Why I won't be buying an Apple Watch
Let me get one thing clear from the beginning; I am a massive Apple fan. As I sit here writing this on my iMac, my iPhone lays about 30 inches from me (providing the internet for me because Wi-Fi is invariably bad when you live in shared housing) and my iPad lays on the bed. The iPad had been used about an hour or so before to browse the Apple Store app for cases for my iPhone. I think I may have a problem in that too much of my life is Apple flavoured. Anyway, I digress.
I have entirely ruled out the prospect of using Android or Windows Phone for any of my other devices because I believe Apple's products are just better. The lure of new Apple products is pretty much my greatest consumer weakness. However, after a period of saving up funds earmarked for the purchase of an Apple Watch, I've done a U-turn and come to a conclusion that I won't be buying into the craze. Here's why.
Dealbreaker #1 - the design
I will admit I do have rather selective taste when it comes to watches. My specific preferences are a round face, free of clutter or stupid roman numerals and pointless miniature dials telling me what day of the week it is; a brown leather band; metal surround, svelte in size and minimalist in design. Essentially, I like a classic watch design that is unassuming but tasteful.
I was hugely disappointed when I found out the screen of the Apple Watch was going to be square. They have softened the corners of the watch's casing and Jony Ive has made remarks about how he wished to disguise the edge of the screen from the casing, opting to have a display that seemingly blends into the watch. However you cut it though, it's still square.
I understand that from a user interface standpoint, square screens would be much easier to work with. Regarding Android Wear, Google's own wearables operating system, the difference between a round face Moto 360 and a square face LG G Watch is greatly evident. You can see more information on the square face than the round face and there is no awkward 'cut off' of information towards the corners of the square screen. Watches with square faces generally look like wrist-worn calculators, however. Apple have harped on so much about design and aesthetics and yet, the Apple Watch still has a whiff of geek about it. It's slightly too thick, too square and the watch faces themselves are mostly rubbish. I do not want my £400+ watch to display Mickey Mouse pointing at the time. I could probably buy a watch for £30 that would do that.
I take issue with the majority of the design options, too; as we know, there are three different styles of watch and 6 various straps. The cheapest watch style, the Watch Sport, will start at $349 and still looks cheap. Matte aluminium usually looks great but this finish on the Watch just doesn't appear premium. The stainless steel option is better but having viewed the option that fits closest to my aforementioned preferences, it just doesn't look right. It still looks like I intend to do basic arithmetic sums on my wrist.
Dealbreaker #2 - the battery life
Battery life for the Apple Watch looks like it going to be abysmal. My iPhone 5S isn't exactly an endurance champion but the information I've read about the Watch seem really bad. According to reports, if you subject the Watch to heavy use it may run out of power in a mere 2.5 hours. That would be bad for a laptop. It would be disastrous for a tablet or a phone. For a watch, a device that typically has a battery that will last months, it's bloody awful.
Now I am fully aware that a typical watch is dumb by comparison to your average smart watch. It tells you the time and, depending on the model, other fun facts such as the date and atmospheric pressure should you be so inclined. Smart watches are capable of considerably more; I do fear that the manufacturers of such technology are getting carried away with what we could do with our watches, rather than what we will do.
The main attraction of a smart watch for me would be the extension of notifications from your phone. That is, instead of having to reach for your phone every time, a glance at your wrist will allow you to see whether anything important is happening. This would suggest that usage of the device would be largely passive; your watch would not be the 'go to' device for any particular task. Most actions would be infinitely quicker and easier to do on your phone than on a screen no bigger than 42mm across.
The Apple Watch is definitely not alone in being overambitious with regard to software features and at the expense of longevity. The Galaxy Gear could take photos from your wrist, for example. Quite why anyone would want to make themselves look suspicious using a hidden camera is beyond me, but still. There will be a big focus on the app selection available when the Apple Watch is released. You'll be able to unlock your car, make phone calls, view photos and so on. This functionality requires that the Watch has the power to cope - you essentially will have a miniature computer on your wrist and so the battery life will suffer as battery technology has only come so far. I just believe that a majority of the functions enabled on the watch will be unnecessary. Viewing photos, dictating message responses by voice, sending my heartbeat to other Watch users (something, which for me, is so cheesy it makes me sick in my mouth a bit) - all examples of things that I don't want to do on my watch. I have a phone for those things.
Apple is reportedly working on a power saving mode which will reduce the watch's functions so much that all it will effectively do is show the time. Even so, Apple's targeted battery life is only 19 hours and Tim Cook has stated that he charges his every night.
Dealbreaker #3 - the price (for what it is)
The one fact that we do know ahead of today's announcement at 9AM Eastern Time is that the Apple Watch starts at $349. It would be common sense to assume that this is the Watch Sport 38mm with the (hideous) rubber straps. The price for the other styles have been widely speculated, with estimates for the 18 carat gold Watch Edition going as high as $10,000.
I personally would have been happy to spend around £500 on the Watch. The ultimate deal breaker though is the knowledge that this is a first generation product. We know the battery life will be poor, yet how bad remains to be seen. We know that Apple typically releases products on a yearly cycle. If I spent £500 on a watch I'd want to be using it for a lot longer than a year. I'd also want it to look a lot nicer than any of the versions of Apple Watch. The design feels like a compromise; Apple can talk about clever straps, 'referencing traditional watch vocabulary' and twice-hardened gold casings but it still looks like a small wrist-borne computer.
There are too many unknowns about the performance of the watch and even about what we actually want to do with smartwatches to justify buying one. Android Wear has proved relatively unpopular so far and that has the benefit of a number of manufacturers releasing various styles of watch to suit a variety of tastes.
I have no doubt that the watch will sell in its millions but I do have my doubts as to whether it will be a good product. Maybe a couple of generations in they'll improve the battery life and smart watches will be more established in what functions we expect from them. Until then, I'm happy shopping round for a regular old watch that just tells me the time.
Update: since this post was written, Apple has released the prices for the entire Watch range and it varies from £299 up to a staggering £13,500. Read why I think they've made a mistake here.