How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: Apple Watch Edition

Apple Watch
The Apple Watch combines the two rudest things you can do in social settings—check your watch and look at your phone—and suggests you do both incessantly. Stefanie Loos/Reuters

It’s 4:15 on a Tuesday afternoon and so far today I’ve burned 934 calories (thank you, morning jog). My current heart rate is 72 beats per minute, and I’ve stood up for at least five minutes of every hour since getting out of bed this morning. Not that I’m keeping track. My watch is. Everything I told you, I know because I cannot stop checking my watch.

Less than a month into the release of the vaunted Apple Watch, Apple has seen a handful of bugs—some of which slowed the device’s rollout—but mostly sales. The company has yet to release official figures, but pre-orders of the Apple Watch were reported at more than 2.3 million. That compares more than favorably with almost 1.4 million iPhones sold in all of fiscal 2007, the year the phone was released.

Despite relatively broad appeal—an April survey found that 1 in 4 people said they were interested in the Apple Watch—Apple’s latest is still a tough sell for many consumers, myself included. It’s not mind-blowingly expensive (the cheapest option sells for about $350) but it’s also not cheap, especially for someone who hasn’t worn a watch since ever and is literally running out of places to charge things in her apartment. Surely, I thought, armed with a three-weeks-late Newsweek loaner watch from Apple, it would only take a few days to figure out whether I could skip the Watch until its second or third iteration, or perhaps entirely.

First, the choosing. The Apple Watch has a half-dozen customizable faces, plus a small number of options for customizing button functionality. (The watch’s knob is called a “digital crown,” and activates apps, scrolls and zooms.) Watch faces are customizable both by color and what appears on them—at first, I went with the "Astronomy" option (which shows your location on a spinning earth) but after a few hours of disconcerting battery ignorance swapped it out for one that displays the Watch’s remaining charge. Other options: You can add a watch passcode and choose (via the Apple Watch iPhone app) which apps you’d like to send notifications and how. A small number of apps are Watch-integrated (including, among others: Mail, iCal, Weather, Maps, Messaging and Music) but most are limited to displaying notifications.

Also customizable are the six prefab texts one can send from the Watch (the default options contain three different iterations of “thank you,” which is not generally the nature of my texting). After consulting with friends, I settled on basic fare like “Be there in 10” and “Where you at,” while supplementing with more traditionally Kira texts that include “dope,” “hahaha” and “Prob staying in tonight?”

And that’s really it—setting up the watch takes no more than 15 minutes and, true to form, the limited number of buttons (and the streamlined simplicity of Apple’s various operating systems) makes it a pretty easy device to pick up.

That ease of use also translates to, well, use. After getting the hang of the Watch's few commands, what at first seems just this side of ludicrous—reading emails and tweets and texts on my wrist—starts to feel commonplace. Most of the notifications are benign (a New York Times headline, a Slack message) but every so often one alerts me to something I wouldn't have known without pulling out my phone—and, once I did know, made an impact on the next few hours of my life—such as a friend bailing on the evening’s festivities, or the MTA sending a text about subway delays. 

The Watch has major in-practice downsides though, the mother of which I’ll call The Douchebag Factor. By virtue of the product’s newness, and its cost, it’s hard to wear the Apple Watch in public without feeling like that girl, the designer-handbag girl, the “I spent $400 to read my texts three seconds sooner” girl. The Watch is still rare enough to earn glances and even questions on the subway, and I found it hard to not be constantly aware of it shouting “I am a shameless consumer!” from my wrist.

The Douchebag Factor is equally prominent in social settings, even if you have the kind of friends who are sympathetic to one’s need to test drive new gadgetry over beers. Because the Apple Watch inherently combines two of the rudest things you can do among friends—check your watch and look at your phone—and suggests that you do them incessantly.

It’s hard not to. When every notification is available—texts, tweets, Slack messages, emails—suddenly they all seem important, or at least potentially so. The small red dot that serves as the watch-face reminder of new notifications becomes a constant, pressing concern: Is it an urgent email? A crucial text? What if I’m missing something? The Watch’s handy ability to light up whenever you turn it toward yourself is also highly addictive. Never before in my life have I been so consistently aware of the time.

Not that you can do much from the Watch. Texts can be answered with the aforementioned prefab responses—"Do you want to come over this weekend?” “dope”—or by sending an audio message, a drawing or a dictated text. The dictation can be subpar and slow compared with the iPhone, and there’s no way to edit text if the Watch flubs a word. (Nor, per the DB Factor, do I yet feel totally comfortable shouting things into my wrist.)

Emails can’t be responded to, or sometimes even read in full, although Mail app email can be deleted from the Watch, and Gmail mesages can be archived. Tweets can’t be seen in a browser or Twitter app; Slack conversations can be watched in real time but not participated in. Which isn’t to say that I expected a mini-computer on my wrist—just that being made constantly aware of things that may or may not need attention is sort of like having someone shout your name every 30 seconds, looking up and then having them reply 75 percent of the time with “nevermind.”

On the other hand, the Watch does have a trifecta of major sellings points—at least for me. First, while I’m generally not one to fitness-track, the integration on the watch is pretty, well, dope. Even though I feel anxious about sweating all over the wristband, it’s nice to be able to change a song or check your heartbeat without lugging your phone out of its carefully Spandexed side pocket or arm band. Nicer still to have such seamless tracking of one’s (often lackluster, in my case) daily physical activity.

Second, Apple Pay. Once the DB Factor of waving your wrist over a Starbucks scanner wears off, the ease with which the Watch works at participating retailers is almost surreal. With the lock settings, you can also make sure potential thieves don’t wrist-swipe their way through a Best Buy on your behalf.

And finally, the Apple TV remote. The app most tailored to my personal needs, the remote is an answer to the two questions I’ve been asking myself since buying an Apple TV back in 2010: “Where is the remote?” and “Am I sitting on it?” While the rewind/fast-forward functionality isn’t totally on point, the ability to navigate my television from my wrist is glorious. In a bit of serendipitous clockwork, the Watch also twice reminded me to stand up for a few minutes just when Netflix was asking whether I was still watching. (Always, Netflix. Always.)

If there’s anything to be known about the Apple Watch, it’s that it’ll get better—probably thinner and faster, but also more useful and therefore more distracting. There will be more apps, and the existing apps will have more functionality. There will be more things you can do, instead of just see. Hopefully the battery will last longer (I got about a day out of it with obsessive usage). And in time the DB Factor will go away, as the Watch becomes commonplace and an ever-increasing number of us are nursing beers at tables together while staring down into our tiny wrist-screens. But hey, at least we’ll know the time.