The Apple Watch has the curious distinction of being the least Apple-like Apple product I’ve ever used. It’s not a creative tool with the engaging intensity of a Mac or iPhone, nor is it a relaxing media player like the iPod, Apple TV, or iPad. It’s neither lean-forward nor lean-back computing; it’s short-burst computing, and the ergonomics enforce it.
Forget browsing, forget composing, forget fiddling, forget flow states; if you try to make it that computer you’ll be quickly frustrated. The Watch is an Internet utility belt. Dashboard Widgets for the wrist. It takes bite-sized tasks, performs them, and shows you the results.
Looking back, the iPhone was the world’s greatest convergence device: in its very first outing it consolidated my cell phone, my iPod, and my digital camera, and it gave me a GPS and a full-featured pants-pocket web browser. Holy shit. Do you remember when they were all separate devices? Besides a Fitbit, I haven’t carried an electronic device other than my phone in years.
But even as it ate all those little gadgets, the iPhone took on more and more of the jobs once reserved for a laptop computer. I now do most of my writing and text editing with my thumbs. Photo management, too. All my social networking. All my gaming. All my spreadsheets! (It isn’t many, but still). The only stuff I do on my Mac anymore is capital-w Work and visit websites that fail on a mobile browser. The iPhone has absorbed more of the Mac’s workload than anyone could’ve imagined in 2007. It is indeed a car, not a truck.
So it’s no surprise, then, that we can’t wake our iPhones without seeing a pile of notifications. It’s equally unsurprising that we sometimes unlock our phones, determined to carry out a specific task, only to forget ourselves and launch Twitter instead. We play Unread Count Whack-a-Mole with LinkedIn and Facebook, and succumb to the casual gaming Skinner Box. It’s the digital equivalent of walking to the kitchen, opening the fridge, and forgetting that you came in to get scissors.
The iPhone’s success, earning its position at the very center of your digital life, is its failure as a personal productivity tool. That’s where the Watch comes in, stealing back a handful of critical tasks from its big sibling. It says: don’t unlock the Monstrous Attention Vortex, just get the quick jobs done here on the small screen.
Funnily enough that’s the same thing your phone was saying about your laptop 8 years ago. And the idea that, a few years from now, I won’t have to carry my phone with me on my commute, or when I’m visiting a friend, or going out on the town… that’s very exciting to me.