apple's Next Best And Brightest Thing is designed for a future that I don't particularly want to inhabit. A pingy, buzzy, always visible, always on future that I'll have to enter begrudgingly.
Again, I hope I'm wrong. Apple products have been a huge part of my personal and professional life and I love how, at their best, they feel like they're propelling me toward an exciting future. The first time I held an iPod and an iPhone in my hand I remember feeling a profound sense of liberation. It was freedom from precarious towers and binders of CDs and freedom from the tether of a desktop computer. I hope the Apple Watch continues that trend, liberating us from its last world-changing piece of hardware and not further restraining us with a shiny new stainless steel handcuff.