Losing Track of Time

Apple Watch
An Apple Watch at a luxury watch boutique in Singapore. Edgar Su/Reuters

Today, as I write this column, I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of my second Apple Watch, to be delivered by a brown-suited courier who has come to know me a little more intimately than I’d like over the past few years.

My second Apple Watch? you ask. Are you that enamored with Apple’s revolution in wearable tech that you’ve decided to proffer one device on each wrist, like so many old-school fake Rolex street salesmen?

No. I lost the first one. I believe it was stolen from me, actually. But it’s also possible I lost it, and that it’s somewhere in my house. The reason it’s very important to share this with all of you is because this nightmarish experience has illuminated a flaw in the Apple Watch that is so pernicious that once it is discovered by the army of powerful tech bloggers that play kingmaker in the Kingdom of Silicon Valley, my little revelation might just bring down the entire company.

Hyperbole? Read onward.

For a bit of foreshadowing, know this: I have all the Apple devices, like a computer and iPad and iPhone and an iPod Classic and I used to have an iPod touch and I have two iPod shuffles, but I’ve never adopted any of them early. My first smartphone of any kind was an iPhone 4, and I’m that savvy consumer who waits until at least the second generation of a device before dropping it into my online shopping cart and shipping it straight outta Shenzhen. But the Apple Watch is a thing I have been rubbing my grubby paws together about for a long time.

Way back in August 2013, when barely anyone had any idea that smart watches were going to become a big thing, for example, I wrote a prescient column predicting both that Hillary Clinton would run for president (she totally is) and that Apple would one day announce its own smart watch. The column was mostly a humblebrag about how many dumb watches I own and how I never thought about how expensive it would be to change their batteries all the time. I was also wrong about some things, like that the Apple Watch would be called the iWatch, that it’d have a curved design and that it might play Angry Birds (a stupid game I hate). But the bottom line was: I wanted one, and I wanted one way back then.

Last month I stole Newsweek’s loaner for a day and wore it around New York City, which was exciting because a guy in a coffee shop asked me about it but also not that exciting because I couldn’t really get it to work, i.e., the watch never beeped or vibrated at me when I got a text message or email, which was kind of one of the big reasons for getting the watch. But still I wanted one, because I knew my watch would perform brilliantly. And if it didn’t, I would march into my nearest Apple Store and freak out about it.

So I ordered one and it arrived in a pristine white box on June 7. I let it charge overnight, resisting the urge to drool all over the thing straightaway, so the first day that I actually powered the thing on and synced it to my phone was June 8. By June 10, it was gone. Those two interceding days were sheer first-world hell.

When the loaner hadn’t worked in New York, my boss told me it’s probably because I hadn’t synced the watch by scanning its face with my iPhone, so I made sure to do it that way this time around. Then I sent myself a text message, and it bleeped and buzzed happily on my wrist. That’s the second-to-last time that ever happened, though. For the next two days, my Watch lazily ignored a slew of text messages and email notifications. Tinder didn’t work; I just got a spinning wheel every time I tried loading it. Siri was fickle; sometimes she’d listen, other times I got a flat bar across the watchface that, in hindsight, looked a lot like a dead pulse. More foreshadowing, I should have realized at the time.

But I knew just what to do: call Apple using the Apple Watch, of course (because it can make phone calls)! A cheery iOS senior advisor named Jennifer took my call and we chatted for a bit, before neither of us could hear each other because the watch kept dropping the signal. So I switched back to my iPhone, figuring we’d get to that little functionality issue later.

Jennifer calmly ran through a list of potential solutions to my watch not doing what it’s supposed to do, which mostly involved messing around with the notifications settings, toggling them from “custom” to “mirror my iPhone.” That didn’t work, and after 45 minutes on the line, she decided to escalate my case to an engineer. This is a big deal at Apple, because it means your problem might actually lead to some change in the actual product or its software, and then everyone else who has an Apple Watch would someday send you grateful fanmail for making their lives better. We hung up, and Jennifer promised to call me back later that afternoon.

Over the next 24 hours or so, Jennifer and I played phone and email tag, and then she was out of the office, so she handed me over to another cheery Apple support person, Phil. Phil tried to call me but I was out walking the dogs, buying some vegetable starts and washing my car when he called (these details will all be important later). By the time I got back home, I realized something strange: My Apple Watch was no longer on my wrist. I had no memory of taking it off, and no idea where it was.

I searched the predictable places in the house, even those predictable spots where my cat, Jesus, might have playfully knocked the watch behind a bookshelf. I looked in the shed, and the other shed, and throughout my car. I retraced my steps, from the park where I walked the dogs to the nursery where I bought the vegetable starts to the place I washed my car. I called all those places, and asked if anyone had turned in a watch. I called my nearest Apple store to see if anyone had turned in a watch. I did not find my watch.

This is when I first learned of the pernicious flaw in the Apple Watch that might bring down the entire company, but I was trying to “b positive,” like my blood type. So I emailed Phil to confess that I’d become separated from the watch, and he promptly called with some helpful suggestions about how I might find it.

The problem was, all of those suggestions presumed the watch actually worked. Have someone else call or text you repeatedly as you go to all of the places you remember being with the watch, for example, and maybe you’ll hear it ring or buzz. Except, the watch didn’t ring or buzz. That’s what was wrong with it.

I had already discovered the pernicious flaw by that point, but just to be sure, and because I was trying to b positive still, I asked Phil: “There’s no ‘Find My Watch’ function?”

There is not, Phil admitted. Unlike nearly every other device Apple makes (except the Shuffle, and maybe some other device I’m not thinking of at the moment), there’s no Find My Watch feature on the iPhone, because there’s no GPS on the thing. Its sole connection to the outside world is via Bluetooth, but even if you’re standing right on top of the thing and have your phone nearby, there’s nothing you can do to locate the watch. I’m no Apple engineer—I’m not even a Jennifer, or a Phil—but this seems like a pretty accomplishable thing. The watch can ping your phone when it’s nearby. Why can’t the phone ping the watch? Why?! 

So I gave up and ordered another one, and it arrives today.

CHAPTER TWO

My new watch works better than the first one. It bleeps and buzzes happily whenever I receive messages and emails, and Tinder opens and Siri talks to me. That could have been the end of this little saga, if not for a bit of amateur sleuthing I decided to do while waiting for my new watch to sync my favorite playlist, allowing me to theoretically bypass my iPhone and jam out to my favorite songs right on my watch.

I checked Craigslist for Apple Watches for sale. Within minutes, I had a suspect. He was selling an Apple Watch “sport” (mine was the normal kind) and he lived like a mile from me. He said he was selling this one because he “won” a “steal” one. The ad actually said “steal” when it should have said “steel.” This guy has tipped his hand!, I thought. So I asked him if he still had it.

“Sorry man, I just sold it,” he wrote. “Like 30 mins before you texted me. I apologize I'll be removing the add.”

Another spelling error! And how did he know I was a man? I pressed further. “And you had the box and charger with it?” He did, he said. So then I wrote, “Not to be awkward but I just had a watch stolen from me and your ad is a little suspiciously worded. Could you please send the receipt of your purchase to (PRIVATE EMAIL ADDRESS REDACTED)? Or tell me the serial number, which should be on that receipt? Otherwise I’m going to have to turn this number into Springfield PD. Don’t take it the wrong way but yours is the only ad on CL, and you live quite close to where it was stolen.”

I watched nervously as that little bubble cloud bubbled in my iMessage box. “I’m sorry your watch got stolen,” the guy wrote back. “But my receipt has my address and I don't feel comfortable disclosing that. You can have the police contact me instead. I understand.”

This guy was good. Was he using reverse psychology? If he offers for me to have the cops contact him, does he know that means I probably won’t have the cops contact him? I had to be sure. I kept quizzing him, respectfully, until he finally got sick enough of me to send a packing list. He’d ordered his watch a month before I ordered mine. This was not my thief.

I returned to Craiglist. This time I found another watch, farther north. I texted the guy and asked him to send me the serial number of the watch. He promised to later, when he got home, and a few hours after that, he kept his promise. I checked the number against the one inscribed on my box.

It matched. I had my man.

I played it cool, of course. “I’m on my way up to Portland today, could I meet you somewhere to have a look?” I wrote him. “Also sorry to text you so early!” Because it was only 7 a.m. and I didn’t want to seem to eager. We set a meeting, for high noon. He suggested the parking lot of a coffee shop. I demurred. "Let’s do inside the bar, if you don’t mind [smiley face]”.  The smiley face was to make clear I’m not a threat. “I like where you're heads at,” he wrote, suggesting we try the A&W across the street. This thief has even worse grammar than the other thief, I thought.

I called my dad and asked him to meet me at the A&W. I needed someone to film the encounter, and also some muscle in case the whole deal went south. My dad is 76, but he’s still pretty spry, and I figured at least if some kind of fight went down, having my father in the fray would minimize my own chances of getting hurt somehow. I considered calling the cops, but I don’t trust the cops. I read the news, you know?

When I got to the A&W, my dad was already inside. He’d parked his Vespa behind the building, so as not to arouse suspicion. I had him move to a table in the corner, and coached him on how to hold a phone like you’re just looking at it, not like you’re videotaping someone about to get caught red-handed trying to fence a pilfered Apple Watch. He wasn’t a natural at it, but I told him, “Remember, you’re just using the phone,” a few times. That seemed to help. I texted the bandit.

“I’m here!” I wrote, cheery as all get-out.

“Be there in five,” he wrote back.

No lie, I was freaking out. I took a couple of aikido classes when I was 10, but I felt pretty unprepared for the worst-case scenario: dude is a scary meth-addled ex-felon packing some kind of gun, and the moment I confront him with the truth he pulls the gun out and blows me away and then takes out my dad too because he’s obviously recording the whole thing instead of just looking at a phone like I’d patiently instructed him to do, multiple times. I tried to take deep breaths and stay calm.  

Then I saw him, walking through the double doors of the A&W and cradling a white box in his arm. He was not a big, scary meth-head. He was maybe 20 years old, a little pudgy, and wearing a plaid short-sleeved shirt from Old Navy or the Gap. My first thought was, “This guy didn’t steal anybody’s watch.” My second thought: “I could take him.”

Where did he get this box from?, I wondered as he sat down. Can you counterfeit Apple Watch boxes? He shook my hand and pushed the box across the table. I opened it, and removed the watch.

“I’m so glad you’re a real person,” he said. “Like, two people called and wanted me to send it overseas.”

I ignored this obvious attempt to play innocent, and checked the watch’s serial number, first against his box. It matched. This was a problem.

I pulled out my own receipt, along with the police report I’d filed a few days earlier for the missing watch, which included the serial number. I checked his watch again. Again, the numbers matched.

The last four digits, anyway.

Apparently, in my haste to see justice served, I hadn’t bothered to check the entire serial number back when the guy first texted me a photo of the watch. If the last four digits are the same, it’s gotta be a match, I must have figured in an adrenaline-fueled crime-fighting haze. I was wrong. I had the wrong guy, again. And now here he was sitting in front of me in an A&W, and my father was filming the whole encounter. What if I’d actually called the police? I was mortified.

“I hate to tell you this,” I finally confessed. “The only reason I asked you to come here is because my watch was stolen.”

“Oh really?” he asked.

“When I asked you to send me the serial number, I checked it, and it was the same, except I only checked the last four digits.”

“Oh, no,” he said, way more empathetic and way less outraged than he should have been. “Shoot, dude.”

I apologized for wasting his time, and he was cool about it, and I didn’t buy his watch. To the real thief, whoever you are, wherever you are, I will find you. I will have justice. And if I don’t, I have this other watch I bought to replace the first one, so that’s pretty fine too.

CHAPTER THREE

Just kidding, that’s really the end.