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🕰️⌚ Ugh the Apple Watch is perfect

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I celebrated the birth of my son by purchasing a Swiss mechanical watch. No, not a Rolex or something flashy that crypto bros buy when coins-go-up. Instead, I brought home a steel, white dial IWC Portugeiser with a leather band. Nice but not rowdy.

I fell for the marketing of it all. And I continue to do so. I’d like to think that my son will someday wear this anachronistic device and that could give it some significance. Patek Philippe has this line that you never own a watch, you just hold on to it for the next generation. The rationale works in my consumerist brain. And surely no one is going to want their father’s Apple Watch Series 8 as a graduation present in 2046.

Beneath that intention, though, is some combination of status signaling and a tendency to seek out retail therapy when I am stressed. Like when I am preparing to be a new father. Regardless, the IWC became the first thing without a screen on my wrist in about five years. I wore a brown, quartz Timex Expedition with a brown nylon strap between 2007 and 2013, then nothing from 2013 to 2018, and then the Apple Watch found me.

I had a brief flirtation with the first version of the Apple Watch in 2015. A colleague bought one. He swore that the watch made him pull his iPhone out of his pocket less. This was when iPhones were becoming larger and mobile apps becoming more demanding of your attention. Grabbing your phone was both more annoying and more dangerous to your focus. That possibility appealed to me enough that I drove over to Barton Creek Mall and bought one.

I returned it 48 hours later. At that time the product was still a solution looking for problems. The Apple Watch mostly existed to tell time and mirror alerts from your other Apple devices. Two days of simultaneous notifications on my Mac, iPhone, and Watch made me feel like the subject of a stress test experiment.

By 2019 the product found the right use cases: health and fitness combined with the utility of completing small activities without your phone like checking the weather or dictating a quick iMessage reply or paying with Apple Wallet. The battery life had improved and the social stigma of the thing had faded a bit.

And I loved it. At least I did until I decided that becoming a father meant I wanted something nicer (which is silly, I know). Something that would look timeless years from now in newborn photos (vanity). Something that would allow me to focus more on holding my son and less on the mini iPhone on my wrist (delusion).

I am beginning to worry that I was wrong. I am worried that Apple made the perfect watch.

Time

This is the dumbest reason of them all - the Apple Watch tells perfect time. These four and five-figure mechanical watches get it wrong more than you’d imagine. And that is their one job! Hell, a quartz watch is more accurate than a mechanical watch by a few orders of magnitude.

The ability of a mechanical watch to tell roughly accurate time is a testament to engineering but one that was only useful decades ago. Instead, I need to check the time on my phone each time I put on my mechanical watch and then I don’t fully trust it when I am wearing it. I still grab my iPhone if I am trying to time something really important.

Going Phoneless

I try to keep my phone in a corner of the house when I am at home. Close enough that I can hear it if it is my wife (I have her set up to break through my otherwise silent notifications). Far enough that I don’t reach for it like a pack of cigarettes any time I feel the urge.

I fail at this a lot.

One thing that does make this practice easier is knowing that I have my Apple Watch on me. I can quickly dictate a response to a message from my wife. I can pull up the next few items on the calendar. I can tick the box on a Reminder task. All without opening the device that readily provides me with the sum total of human knowledge and endless tailored video clips.

Wearing my mechanical watch makes using my phone an all-or-nothing activity. If my phone buzzes while my wife is out, I probably need to run over and check it. If I forgot what time we need to leave for the doctor then I need to open up that shiny time attention thief.

Engineering

The engineers that I know who have nice watches sometimes justify it through an appreciation of the prowess that goes into their craftsmanship. They aren’t wrong. Creating one of these pieces requires the full range of engineering virtues: design, precision, efficiency, mastery of craft.

They are just forgetting how much more incredible it is that humans can create system-in-package chips. We taught sand how to think! The feats of engineering required to put a single Apple Watch into production dwarf almost any systems of human accomplishment outside of the Apollo Program. You think that is superfluous but I promise you that it is not. The supply chain required to source the materials. The Dutch photolithographic machines that print chips with levels of precision unmatched in our history. The software running on the device and the antennae to communicate. Genuinely a marvel.

Theft-ability

Dudes who wear Rolex watches in the tourist neighborhoods of European cities perplex me. I am not sure what they are trying to prove. You are already an American tourist, you probably look the part, and no one is going to treat you differently based on your watch. Most European hospitality workers already assume that any older American has money to spend and the cultural conditioning to tip well (and they generally are not wrong). At best someone compliments your watch? At medium you have it taken off your wrist when you aren’t paying attention. At worst you are the vicim of violence.

Not that these are likely states, but you make yourself a target. The Apple Watch doesn’t. The device is abundant and due to the authentication the value of a stolen Apple Watch is only as good as its constituent parts.

Bonus points that you’re also going to start off in a better spot if your phone is ever stolen from you. The Apple Watch is strapped to your literal body, but you stare into your phone as you carry it in gently while walking. The snatch-and-grab of your phone would absolutely suck but the Apple Watch gives you a second factor confirmation device if you need to buy a new one and authenticate.

Wear-ability

The Apple Watch is so easy to wear. The straps are comfortable. The device is not very heavy (even the Ultra) relative to mechanical watches.

Battery Life

You would think this is an area that mechanical watches win hands down. They don’t have batteries, right? They aren’t the same as a lithium ion battery, but mechanical watches do have a system for storing energy that is used to move the gears to keep time. And the energy generated to charge that function is yours.

You can manually wind the watch or, commonly, an Automatic will use the force of your arm swaying as you move about to wind the spring that releases energy to move the gears of the device. Leave the thing still for too long and you’ll need to wind it back up. This is not a real problem; this is a silly gripe. The bigger hassle is that you then need to reset the time and potentially the date when you pick it back up.

Durability

Like Time this one almost makes me angry. Turns out the device that contains transistors and a screen and a battery is significantly more rugged than most other watches. Especially the Apple Watch Ultra which was designed to be more resilient to abuse than some other iterations of the Apple Watch.

Some of this will vary. You can buy mechanical dive watches designed to submerge to real depth, but the Apple Watch Ultra can do that too.

So what?

I still love the IWC. This is what they want you to believe but I do feel more handsome and mature when I’m out to dinner with my wife and wearing the timepiece instead of a gadget from Spy Kids. Let’s be clear, though, my wife does not care. If looks mattered to her we would have never gone on a first date or a second first date. She just cares that I’m more present. That I scroll less - regardless of device form factor, which is something I need to improve.

Published Apr 12, 2024

Austinite in Lisbon. Emerging Tech at Cloudflare.Sign up for emails