The world’s gearheads were gathered around their laptops this evening as Apple unveiled their new Apple Watch. It’s a remarkable piece of kit. It’ll tell you if your heart’s beating (handy) and how fast. It’ll tell you where you are, how quickly you’re running and even the reason – an incoming email from your boss telling you to get her coffee.
It’s a pretty neat technological innovation. But it has a completely different function from the watches I write about here. OK, that’s not true – it actually has about fifty different functions. And that’s the point.
The Apple Watch is wearable communication and monitoring technology that happens to tell the time, apparently accurate to within a few milliseconds. The sort of watches I’m concerned with just tell the time. That’s it. And that’s why I like them so much.
Paradoxically, it’s not the time they tell, it’s the way they do it. That very visible complexity of gears and springs, of hands and wheels. It’s the accessible face of engineering. You can understand it – at least, to a point. You can see, hear and sometimes even feel the movement – think Valjoux 7750. It’s a tiny engine that’s attractive because it’s simultaneously very clever indeed yet still accessible.
And accessibility is just what the Apple Watch doesn’t have. It’s about as accessible as the reactor on a nuclear submarine. You can’t see what makes it tick. It just works and does things that reach into almost every area of your life. That means it’s splendidly functional – just like a fridge. But have you ever met a fridge collector? Quite.
Finally, proper watches are self contained. They’re little universes of cogs and levers entirely unto themselves. The Apple Watch is their antithesis. It’s networked, connected, live, always on. It needs data to make it go and it’s a constant reminder that our time is not our own. All our watches need is us to shake a wrist or twist a crown. And they’ll never nag you to go for a run or get coffee.
Clever? Hell, yes. Something that will change the way we use technology? Quite probably. But a watch – in the sense of a self-contained machine with which we interact? No. Not at all.