In the pocket

I won’t be ordering an Apple Watch next week, but I can see why a lot of people will. For the past eight years, I’ve had a device that’s freed me from constantly digging in my pocket and I’d never want to be without it again.

The promise of the smartwatch is to reduce our dependence on the smartphone, or at least to reduce our need to have it in our hands. Although I do use my phone a lot, it’s almost always because I want to, not because notifications are compelling me to. On the days I’m in the office, I deal with email and texts on my computer, which puts up notifications where they’re easy to see and manage. Most of my business phone calls still arrive via landline, and as the proportion that come in on my cell phone grows, I’m slowly learning to answer them on the computer, too.

On days I’m out of the office, it’s usually because I’m in meetings or inspecting equipment, so I don’t reply until there’s a break where I can pull out my phone once and handle several messages in a batch. I just don’t have a need for what the Apple Watch currently provides.

I’m sure its functionality will grow with time, though, and as it does I’ll revisit my decision not to buy one.

This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate its appeal, even apart from the natural desire of gadget fans to have the latest thing. If being constantly connected were more important to my job or my sense of self, and if I had to process many more messages away from my desk than I usually do, I’d see the Apple Watch as a godsend—assuming, that is, that its user interface fulfills its promise to act as a timesaving message filter.

Small timesavers can have a big effect on how you lead your life. I’m reminded of that every time I rent a car that doesn’t have a smartkey. I bought a car with a smartkey in 2007, and while I wouldn’t call it a life-altering event, it’s definitely changed my expectations of how I interact with cars, and I’d never again want to own a car without one. This past week I was on vacation in San Francisco, using a rental car with a conventional key, and I hated it (the key, not the vacation). It’s amazing how annoying it is to have to dig around in your pocket for a key when you’re used to just walking up to your car and touching the handle to unlock it.

Of course, if the general perception is that the $350+ Apple Watch is no more valuable than a free smartkey, it’ll be considered a failure. But most of us have only a handful of “interactions” with our car per day. I suspect those who currently use their iPhones to stay connected throughout the day will slowly find themselves seeing the Apple Watch as an essential part of their system. They could go back to using their phones the old way, but they won’t want to.