| 12°C Dublin

Apple's Watch might just save us from our smartphones

Close

The Apple watch

The Apple watch

The Apple watch

'If we only ever bought things that had rational use cases and the best value, we'd all be wearing boiler suits, or hoodies."

So wrote technology market analyst Benedict Evans last week. Evans was talking about Apple's new smartwatch, which is called Watch. Specifically, he was addressing sceptics' questions about why people need a smartwatch.

I was one of those sceptics when I first saw the Watch last September in San Francisco. While I could envisage another screen in my life, I wasn't sold on what Apple was building.

Previous attempts at smartwatches hadn't caught fire for me, either. Over the last 18 months, I had reviewed dozens of smartwatches, from Sony and Samsung Android Wear models to simpler health-trackers. All had their merits. But none stayed on my wrist beyond a few weeks.

Recharging them daily, while a mild irritant, is not the main issue: lack of functionality is. While I like Android phones, I don't especially like its take-over-your-life Google Now service. And most of the app versions implemented so far on Android Wear have been underwhelming. It didn't really help my typical day along much.

So when I first saw Apple's Watch late last year, I thought it was interesting but not thrilling. It seemed too chunky to be fashionable and too peripheral to be invaluable.

I've changed my mind. I am now beginning to see a place in a normal person's life for a smartwatch. At least, if that person has the same habits as me.

I really started to see this when I got a chance to play with Apple's Watch right after its launch event on Monday. There's a much broader proposition on offer from this device than its advertising suggests.

It's not just that it will let me pay for things in shops using Apple Pay. Or that lots of companies whose products I use - like Evernote, Shazam, car makers and hotel chains - are making proper software for it. Or that it is taking health sensor features to a nerdish level, with vibrating pulses that allow you to relay heartbeat signatures to another Watch wearer.

No, the reason I can see an opening for this gadget is that it may be my best hope in the battle to stop getting trapped by my phone.

To explain: I am a phone addict. I carry at least one phone everywhere and usually check or respond to it once every few minutes.

(Not everyone acts like this, but many do.)

Whenever a notification comes in, I respond by taking my phone out of my pocket, unlocking it and tapping or scrolling. Sometimes, it's an interesting message or notification. Sometimes it's not. But as often as not, I will linger on the phone to check something else while I have the screen unlocked. And more often than not, it's an unnecessary distraction.

I estimate that I spend well over an hour every day doing this.

What if I had a high-quality, completely functional short-cut to these notifications? One that genuinely let me answer the ones I wanted and ignore others, without getting sucked into the phone's time sink?

This, as far as I can see, is the Apple Watch's biggest promise for someone like me: it might save me lots of time.

One of TechCrunch's brightest pundits, Matthew Panzarino, articulated it beautifully during the week. "They shouldn't just be redirection machines that punt people to their phones," he said. "There is an opportunity to give people what they need now and let them get back to what they're doing. This will be the Apple Watch metric to track: time saved."

It was the week's most incisive, astute summary about what the gadget's appeal is really about.

"That is the target market of the Apple Watch," said Panzarino. "Not rich people, not tech geeks and not Apple fanatics. It's people who want more time, and that is a very large target."

Naturally, not everyone agrees.

"The Apple Watch has the feel of Steve Jobs' LISA," said Joseph Brusuelas, an economist with the global accountancy network RSM International. "It's ill-conceived, ill-considered and likely to go the way of Google Glass."

And that wasn't even the best put-down of Apple's new device.

"We should be thanking Apple for launching the $10,000 'Apple Watch' as the new gold-standard in douche-bag detection," said US film actress Anna Kendrick.

Will the Watch really create a new ecosystem in the way that the iPad did? Most market analysts think sales will be healthy. But the gadget's real success will only be assured if it can persuade people like me to use my phone less.

Sunday Indo Business