Essays on Technology and Culture

The Bronze Age of Wearable Technology

April 8th, a date that will live in infamy as the day the initial Apple Watch review embargo ended. There’s too many reviews to link here, so I’ll just link to this post linking to all the other reviews. The general consensus seems to be that it’s like most version 1 Apple products: pretty, with a lot of potential, but it still has a way to go. Reading the reviews, particularly from those new to smartwatches reminds me a lot of my Pebble experience, if a little more positive overall. And while I like my Pebble, if the opportunity arose to swap my Pebble for an Apple Watch tomorrow, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

One running theme I noticed in the reviews I bothered reading [1] is the problem of notification overload. I was under the assumption, possibly mistaken, that the Apple Watch setup process required users to winnow down the notifications they get. Either that’s the case and those complaining didn’t bother, or they get way more notifications in a day than I get in a week, even after paring down. Maybe both. That said, it wasn’t Apple who promulgated the idea that the Watch would be the panacea for notification overload.

As someone who’s been cautiously bullish on the smartwatch, at least since trying one, it’s hard to not be a little disappointed by the initial reaction. Most of the issues unrelated to an excess of wrist-tapping: apps not loading and general pokiness seem to be the sort that can be remedied with software updates on the phone and watch alike. Time will have to tell, not only if that’s the case, but if ordinary people will be using Apple Watches the way the reviewers did. Technology journalists don’t live entirely in the same world as everyone else.

Certain folks on the technology commentary beat don’t like the idea of talking about a product based on future potential. When you’re talking about a new category of device, you have nothing else you can judge it on, especially when going by a week of use (or someone’s subjective opinion on their week of use). I’ll repeat the same mantra I have whenever I write about this topic, at least since trying the Pebble: there is a lot of potential in the smartwatch. We just haven’t figured out how to tap into it yet.

I’m excited by what’s happening in this space. If Google can bring Android Wear to iOS, I’d like to try it, and put my Pebble aside for a while. When Pebble OS 3.0 finally arrives for the older hardware, I’m curious to see if the timeline idea—the one Apple rejected—is a better interface for wrist mounted technology. The potential is incredible for this to be more than a shiny, vibrating wrist-bauble.

Wearable technology has been in the Neolithic Age for the past few years. I think Apple Watch is the dividing line that marks the Bronze Age of wearables—or maybe the 18-Karat Rose Gold Age. The only way to know for sure, however, is to wait it out and see. And for those still skeptical of the whole category, if you have $99, just buy a damn Pebble and try it for a couple weeks. You’ve probably spent more on stupider stuff.

  1. John Gruber, The Verge, The New York Times, TechPinions, and The Wall Street Journal… more than I thought I had at first.  ↩