There’s no such thing as the Apple iWatch, and maybe there never will be. But if Cupertino does start selling futuristic Jetsons wrist wear, you need to prepare for one thing: looking like a jackass in public. Worth it?
Let’s not ignore the fact that we’re in dumb, murky waters here, discussing the fashionable future of a thing that isn’t real. But there’s no arguing that wearable tech is a serious thing; these are questions you’ll have to answer whether it’s Apple or Google or Jawbone or whoever else presenting them. So let’s wade in and open our mouths and drown.
If the iWatch happens, it’s not because Apple necessarily thinks making a curved-OLED, iOS-breathing, fitness-tracking, app-running, iPhone-linking smartwatch is a good idea. If you can ever buy one of these things, it’s likely because Apple has slowly regressed into a company that follows markets instead of inventing them: it made a 4-inch iPhone to appease ham-handed phablet fans, and a smaller iPad to compete with its rivals at Google and Amazon.
Both of these products ended up being pretty damn good gadgets, but they only exist because Apple was forced into a defensive posture. The likes of Nike’s FuelBand and the FitBit are causing the same. Apple’s corporate caretakers are under tremendous pressure from investors, analysts, and other Wall Street speculators who are spanking AAPL for not creating something as unprecedented as the original iPod every three years until the end of time. Poor Tim Cook.
That an (again, hypothetical) iWatch would be born not out of inspiration but obligation is worrying, if you’re someone who wants an Apple wearable that doesn’t suck and make you feel bad about yourself. It’s a lot easier to make a phone slightly larger or make a tablet slightly smaller than it is to create an amazing thing of a kind that’s never existed outside of comic books and sci-fi novels. In fact, making a smartwatch is a massively difficult undertaking.
History is not on Apple’s side: recall that the company already made a watch of sorts with the iPod Nano, and then completely retreated from the entire concept, removing any trace of watch-ness from it after just one generation. Which was probably smart, because nobody other than the most oblivious of nerds or avant garde style muppets ever tried wearing the thing as a watch. It was a gimmick. It was awkward. It was ugly, more often than not. Very, very few people, it turned out, wanted to wear an Apple gadget on their wrists.
And why would they? Even Sony’s SmartWatch, which was a functional disaster but at least somewhat handsome, was a nightmare to wear in public. I was stared and laughed at as I tapped at this gaudy arm LCD that I couldn’t put away. The single stranger who asked me about it approached the thing as you might someone’s glass eye, not The Future — and most tellingly, she never asked me where she could get one of her own.
So what will be different about Apple’s attempt? The iWatch can only be more goofy and unbecoming than the relatively subtle (but still awkwardly attention-grabbing) FuelBand. If you think Nike’s LED-encrusted bracelet is a bit much, imagine an iWatch that’s a big shining piece of “curved glass” hanging on your wrist at all times. And it would be big; remember that it’s reported to run iOS apps, which demands some serious surface area. This is more an iBangle than an iWatch, and that’s pushing most of the human populace into profoundly uncomfortable territory. What are we getting ourselves into? Or more properly, what does Apple want to get us all into?
In order for the thing to do half of what it’s rumoured to pull off, it’d have to be even significantly bigger than the iPod nano, which was insufficient as a touchscreen device. So, look at the thing up top — and imagine it larger, brighter, and curved around your entire wrist. It would have to dwarf that.
Take Google Glass — what’s ostensibly the wearable future of computers is still a giggle-inducing fantasy project. Even casually cruising the New York subway, Sergey Brin looks like he walked out of a scene from Hackers, not a dinner party or classroom. It’s not ready for real life. And like I said, wearing Sony’s watch made me look (and feel) like an arsehole. Until we’re eased into wearable computing, a curved-glass micro-computer is going to feel like a stigmata from Jony Ive.
So Apple’s non-and-maybe-never-existent watch is in a very real bind: it has to be spectacular enough to appease a Wall Street succubus and fit comfortably in the House of Ive, but not so brilliant that we can’t wear it without drawing stares and muggings. It has to be something that jibes with real life — and our real bodies — more than any analyst’s gravy train or fanboy futurist’s wet dream. It has to be a watch, it has to be a spectacular Apple product, and it has to be something that doesn’t make us want to hide when we’re in public. And that might require more magic than Apple will ever be able to muster.