By Low Teck Mee
The Apple Watch is not a game changer. There, I’ve said it. Some people want to wait and see, but I’m happy to state it now. And it feels as good as the moment Apple finally announced the existence of the wrist-bound wearable: other people can breathe easily and with triumphant delight; I am just relieved that the phantom iWatch can finally have a grave (possibly in the iCloud among nude photos of movie stars) and that many of you can put an end to years of mindless speculation.
Oh, this is not to knock the many ecstatic fans who cheered so loudly when Tim Cook teased on stage with “one more thing” that you’d have thought everyone was given a free trip to the moon. When the Apple Watch was finally revealed, it was a standing ovation inside Cupertino’s Flint Center for Performing Arts—a temporary church to the cult of the fruit that was once a pome of temptation at the beginning of time. No, this is to join everyone else in delighting in Apple’s big reveal.
But it’s no revelation that Apple is late jumping onto the already crowded smart watch bandwagon. Then again, Apple isn’t exactly a forerunner of mobile technology. As with the iPhone 6’s (and iPhone Plus’s) bigger screens, the Apple Watch is really just joining the club, which is fine since the club doors were never closed. But is this fashionably late?
Apple sure knows it needs to get into the kid leather-bound good books of fashion folk. In Cupertino, fashion editors were in attendance even when New York Fashion Week hasn’t ended. Vogue stalwarts such as Franca Sozzani and Emmanuelle Alt showed up, so did unlikely watchers Gwen Stefani and Liberty Ross. Elsewhere, Instyle’s Kelsey Glein considered it “well worth the wait” and “an object of beauty”. Mobile and tech news site BGR quoted colleague Eric Wilson as saying that the design is “generic in the sense of its flexibility and individualization.” Style.com’s Tim Blanks was clearly seduced: the Apple Watch is “where art, luxury, technology, and romance (he was taken by the gadget’s ability to send out heartbeats!) meet”. Vogue China’s Angelica Cheung tweeted, “Standing ovation for #apple #iWatch (sic)”. On the same medium, three and half hours before the Cupertino event, British Vogue’s Alexandra Shulman claimed she was “looking forward to a life-changing watch”, but did not say after that if her life was changed. She did later blog to say that the watch she saw earlier “practically makes thinking redundant and it’s got the fusion of cool design, likeable graphics and techno wizardry that we expect from Apple”. Self-confessed “non-digital specialist” Suzy Menkes opined, “From a fashion point of view, the external aesthetic seemed neutral: neither super-stylish nor repellent. I would imagine that geeks would love it more than aesthetes.” GQ took rah-rah-ing one step further by posting a “fashion spread” on its online version: the Apple Watch peeking from under suit-and-shirt sleeves, underscored by leather bracelets. It seemed only New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman was willing to go against the grain, pondering, “Does it rewrite the rules of our aesthetic expectations?” And her answer? A firm “no”.
To be honest, I have not seen the real thing. What I have seen is what most of you have seen: from what is being posted online and on Apple’s song-and-dance homepage, now appended with a new tab “Watch”, filled with eye-popping images of its latest Swiss army knife of a toy. One of the earliest visuals to appear on Instagram made me think: Nano reborn. Then I saw a video-demo of the home screen and I thought it was an attack of emoji, only to realise, quickly enough, it was a galaxy of widgets! Cute UI and a techie’s idea of elegant form factor may not be comfortable partners to a Dior suit or handles of a Chanel 2.55. I’m sure Apple thought of that. That’s why the Apple Watch itself is a tad better-looking than what its competitors put out not long before. That’s why they will be offering two watch sizes in three different cases (stainless steel, anodised aluminium, and 18-carat gold), as well as a slew of straps that will bring the total styles to a not unstaggering thirty four. That’s why in their marketing speak, they’re eager to assure that “there’s an Apple Watch for everyone”. The thing is, I don’t see Patek Philippe trying to please all and sundry.
Maybe I am looking at this wrongly. Maybe this shouldn’t be viewed as a fashion item, an accessory as vital to one’s image as a bag is. The bag houses our entire life, but these days, it’s likely the smart phone that’s storing our increasingly digitised existence. Apple Pay—the electronic payment system, also just announced—will before long render our wallets redundant, hence possibly our bags too. The Apple Watch is Apple Pay-enabled. Is Apple Watch then a viable mobile addition, replacing our smart phones altogether? Many people seem to think and hope so. I wonder what will happen if, as a result of the rise of Apple Watch, Louis Vuitton loses a sizeable part of their bag business. The mind boggles.
I am also amused by how so many reviewers were bowled over by Apple Watch’s “digital crown”—no doubt nifty and qualifies the device as a watch—when the idea is really not new. Back in the days when Sony was making hand phones without the Xperia branding, pre-Sony Ericsson, it had incorporated into some of its handsets a neat little feature called the “jog dial”. Especially memorable was the compact Music Cellular Phone CMD-MZ5, a handset that predated the iPhone. Unlike the “digital crown”, Sony’s “jog dial” was able to scroll up and down, rock forward and backward, and be pressed inward to execute commands. At that time, about 2000, the “jog dial” was awesome. Today, with touch-screen tech, the “digital crown” really isn’t grand.
That’s the thing about the Apple Watch: it’s a product conceived to meet our expectations, not exceed them. Sure, there are gimmicks galore, but will we need them to navigate a day in our mundane life? Some of the features may be useful, but most of them require third-party apps. What’s most exasperating for would-be smart watch owners not propped by iOS is that the Apple Watch won’t work without an iPhone. What good is a button without a buttonhole?