Going smart feels dumb (moving to the Apple Watch series 4)

I have been wearing a series 4 Apple Watch for the past two months and I have not worn a mechanical timepiece since. It feels wrong, I feel like a fraud and the overwhelming sense that I am giving something special up does not leave me.

My passion for watches is not logical, it never is for anyone who sees what I do in the designs and mechanics of such objects, but it is most certainly present and is hard to ignore. Ask anyone who loves watches and they will give you many reasons for their passion, but none of these will make practical sense and very few can be evidenced, and this is why it is a passion for people like me. You don’t give a practical reason for loving your spouse or your children. You just do because, well, it comes from somewhere within and you just love them.

When I see a watch that speaks to me I can never explain why that is, but it does happen often which makes the notion of wearing a smartwatch so bizarre. A computer chip in a square piece of metal with no soul, no unique design traits and so common that you see it everywhere. It is the anti-watch to those who love real watches and it could surely not replace an object crafted by hand over time.

Well, it seems to have happened to me and it would appear that logic has beaten away the passion.

Perhaps this is why I am struggling with the notion of this change because logic is not as exciting as passion, it is just there being all logical and boring. In this case it is the process of buying an object to do a job and then having it do that job every day to an acceptable level. There becomes a sense of attachment because some features become habitual, but rarely do emotions come to the surface in those little moments when you need to simply check the time. There is no history, no sense of the experienced experts behind the watch, which you do get with new watches as well, and no emotional depth in a form which looks and feels factory made.

The problem with the above is that they are issues faced by those of us who like mechanical, and maybe vintage, watches. For the rest of the world they are not problems and instead advantages are overwhelmingly experienced. Apple’s brilliant strap changing system is a revelation in an industry that has relied on steel pin bars for a century. The way watchOS works is as buttery smooth as iOS and it comes together to slowly creep in to your life at the exact moments it is supposed to. If you are using your iPhone the notifications will not appear on your watch. If you are not using your iPhone they will. It’s so subtle as to not be noticeable, but it makes a difference. If I am wearing my Apple Watch my Mac will not require a password and it comes together to ensure that I miss nothing without it ever feeling intrusive. It is a difficult balance to strike, but Apple seems to have done that which is highly appealing for those who want technology to be a positive influence, which I guess is +99% of people.

Is the Apple Watch actually a watch? To many people it isn’t, but that is incorrect. It is no less of a watch than a Casio quartz model or an automatic Grand Seiko. In the real world if it is strapped to your wrist and it can tell the time it is a watch. An iPhone is no less of a phone than the one that is wired to a socket in your house (if you still have such a thing), it is just a more modern interpretation of the phone just as a smartwatch is a modern interpretation of a classic mechanical object.

It is only if you force yourself to wear the Apple Watch for a period of time that you begin to use it as a watch should be used. Of course there are the countless notifications, if you have not disabled the ones you do not really need, the fitness tracking and useful reminders on the small screen and the occasional app that offers a useful facility. Much has been written about the lack of apps available and the big names that have removed their Apple Watch apps, but this is absolutely not a problem. For a smartwatch to be useful without being overwhelming it needs to do certain things very well and to not overreach. Some wearOS watches overreach in every area and end up feeling like computers on the wrist which is not the way to pull watch purists over the fence. The Apple Watch, and in particular the series 4, appears to have accidentally struck a balance that works just about well enough to satisfy what people like me want.

Is it just a fancy fitness tracker?

The more I think about it, the more I realise that fitness is by far the most dominant use for me when it comes to the Apple Watch. I track my sleep with it, which does not work as well as a Fitbit in this area, I track my calories expended, my workouts, my steps, my calories eaten and it all comes together to help me improve my activity and thus lessen my weight and get fitter. For someone who topped the scales at 295lbs 18 months ago and who is now at 195lbs, it is difficult to ever consider going back, and I am someone who needs a tool to keep me motivated.

After multiple missteps with Fitbit (inaccurate tracking, software instability etc) and Garmin (good hardware, but not great software) I eventually discovered that the Apple Watch hardware is the most accurate and that the ‘rings’ system does actually work in the moment and over extended periods. Because of this it has become the one tracker I use for fitness and it is helping me reach a level of fitness I had given up on many years ago – surely that is more important than having a fancy well-made mechanical timepiece on my wrist? Again, logic over emotion.

The real problem with it being my main tracker is that I have to wear it all of the time. It is not something to wear just when working out because that defeats the object of using it for serious fitness and there is the main issue if you enjoy traditional watches.

Why not both wrists?

This is the dichotomy that afflicts those of us who want to wear a watch and a smartwatch. It, for whatever reason, feels ridiculous and close to socially unacceptable to wear both. You can get away with a fitness tracker on one wrist and a watch on the other, but not the former and that is proof that the Apple Watch is a watch after all. You should not wear two watches in 2018 and I can’t see a year in the future where that will become commonplace. I can, however, see a year where the traditional watch is a rarity and that is a real shame, but I am not exactly helping that situation.

It is still a watch

I feel like I am losing a lot by moving away from a traditional mechanical watch, but in the face of the following advantages I am struggling to see me going back-

  • Fitness and sleep tracking day after day and all of the benefits that offers.
  • Money saved because you can never have the perfect mechanical watch and thus you always end up with more than one.
  • A free wrist without the need for a fitness tracker on the other one.
  • Notifications are never missed, I can leave home without my phone and still be contactable, and I can change the look (strap) in seconds.

I am now sold on the series 4 Apple Watch and remain shocked that this happened, but I’m maybe not so sad about it after all.

Categories: Articles, Wareable

2 replies

  1. It seems you just need another piece of fascinating gear to carry – maybe a nice pen or other well-crafted doodad.

  2. I could argue that there’s just as much design that goes into the Apple Watch as into a mechanical watch. Although you won’t see a hand-crafted Apple Watch. Whether one considers an Apple Watch to be jewellery or not is up to the individual, and perhaps how caring that individual is of other people’s opinion.

    It sounds to me as if you require certain tools and the Apple Watch satisfies that requirement where a traditional watch does not. Is that sad? Is that progress? Each of us will have their own opinion and rationale.

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