Freedom for Wrists

Posted by Jamie Henson on April 9, 2015

There’s been a lot of buzz around here, and generally around the world, about the Apple Watch. The latest chapter in “Classic Apple” of them taking something that has already existed for a while, and selling their shiny, well-formed shot at it as “revolutionary” while asking a price that would get any Android alternative laughed out of the park. It is what it is.

The wider topic of digital wearables has been a sticking point in my mind for a while. I bought a Moto 360, to see what it would be like. And after a few weeks, I sold it. Most of that time, it was sitting in its dock, charging on my windowsill. This isn’t a backhanded statement on the device’s battery life, not this time, the battery life was surprisingly high given the reviews I’d read. It was the form factor. I hated wearing it.

There are several ways to approach a smartwatch. The primary one is that of an augmentation to your smartphone (which it has to be tethered to, to get any real use out of it), for situations where you can’t dig your phone out of your pocket, for whatever first-world problem reason. I had notifications instantly on my wrist, accompanied by a spirited vibration with each one, but I didn’t want to do anything with them. I wasn’t going to answer a message with a vague emoticon, nor was I going to entrust the contents of a message to the mercy of voice recognition - not to mention the fact that I didn’t want to be “that guy” who talks to his devices in public.

Here comes the wider point - I don’t like being “plugged in” all the time. As a software developer who spends his time in front of some screen or other for the majority of his waking hours, I don’t want to be constantly prodded by some little jumped-up sundial when I clock off. I want out. No form factor, no matter how sleek and aluminium-y, is going to change that. My old watch, a £10 digital from Argos, told the time, and voiced an alarm when I told it to. That’s it. And my phone, which hoovers up news from a whole plethora of services (and does a pretty good job of grouping and prioritising them for quick reading), can be left on a desk or checked every now and then. The whole point of a smartwatch is that you wear it. It’s there all the time. And that’s horrible.

I’m not against all wearables. Only ones that try and bring the entire infosphere to your wrist. Fitness trackers and the like do their limited job-set well. And, of course, the other side to this is that I’m being counter-revolutionary and being “that guy” who opposes change when in five years everyone’s going to be wearing these bloody things. Everyone has a smartphone now, when critics before would have said the exact same thing, claiming that the desktop computer was enough. No doubt people hated on the printing press, when the renaissance loom was enough. And the renaissance loom? An unnecessary distraction from cave paintings.

It’s a cultural thing. Things move on and change, but at the moment I don’t see a lot of good in smartwatches. Especially for an asking price of $300. Especially for an asking price in the tens of thousands or however much that silly top-of-the-range Apple Watch is. But it’s not the money, it’s another digital mouth to feed. Both with a daily charging routine, and your life.