Just thought I’d share a few thoughts I’d rather tweet out, but figured would take a lot of unnecessary real estate on my followers’ feeds. (Sidenote: Apparently this is becoming a dumping ground for stuff I can’t just post on social media…huh...) Anyways, a lot of this has to deal with the incredibly, incredibly butthurt comments on basically anything on the internet even remotely about the Apple Watch…
“Apple Watch is ugly…”
Let’s skip the “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion” formalities and cut to the chase. This comes off as such an impulsive, lazy thing to say, especially as early as now. Yet this is all I see pasted onto tweets, comments sections, etc.; so much so that it irks me to no end.
People forget that this is a watch, and the last time I checked, watches took a bajillion shapes and forms. That’s because the watch industry caters to a special market that accepts this diversity of styles and designs, but not to the point where it’s disposable fashion - in fact, it's the opposite. That’s the premise of the Apple Watch’s aesthetic, not based on the “smartwatches” that came before it, but the legacy of timepieces. When you start to look at it as a delicate, yet durable and personal timepiece rather than a fun-sized smartphone you slap on your wrist that you’ll eventually replace in a year or two, it starts to make a little more sense…
Now, looking at it as a commercial product, which it also is, Apple does it again with build-quality, and hey, they brought back stainless steel! Personal preferences aside, there is an essence of craftsmanship from the pictures that I’ve seen on their website and on various tech sites - no matter how bad you may think it looks, it can’t be denied that this design took effort and their signature scrutinous attention to detail. Maybe that’s why it kind of bothers me that people dismiss it in such rash manner...
“Moto 360 is better…”
Having just mentioned diversity in watch design, I can completely understand people who think it looks better (well, maybe not those who say it undeniably looks better, but that’s not worth comment). I can’t deny the fact that the Moto 360 (apart from that infamous black bar at the bottom) looks amazingly well built - to me, its akin to the robustness and simplicity of a Braun watch. But that’s where complete subjectivity should end, because to say outright that Moto 360 is, in itself, a better product so early in the game completely baffles me…
In situations like these, I like to bring out the designer in me and take a look at the processes of both of these products, and now’s a good time since I’m nowhere near close to having my hands on either of these things. Luckily I came across these two videos highlighting the conceptualisation of the Apple Watch and Moto 360.
On one hand, we have Apple's SVP of Design Jony Ive explaining the design and functions of the Apple Watch. In dramatic fashion (it’s kind of a big deal for them).
On the other hand, we have (primarily) Motorola's “CVP of Consumer Experience Design” talking about how Motorola made their latest products, the Moto 360 included, and how much of an engineering feat it is, with a few mentions of how their products "met some customer needs” (I may be paraphrasing, but I’m not gonna watch it thrice…).
Notice that I refrain from attributing the word “design” to that video about Moto 360 because to me what design really is, at its essence, is about solving problems and how the product works. Most of what I see from this video is a demonstration of how good of a company they are to invest lots of resources and have a cool design team to do all this for their products. But the only problems I can see being solved are their own engineering and manufacturing problems, and how they came up with solutions for those. What about the consumer? Where do they come in? In fairness, they address style and personality, but that’s basically it. And besides, how about software? I’m getting the impression that Android Wear was simply slapped onto the device because they couldn’t make their own software…
Now, onto what makes the Apple Watch video different.
- They focus on not just how personal the device is, but how much personality and even humanness is an essential part of the device (linking back to the device also being a valuable timepiece). This is shown not just by the broad customisation palette provided by the diversity in watch bodies and bands, but also the possible interactions between Apple Watch owners, through sculptable emojis and the sharing of heartbeats. In the Moto 360 video, personality conveyed through their device comes off as a “they want it, they got it” sort of thing.
- Apple is selling a product. The product is all that appears in the video. Motorola is selling a product, too. But only a bit of the product and a whole lot of design team appear in that video.
- Jony is straightforward, when he doesn’t go off into relatively obscure design lingo, that is. Point being, at the end of the video, you get why it exists. It does this, solving this problem *tick*, and it does that, solving that problem *tick*. By the end of the Moto 360 video, you don’t know what it does for you other than tell time (but if I wanted that, I would’ve just gotten a normal watch). To me, if you can’t do that, that’s the end of the story. I’m not compelled one bit to go out and get one.
- Apple recognises the importance of software. Not only that, but seamless integration between that and hardware. Motorola barely recognises that Moto 360 runs on Android Wear.
Well, by this point, it makes it dead easy to make some sort - any sort of judgment, as to what is a fundamentally well-designed and appealing product. I’ll just leave it at that.
“It’s a disappointment coming from Apple…”
Now, let’s compare the launch of this never-before-seen product with another product when it was never-before-seen (I mean this in the official sense, of course), we all call it the iPhone. I don’t need to explain to you how influential it was and still is today, you already know that. But what if I told you that one day, it was just this tiny slab of glass that was limited to a few clunky, glossy apps? When the iPhone launched, by today’s standards, it was probably nothing - maybe even less functional than the cheapest Android phone you could buy today. And even if it’s on different levels and proportions, some of us cheered it on and saw its bright future, while others chose to disregard it completely.
The Apple Watch is a stunner from the start. To me, the magic is in the sensors. As analyst Benedict Evans put it on Twitter:
"A computer should never ask a question it should know the answer to. Sensors are profoundly redefining what answers it can know."
The integration of sensors within Apple Watch shows itself most profoundly though the software: specifically, the Fitness and Workout apps. Using sensory data like heart rate, distance via your iPhone’s GPS, and an accelerometer that can even measure vertical elevation on a Y-axis, it determines three basic things: how much you move, how much you exercise, and how much you stand up. The sheer simplicity of knowing that, alongside calorie-related goals determined by the watch itself overtime, is what makes it killer. Another irresistibly seamless experience, this time in health.
Furthermore, they’ve already partnered with multiple companies like BMW and everyone under agreement with Apple Pay - securing these partnerships guaranteed that the device would be supremely functional from the day its first sold, without having to rely on developers’ apps. And, with that said, of course, come the third-party apps. I can’t even begin to imagine how much functionality this thing can have beyond what we can already imagine. (Sidenote: You could maybe say the same for the iPhone and the App Store, but that wasn’t an original intention from what the iPhone was conceptualised as at first.)
Anyways, there’s just a plethora of other things that makes this device so good from the very start, beyond all pretence produced by the tech media and two years of speculation. This thing essentially does almost everything we know a wearable is capable of doing at the time, and does it very well - that’s why I expect iterations and not leapfrog advancements from the Apple Watch in the future. On the other hand, the iPhone was never a phone: it was a computer you could fit in your pocket, and the first iPhone was barely as good as a computer in your pocket could get, as evidenced by today’s technology...
If I’m honest with myself, yeah, I do feel like I’m venting some frustrations with how technology enthusiasts are taking this in…well, that’s why I’ve been able to write this much about it. But maybe I’m paying attention to the wrong crowd here, because I don’t recall Apple paying much attention to this side of the fence either. It’s the normal human beings that should be paid attention, because in the end, paying for something with actual hard-earned money (and not trollish comments clouded in anonymity) is the ultimate method of voting for and believing in it.
It’s only been a couple of days since we’ve first seen it, but I honestly hope that the success I’m seeing in the horizon for Apple Watch is some serious foreshadowing of what’s to come.
PS: Also, here's a much more concise write-up I discovered while formatting this post. Apparently this is more usual for Apple than I thought it was...