Preorders for the new Apple Watch can be placed starting on Friday, April 10. But just because you can buy one doesn't mean you should buy one.
Starting this Friday, customers can place preorders for the Apple Watch, the first entirely new product from Apple since the iPad. Analysts are predicting that Apple will sell somewhere between 8 million and 41 million Apple Watches—not just on Friday, mind you, but for all of 2015. Should you be one of these buyers? To answer that, you should first address the five questions below.
Is it just too bulky and ugly to wear? There’s a fair amount of skepticism that many people—women in particular—will voluntarily place a mini-computer on their wrists and walk around in public. Allen Adamson, chairman of the branding firm Landor Associates, told the San Jose Mercury News that Apple Watch owners will be overwhelmingly male because the gadget, while smaller than most smartwatches, is too big and bulky for women’s wrists (and tastes). “If it didn’t skew 70-30, I’d be surprised,” he said.
Gawker called the Apple Watch the company’s “dorkiest luxury item yet,” and circulated a very Gawker-y idea that everyone should take a pledge to refuse to have sexual intercourse with anyone wearing (or even owning) said gadget.
Others had more kind things to say about the Apple Watch as a fashion accessory. Joshua Topolsky of Bloomberg described the Apple Watch as “beautiful in a surgical way,” which is not the same as saying something’s simply beautiful: “Apple’s design doesn’t compete with Rolex, Omega, or Breitling for sheer style, but the more I wore the inconspicuous thing, the more I liked it on my wrist.”
In her review, the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern called the Apple Watch “a status symbol, a sign of wealth and taste,” as well as “an accessory I love to wear all day long.”
Will it help you focus? Or be one more distraction? “Do I really need another connected screen blinking, beeping and buzzing all day?” That question, asked in another Wall Street Journal review (by Geoffrey A. Fowler), is one that people have been asking since the advent of smartwatches. Theoretically, some of the appeal of the Apple Watch is that it will free us from the compulsion to eyeball our iPhones every 30 seconds. But because the Apple Watch must be in close proximity to the user’s iPhone to be fully functional, Apple is effectively now trying to convince us all that we must walk around with not one but two mini-computers on our person at all times.
This seems like overkill, if not plain insanity. And yet, even if the Apple Watch is not a substitute for a smartphone, most reviewers noted that they turned to their iPhones less frequently while they were wearing Apple Watches. Having the watch on Fowler’s wrist “has made me more present,” he wrote. “I’m less likely to absent-mindedly reach for my phone, or feel compelled to leave it on the table during supper.”
On the other hand, Topolsky’s review begins by focusing on how the Apple Watch interrupted his day dozens of times, typically with useless messages that aren’t quite as easy to ignore as tweets and emails because they’re coming from a vibrating device on your wrist. If part of the pitch is that the Apple Watch will “help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me,” Topolsky wonders, “why do I suddenly feel so distracted?”
Would you really use it to pay for stuff? For the most part, reviewers say that the ability to make purchases with the Apple Watch (via Apple Pay) is one of the gadget’s strengths. “Apple Pay on the watch is even easier to use to buy stuff at retail then on the iPhone,” wrote Edward C. Baig, tech columnist for USA Today. “Once you’ve set up the cards you’ll use, double-tap the side button when you’re about to pay. You’ll see the default credit card you selected (and can swipe to any other cards you’d rather use). Hold the phone next to the terminal, and if all goes as expected the transaction will almost immediately go through, as it did in my tests at McDonald’s and Whole Foods.”
In his expansive (and mixed) review, Nilay Patel of The Verge called Apple Pay “my favorite part of the entire Watch, a little blast from the future.” He too noted that paying via Apple Watch is “even faster than paying with an iPhone, since it doesn’t have to read your fingerprint; it’s ready to go anytime after you put it on your wrist and unlock your phone with your fingerprint. I love using Apple Pay with my phone, but it’s even better with the Watch, some mild contortions to line it up with payment terminals aside.”
But just because Apple Pay via Apple Watch is better than Apple Pay via smartphone doesn’t mean that it’s more practical than paying with plain old cash, credit, or debit. A recent report from Phoenix Marketing International showed that tons of iPhone owners have run into hassles when attempting to use Apple Pay: Two-thirds reported problems at checkout, 47% have tried but were unable to use it in stores listed as Apple merchants, and nearly half say they used Apple Pay once and never again.
Is it just too new, with too many bugs? Every early adopter should know that the tradeoffs for being on the cutting edge include the risk that the new tech is mostly hype (see: 3-D TV), doomed to failure (Fisker Karma), or simply riddled with hiccups (nearly every 1.0 gadget). In his review for the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo reported that the Apple Watch “works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you’d expect of brand-new technology.” Among other issues, Manjoo noted, “third-party apps are mostly useless right now.” Ultimately, he came away falling in love with the gadget, but only after “three long, often confusing and frustrating days,” which is probably not the endorsement Apple was hoping for.
Over at The Verge, Patel cut to the chase and declared the Apple Watch “kind of slow,” with glitches galore:
There’s no getting around it, no way to talk about all of its interface ideas and obvious potential and hints of genius without noting that sometimes it stutters loading notifications. Sometimes pulling location information and data from your iPhone over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi takes a long time. Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it’s just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back.
Apple will surely address these and other issues encountered by early Watch buyers. In the meantime, early adopters should remain patient, and expect periodic (hopefully not chronic) problems. The easy alternative is to simply wait for Apple to increase the battery life, tweak the software and design, and otherwise smooth things out with the inevitable second version of the Apple Watch.
Is what you get worth the price? This is the question at the heart of every purchase decision, isn’t it? The Watch starts at $349 and can go over $10,000. You’ll have to decide for yourself if any amount in that window represents money well spent. The “Bottom Line” from CNET sums up the consensus take: “The Apple Watch is the most ambitious, well-constructed smartwatch ever seen, but first-gen shortfalls make it feel more like a fashionable toy than a necessary tool.”
Few people will argue convincingly that you truly need an Apple Watch, though many of us will surely want one, even though its true utility may still be something of a mystery at this point. Pre-orders can be placed starting at 12:01 on Friday, April 10, via the Apple Store.