When I first learned that I would be getting an Apple Watch through my co-op, I couldn’t have been happier. Much like the rest of the world, when Apple announces their next big product, I pay attention. This is only furthered by my current occupation as an iOS developer. So being given the task to get familiar with the Apple Watch didn’t feel like work at all.
The day the watch came in, I took great pleasure in seeing my co-workers swarm around my desk, asking to play with it, or, in the case of one, more enthusiastic, visitor, “So, have you fallen totally in love with it yet?” I had laughed and told her no, since I hadn’t even finished charging it, but was very sure that was something I could count on happening. Even though I hadn’t used it yet, something about just having the watch in my possession made the day better. Looking back, it’d be apt to call this the “honeymoon phase.”
By now, there are hundreds of reviews and blog posts online that will walk the reader through a first day of owning the watch. From what I’ve read, my experience was more of the same: fun and interesting responses to instances when I would normally have to reach for my phone, as well as the novelty of getting to show off some new tech before most of the public has seen it. After two days of activating the camera on my phone remotely just because I could and browsing my Twitter feed on a 42 mm screen, I began to realize how the watch might actually function in my life, once all the shiny newness of it all had worn off.
Apple has said this time and time again, especially in their developer documentation: The watch serves mainly to deliver notifications that the iPhone receives. This seems intuitive, and was something I had been completely aware of before I first gave one a home on my wrist, but for whatever reason wasn’t a concept I had fully grasped until the start of day three. The watch does just as promised: It delivers notifications for every app you have enabled, from texts to Facebook messenger to Snapchat and beyond, but never in my life had I been more aware of just how many notifications I receive.
The watch uses a new and exciting technology to alert you of incoming notifications called haptics, which are essentially pulses of sound. Where the type of vibration employed in nearly all phones today might be thought of as a buzz, haptics produce a tap on the subject’s wrist, and are prominent enough to be noticed and difficult to mistake for anything else. Because I had originally wanted as much interaction with the watch as possible, I had all notifications set on, as is default. Over the course of a few days, however, I found myself turning off the notifications one by one, to the point where I had disabled them completely.
No instance better exemplifies how oppressive these notifications can be like performing a normally mundane task, as I was doing when I decided to silence them. Emptying the dishwasher usually takes about 10-15 minutes for me to accomplish, depending on how many dishes were washed and if they needed to be hand-dried. Granted, I had been messaging a few people back and forth about making plans for later that night and could have expected to receive many different texts, but it ended up taking closer to half an hour to wrap up what I was doing, despite not having taken any extra time to respond to the bulk of those messages. When I hear my phone chime from across the room or even in my back pocket, just the physical motion of needing to pull it out and unlock it is enough to deter me from checking my notifications until I’ve finished whatever I’m doing. This is not the case with the watch. Apple bills it as their “most personal product yet,” and rightfully so: it’s almost too easy to drop everything at the watch’s friendly tap.
I will admit that since I work in mobile development, my opinion is going to be biased. By the time I get home from work, I’m absolutely done with messing around on phones, and usually just have my device set on silent and opt instead to check it at my leisure. But, Apple Watch or no, it’s clear that getting absorbed in the digital realm is easier now more than ever and that constant exposure comes with a cost. How many hours are lost, trains of thought stopped or conversations ended early because of an incredibly needy machine?
One of the most kind and meaningful gestures I’ve seen in a while happened recently when I was home getting coffee with a friend. As a Virginia native, I don’t get the chance to catch up with my childhood friends in person very often, so while this was no formal occasion, it was exciting to finally be able to hang out. Just after we sat down, my friend pulled out her phone and switched it to airplane mode, before stowing it away back in her purse. “Low battery?” I asked, assuming she’d need her phone later that night and didn’t have a charger. “Nah,” she replied. “I’m here right now, talking to you.” It had been so long since I’d just sat and talked to someone without any interference from our phones that the encounter seemed almost strange and scary, despite having gone through it with one of my best friends.
While meeting with Bruce Eisenstein, the vice dean for the College of Engineering, to discuss the new Ex3 suite of courses, I was posed an interesting question: where do you see wearable technology going in the future?
Despite having spent eight hours a day, five days a week working with the watch for close to a month, I didn’t initially have an answer. After a moment of reflection (and yet another wrist tap), I realized that this tiny computer sitting on my wrist could one day serve nobler and greater purposes than letting me know every time one of my friends sends a Snapchat. It’s not hard to imagine the Apple Watch, or devices like it, one day taking the plunge into the medical field, where they would offer truly personalized care in a sleek and efficient way. In a world where the use of the word “impossible” is becoming less and less, it would seem that the possibilities are truly unlimited.
There is a limit, however, on how much time we can spend experiencing any one given event. We can’t take mobile technology out of our lives, and even if we could, I would strongly advise against it. But for anyone looking into purchasing a smart watch, I ask that you please be aware of what you’re getting into. While there is much about the Apple Watch that could help out the wearer in a variety of situations (I admit, the ability to check the forecast from your wrist was surprisingly useful, as was Apple Pay), the current focus of the wearable industry is on notifications. As the hardware and software evolve, I’m sure this will cease to be the case, but for now, it is worth making sure that the bright future of technology doesn’t prevent us from fully experiencing our own.