Watching the Apple Watch Watchers

With the first sales of Apple Watch, we are now hearing from early users and from developers. As noted previously, this device is basically a peripheral for your iPhone; creating a “client server” network on you body and clothing. Yet another layer of network software, this time with haptic as well as visual interface.

(Pedantic exercise:  Let’s count the ‘hops’ from your Apple Watch to my Apple Watch: a minimum of 4 wireless links are traversed, more likely 6 depending on your phone connectivity. And, depending on the specific app, the message will traverse many more network links into and out of the relevant ‘cloud’.)

This tiny device with limited bandwidth recapitulates the early history of the Internet and mobile computing, with a really, really “thin” client necessitating very simple applications. Of course, unlike the Internet, this device is completely captive of the Apple proprietary system—no freewheeling phreaks allowed in this space, thank you very much.  Woz and Jobs of the future will have to use Android.

So what can you do with your Apple Watch, once you spend dozens of hours learning to use it? Not much.

Cade Metz report in Wired about “What Instagram’s New App Reveals About the Apple Watch”. Looking at the most successful apps, he concludes that there is only one thing the Watch is good for: notifications. Furthermore, the notifications need to be highly filtered, limited to a very a few important things or people that you really want to react to instantly.

Reports tell us that the Apple Watch seems to have some effort to make this notification work well; specifically with silent insect-crawling-on-your-wrist haptic signals. (Eew!) But the result can be to let you leave your phone in your pocket, and let your watch track the most fidgety things you are desperate to track.

In the Wired article, Instagram developers comment that the Watch is so limited that you have to really pare everything back. Even what I would consider “minimal” services such as Twitter (already below the threshold of meaningless connectivity) is too much for a watch. Instagram’s app only lets you know that something came in from a selected few people, whose image appears as the notification. (You have to go to the phone to really do anything or to send anything.) The rationale is, apparently, “What if you could know right when someone posts—and not just know that they’ve posted, but be able to see it?” That’s pretty much it.

As Farad Manjoo writes in the NYT, not fussing with the phone is a significant benefit, which his wife “found that a blessing.” Yay! Apple is fixing something that Apple broke!

By notifying me of digital events as soon as they happened, and letting me act on them instantly, without having to fumble for my phone, the Watch became something like a natural extension of my body — a direct link, in a way that I’ve never felt before, from the digital world to my brain.

Well, this is certainly a less obtrusive interaction compared to “fumbling”, but it’s hardly a “direct” anything, and if it is a link of any kind it has only the most trivial bandwidth.

Manjoo also was excited by parlor tricks such as using the Watch to open a hotel lock (after only a few tries), and apparently is OK with (attempting to) command his Watch via Siri.

When these encounters worked, they were magical, like having a secret key to unlock the world right on my arm. What’s most thrilling about the Apple Watch, unlike other smartwatches I’ve tried, is the way it invests a user with a general sense of empowerment.”


I’m not sure how spending thousands of dollars to overcome the incredible hardships of hotel key cards and the like is “empowering”, and it only seems magical if you don’t know how it works.

I think the most telling note is the report that the New York Times—which one reads to get actually in depth information—was motivated to create “one sentence stories” for the Apple Watch.

So: I can now have a “direct link” from my brain to the digital world–that serves up important world news boiled down to one whole sentence?  Such a deal!

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