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The Apple Watch as Bullsh*t Filter? We Can Only Hope

By Chris Maxcer
Apr 3, 2015 5:00 AM PT
apple-watch

In "iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple Watch," Wired's David Pierce doesn't reveal any serious secrets -- because Apple never does -- but he does illuminate the early days of the Apple Watch, centering on an interview with Kevin Lynch, Apple's vice president of technology. It's an interesting read for sure -- an easy recommend for any Apple enthusiast.

And the most interesting "secret?"

The Apple Watch was created as a bullsh*t filter designed to save the world from the tyranny of iPhones.

No kidding.

That's the raison d'Ítre of the Apple Watch, Pierce basically says. Because so many people now are more connected to their smartphones than to the people around them, constantly checking messages and notifications -- which is a problem shared by plenty of Apple luminaries, it turns out -- Apple turned to technology for a solution.

"Our phones have become invasive," Pierce writes. "But what if you could engineer a reverse state of being? What if you could make a device that you wouldn't -- couldn't -- use for hours at a time? What if you could create a device that could filter out all the bullsh*t and instead only serve you truly important information? You could change modern life. And so after three-plus decades of building devices that grab and hold our attention -- the longer the better -- Apple has decided that the way forward is to fight back."

This, of course, is a tantalizing idea. After all, what person with a smartphone who is engaged with the modern world has not looked up in dismay to see their friends, family, and coworkers more engaged with their smartphone screens than the world around them?

There is the famous photo of the dude on a boat who missed a whale surfacing right in front of him because he was too engrossed in his phone to look up and see it.

This sort of maniacal focus on the screen happens all the time these days -- at sporting events, in restaurants, on the street, at parks, and in living rooms and kitchens. People are at once electronically connected but physically disconnected.

Apparently the luminaries at Apple wanted to fight this trend, to provide a way to look at your Apple Watch -- quickly and discreetly -- to see what messages are truly important, which presumably would let you feed your iPhone monster without taking too much attention away from your family.

Obviously, the user interface on the Apple Watch will be critical for this to happen -- otherwise, the Apple Watch quickly will become a notifying annoyance. In fact, Pierce calls out one UI element to help filter out the bullsh*t: Suppose you get a vibration alert that signifies a text message. Is it important enough to warrant ignoring your family or friends? Hard to say.

With the Apple Watch, you can discreetly turn your wrist to take a look at the notification, which will tell you who it's from. At that point, if the person isn't important enough, you can rotate your wrist back into whatever position it was in before to dismiss the text message, and it will wait, unread and ready for you later.

Boom! That was insanely easy -- and better yet, if you were busy reading a bedtime story to your 3-year-old daughter, she might not even have noticed!

Mission accomplished.

Of course, it's ironic that Apple, which seriously accelerated our evolution to this whole new state of being in the first place, is turning to wrist-born technology to save us from it. It's like trying to fight a wildfire with fire, which -- also ironically -- sometimes works.

Yet, is it as smart as fighting fire with fire? Or is it more like choosing to eat pure cane sugar cubes instead of snack crackers loaded with refined carbs?

I don't know.

But I do know that if more people would keep their iPhone in their pocket instead of in front of their face for just a few more minutes each day, the world might be a slightly better place. Or feel like a slightly better place.

The Devil You Know?

Apple has made a series of products that engage humanity like never before. It's naive to believe the company doesn't affect our culture. The point is, previous smartwatches haven't taken off and changed anything, because they aren't that fantastic. They haven't captured the attention of millions of people in the way the Apple Watch already has -- despite not even being available in the wild.

Which brings up the context of success: If saving us from the tyranny of our phones is part of its reason for being, will the Apple Watch succeed? It's not a yes or no answer.

Even if it succeeds, so to speak, will strapping a device to our wrists just fuel the need for more information and communication? Will people feel naked if they forget to wear their Apple Watch? Or might the Apple Watch itself actually make the constantly communicating annoyances worse?

For instance, it's bad enough to sit through someone taking a moment to respond to a text... how about waiting for someone to look at their watch, try to use it to respond with a cool in-context canned response, realize they need to say more, use Siri to talk out a text into their wrist, and then end up pulling out their iPhone anyway?

Would that be a bullsh*t filter?

Seems like the Apple Watch easily could cut both ways.

Still, the argument is that it's just a v1.0 problem -- that Apple will be able to fix the software along the way, and heck, create new watches later that work better. Remember the first iPad? Such a heavy slab!

Bullsh*t Filter as Selling Point

Despite the nice peek inside the early days of the creation of the Apple Watch with Kevin Lynch, it's clear the Apple Watch already has evolved into something much more than a bullsh*t filter -- and something much more than a health- and activity-monitoring device. It's more than a convenient way to pay for things. More than a cool new way to communicate with haptics or express your fashion sense through pretty bands.

So what is it? What's its reason for being?

To be a catalyst.

I'm looking forward to the Apple Watch, because I think it has the potential to be a catalyst that will help people -- as a tool and a reminder -- to live a better life, to pay more attention. Ultimately, the users will need to be mindful and present and decide what's important to them, on purpose. Behavior and purpose.

My hope is that millions of people -- and at the very least, me -- use the Apple Watch as a catalyst to help make beneficial behavioral changes. That will be its reason for being on my wrist.

If it doesn't work out -- if the sweet sounds and vibrations of notifications bathe me in a wash of digital delight -- the Apple Watch will overrun the habit-forming lizard-like portion of my brain, and I'll be as lost in bullsh*t as ever before.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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