TIME Innovation

Apple Is Killing the Joy of Personal Style

Apple Inc. Reveals Bigger-Screen iPhones Alongside Wearables
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the Apple Watch during a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. Bloomberg—Getty Images

The new watch could be the first in a series of products that help Apple determine how we dress and express ourselves

Apple has long been known for its aesthetic approach to tech, but with this week’s announcement of the Apple Watch, the company is taking on fashion—looking to impose structure on the very unstructured concept of personal style.

“It’s incredibly customizable, so you can find one that reflects your personal style and taste,” Apple’s CEO Tim Cook assured the audience at Tuesday’s announcement—an occasion for which he wore a normcore ensemble, unironically. Considering that the Apple Watch comes in only three near-identical face styles and half a dozen band-types, his commentary is not so different from Henry Ford’s reassurance that “people can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.”

Yes, the Apple Watch offers more customization than the company’s products have in the past. But when you consider its potential social footprint, as well as Apple’s take-no-prisoners approach to product introductions, the device’s shape, colorways, and embellishments become a mandate, rather than a personal choice.

From an aesthetic perspective, the Apple Watch is reasonably attractive, if unremarkable—not too different from traditional sport watches, but with the air of a fancy Tamagotchi strapped to your wrist. But its combination of cachet, tech functionality, and millions of Apple fanatics who consistently drink the company’s Kool-Aid lays the groundwork for what is likely to be a runaway success.

And that is a shame. In a worst-case scenario for fashion, Apple will not only attain a monopoly on the timepiece market, but also the confidence to wield a larger impact on how we dress ourselves each day. The watch is no doubt an indication of how Apple will approach future fashion products, offering the masses a constrictive framework in which to dress themselves, all under the guise of customizable “self expression.”

And that places personal style in its purest form at risk—inhibiting a consumer’s right to varied choices. It’s not melodramatic to say that while it’s a watch today, it could be a whole, technologically optimized wardrobe in two decades’ time. The company now boasts Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s former shape-shifting CEO, as a senior vice president.

Every additional fashion creation from Apple will inadvertently create a less diverse shopping landscape. Sure, we could chalk it up to innovation—but if our timepieces become as uniform as our cell phones, the loss of the Rolexes, Seikos, Breitlings, Patek Phillipes, and Swatches of the world would be an even sadder loss for fashion as a whole. And that’s not to mention how if Apple continues down this path, clothing brands – from Gucci to Gap – could face similar impact.

The more Apple invades the fashion market, the more it will look to create a robotic consumerist culture (something it’s already done with tech)—in turn manipulating the greatest enjoyments of style and personal expression.

Misty White Sidell is a fashion, style, and culture journalist residing in New York City. A Boston native and Fashion Institute of Technology alum, Sidell has also contributed to ELLE, The New York Observer, The Daily Beast, Newsweek and Fashionista, among others.

TIME technology

Three Ways Smartwatch Upstarts Can Survive the Apple-anche

Apple unveils new gadgets
Left: Pebble watch Right: Apple watch Oscar Galvan Felez—Getty Images; Monica Davey—EPA

The little guys who were on their way up the mountain now have to fight for air

The wearables market is technology’s latest battleground with small upstarts like Pebble and Omate, as well as early entrances from big players like LG, Samsung, and Google. Today, with their announcement of the Apple Watch, Tim Cook officially entered the race and upped the ante with Apple Pay. With Apple in the game, can a young, upstart company like Pebble, maker of the popular Pebble Steel smart watch, go the distance? Or will the small players with early leads get trampled?

In the technology world, the winners are rarely those with the best product, but rather those who have created the most ubiquitous platform. However, established companies that offer the advantage of experience often operate from a defender mentality – protecting their market leadership and brand. Small companies like Pebble offer a challenger mindset. Less tethered to existing platforms, they are free to push boundaries and explore new possibilities.

Consider the differences in how newcomers vs. veterans tend to think and act. I studied over 400 workplace scenarios inside corporations, comparing how inexperienced versus experienced professionals approach a particular type of work. My research shows that being a rookie – facing a new problem or a challenge for the first time – can provoke top performance. In knowledge work, rookies often outperform experienced players, particularly in the realm of innovation and speed.

Rookies tend to be unencumbered, with no resources to burden them and no track record to limit their thinking or aspirations. Because they face a daunting challenge, a desperation-based learning kicks in, causing them to work both hungry and smart. They reach out seeking guidance and feedback. They operate in lean, agile cycles and learn through experimentation and improvisation. While veteran players are pacing themselves for a marathon—rookies are sprinting.

Pebble CEO, Eric Migicovsky exemplifies much of this mentality that I call “rookie smarts.” When venture funding fell short of their need in 2012, he launched a Kickstarter campaign securing a record-breaking $10-million in crowdfunded cash. Migicovsky quickly ventured out of his native Ontario to scout for talent and build a network of advisors across Silicon Valley. When the company faltered from an early bet on the Blackberry platform, he quickly course-corrected and rebuilt the device to pair with Android and iPhone handsets. Through scrappy, fast, but smart action, Pebble boasts over 400,000 users.

Rookies can certainly outperform the incumbents, but they can also flame out fast or fail to marshal the resources needed to sustain victory in the long haul.

Newcomers like Pebble have several options:

  1. Find a new game. Rather than to go head-to-head with the bigger, established players, upstarts like Pebble may be better suited to continue playing the challenger role but in a different corner of the market.
  1. Stay in the race and compete on innovation and speed. With their small size and agile cycles, start-ups may be able to move faster and build a loyal fan base for their device and platform. But, even if they can out-innovate a proven innovator like Apple, it is only a matter of time before Apple produces a more distinctly wearable device and ubiquity beats out ingenuity. Without a partner to achieve scale, they will likely become another casualty along the path of technology evolution. They will have labored to loosen the lid, and then the veteran player will move in and open the jar.
  1. Play on a larger team. By partnering with or being acquired by a big infrastructure player, a start-up like Pebble can combine their fast-cycle innovation and rookie smarts with the critical mass of an established company. As the market continues to consolidate around platforms, the final victors are likely to be the established companies who can acquire the upstart leaders and then embed and nurture this rookie thinking inside their own company.

With today’s announcement, it is tempting to assume Apple will repeat its winning streak and will dominate not only the e-payment market but also the wearable technology market that allows users even greater ease and visibility to these transactions. But it’s too early in the race to dismiss the challengers. If companies like Pebble are in it for the long haul, they will need to do more than just think like rookies and sprint for 26.2 miles. To win big, they need to draw on the strength of the peloton and pair their capability with the power, savvy, and resources of industry veterans – those who are defining the rules. The challengers may stand ready to change the world, but they will need the help of those who know how this world works.

Liz Wiseman is the author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work and is a former executive at Oracle Corporation.

TIME Companies

Watch the Apple Products Launch in Less Than 2 Minutes

Apple fans and engineers gathered in Cupertino, Calif., for a hotly anticipated announcement Tuesday, which turned out to include not only the latest version of the iPhone (the iPhone 6), plus a larger version (the iPhone 6 Plus), but the much-rumored Apple Watch.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also took the opportunity to reveal the new mobile payment system Apple Pay.

Check out the best of the hip tech event in under two minutes.

TIME Innovation

Apple Watch: We Are Now Literally Handcuffed To Our Computers

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Apple's watch could be as revolutionary as the first clocks

Many of us already feel as if we’re handcuffed to our computers. With its new smart watch, unveiled today in California, Apple is hoping to turn that figure of speech into a literal truth.

Apple has a lot riding on the diminutive gadget. It’s the first major piece of hardware the company has rolled out since the iPad made its debut four years ago. It’s the first new product to be designed under the purview of fledgling CEO Tim Cook. And, when it goes on sale early next year, it will be Apple’s first entry in a much-hyped product category—wearable computers—that has so far fallen short of expectations. Jocks and geeks seem eager to strap computers onto their bodies. The rest of us have yet to be convinced.

Apple has some experience in taking a lackluster new product and turning it into a must-have for the masses. When it released its iPod in 2001, there were already plenty of MP3 players on the market. None of them, though, had garnered much interest. The iPod, with its simple interface and copious capacity, broke the market open—and revolutionized the music business in the process. With the elegantly designed, eye-catching Apple Watch, the company is hoping to pull off a similar feat for wearables.

But there’s a bigger story here. If the Apple Watch proves popular, it will not just mark “the next chapter in Apple’s story,” as Cook described it. It will change our relationship to computers, weaving the already ubiquitous devices and their apps even more deeply into the fabric of our lives. The personal and social ramifications could be far-reaching.

For a precedent, we need only look back to the development of the last great arm-mounted technology: the wristwatch. The early history of time-keeping machines bears a striking resemblance to the recent evolution of digital computers. Both are stories, at a technical level, of miniaturization and personalization, and both reveal how changes in the design of a common technology can alter not only its function but also the way it influences personal behavior and social norms.

Mechanical clocks started out as large, institutional machines. Installed in cathedrals and town halls, they were the mainframes of their time, and they had a profound effect on the way people lived. Time, which had previously been experienced as a natural, cyclical flow, began to be experienced as a succession of discrete, precisely measurable units. Hours, minutes, and seconds ticked away with industrial exactitude, and people quickly adapted themselves to the new, martial rhythm. Society became more productive and predictable as well as more regimented.

That was just the start. As inventors discovered ways to build smaller, less expensive clocks, the devices moved into people’s homes in the form of wall clocks and floor clocks — the equivalent of the bulky desktop PC that in the 1980s became a fixture of the modern home. With further engineering breakthroughs, clock mechanisms continued to shrink, leading to the creation of the pocket watch. People started carrying time-keeping machines around with them all day, just as we do with our smartphones.

Then, finally, came the wristwatch. People no longer had to pull their time-keeping machines out of their pockets to consult them. The technology was now always in view, becoming, in effect, an extension of the human body. Affixed to the wrist, the watch, as the late historian David Landes explained in his book Revolution in Time, became “an ever-visible, ever-audible companion and monitor.” By continually reminding its wearer of “time used, time spent, time wasted, time lost,” it served as both “prod and key to personal achievement and productivity.” The wristwatch, Landes argued, played a major role in spreading the ethic of individualism throughout Western culture.

At $349, the Apple Watch is pricey, and the device’s success remains uncertain. It does seem likely, though, that the gadget’s arrival will open yet another chapter in the story of personal computing. The watch, as today’s demos revealed, is the most solicitous computer yet. It taps you on the wrist whenever a new message or alert comes in. It formulates answers to questions you receive from friends. It reminds you where you parked your car. It tracks your health. It even allows you to broadcast your heartbeat to others.

That’s all very exciting, but some wariness is in order. As the history of clocks reveals, strapping a technological companion and monitor onto your wrist can alter, in ways that are hard to foresee, life’s textures and rhythms. And never before have we had a tool that promises to be so intimate a companion and so diligent a monitor as the Apple Watch.

Nicholas Carr is the author of the forthcoming book The Glass Cage: Automation and Us.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 9

1. Energy poverty isn’t about climate change. It’s about powering innovation in energy distribution.

By Jigar Shah in LinkedIn

2. With the investigation in Ferguson, the U.S. Department of Justice has an opportunity to revive its poor civil rights record.

By Michael Selmi in Politico

3. Young people aren’t getting enough sleep, which can lead to poor academic performance, depression and worse. We should start school days later.

By Jessica Lahey in the Atlantic

4. In the Internet age, we must enact new laws protecting sexual privacy.

By Mary Anne Franks in Brookings Institution

5. Tunisia – where the Arab Spring began – is a working model of a post-revolutionary Arab state. The world should take notice.

By by the Editorial Board of the Christian Science Monitor

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Smartphones

The Rise of Mobile Phones from 1916 to Today

Here's how portable telephones -- and the ways we use them -- have evolved over the past century, from the front lines of World War I to selfies with the Queen

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 8

1. To calculate the value of vaccines, we must imagine the economic cost of a world without them.

By Michael White in Pacific Standard

2. Apple may change everything again, this time by finally killing the credit card.

By Marcus Wohlsen in Wired

3. Local government – often heralded as the best kind of government – is actually America’s most broken and oppressive.

By Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine

4. “Instagram for doctors” can help solve medical mysteries.

By Sarah Kliff in Vox

5. A policy of realism, tempered with humanity, is good for people and nations.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Sorry, Bill Gates, But You’re Wrong on Renewable Energy

Cultura/Mischa Keijser—Getty Images

Ending energy poverty has nothing to do with climate change

LinkedIn Influencer Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison, published this post originally on LinkedIn. Follow Jigar on LinkedIn.

Bill Gates just blogged on energy poverty. In that post, he agrees with Bjorn Lomborg who “argues that before poor countries can move to clean energy, poor families need access to cheap electricity so they don’t have to burn dung, cardboard, or twigs for heating and cooking. These dirty fuels produce indoor air pollution that is terrible for health (especially for children).”

In 2012, I wrote in the Huffington Post that Bill Gates had zero qualifications to understand energy and its costs. I also recognized that I am not qualified to run a global software company.

So, Bill Gates doesn’t know much about energy outside of his vested interests in nuclear power and I don’t know much about running a software company outside of my bumbling with my Android apps. I say this about myself even though I have helped with smart metering and oversaw the global implementation for monitoring solar systems worldwide for SunEdison.

But Bill Gates has more money and power than I, and a powerful and wonderful charity. However, in this instance his charity is misguided. And, nothing is more dangerous than misguided charity.

Gates’ misguided path starts with the fact that he cited a notorious climate skeptic in Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg has a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the fact that renewable energy is cost competitive with fossil fuels as an energy source.

With Gates, like Lomborg, framing energy-poverty as a climate issue reveals a depth of ignorance that poses a serious problem given Gates’ stature. So here is reality.

Ending energy poverty has nothing to do with climate change.

The International Energy Agency has released a series of reports outlining how the world can end darkness for the 1.3 billion people who currently lack power. Those reports have made clear that their conservative approach (which relies in part on polluting power sources like coal) will only marginally increase carbon emissions. No one argues with this conclusion.

Ending energy poverty requires the right tool for the job: Distributed Energy

The truth is an over reliance on centralized grid extension and large scale power plants will keep a billion people in the dark. It is time to recognize what even the IEA says is overwhelmingly necessary, but dramatically underinvested in: distributed renewable energy for those living beyond the grid.

To understand why this is so important take a step back and lets consider the reaction if Gates wrote a blog suggesting that Mark Zuckerburg was a fool and that the solution for universal Internet access around the world was physical fiber optic cable to every home around the world.The reaction would be riotous laughter. In emerging markets they are busy ripping out copper and everyone is using wireless.Yet that’s exactly what he’s proposing for energy.

No expert on energy access is paying any attention to Gate’s folly on energy for the poor.

They know that Gates’ approach has been tried for 60 years and has failed miserably in almost every emerging market outside of China.

The truth is knowledgeable entrepreneurs who have invested their lives and last dollar to this space and solve this problem are making rational business decisions.Those decisions are focused on the cheapest way to deliver energy. And, energy looks a lot like mobile phones – distributed solutions that leapfrog outdated and ineffective centralized networks. They have done so overwhelmingly out of the desire to power the poor – not to solve climate change. They just so happen to rely on the most affordable, effective and direct tool available: distributed clean energy that puts power directly in the hands of poor populations on a time frame that matters – now.

For proof on the power of distributed energy look at the growth rates in real world markets – not Gates’ blog.

The World Bank’s Lighting Africa program clocked a 95 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for solar products being sold beyond the grid in sub Saharan Africa. In Bangladesh, the wildly successful IDCOL solar program has installed 3 million solar home systems at a whopping 60% CAGR over the past decade. After much deliberation, even the dispassionate new Prime Minister of India decided against grid extension in favor of using distributed energy to meet his 2019 goal of electrifying every family.

In the meantime, grid extension has proceeded at incredibly marginal rates. Worse, 2.5 billion people who are connected to the grid receive power that is so unreliable that they are considered ‘under-electrified’ by current grid extension efforts. The cheap reliable grid is a fallacy that is no longer cheap, nor reliable.

When it comes to energy poverty, Gates is arguing for outdated and ineffective solutions that will keep people energy poor.

It is time that we deploy our 21st century energy solutions and put power directly in the hands of the poor.

Jigar Shah is the CEO of Jigar Shah Consulting.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 5

1. Our nation’s racial divide starts early: America’s public schools are still highly segregated.

By Reed Jordan at the Urban Institute

2. The Pentagon is getting bad advice about responsibly managing its budget and our national defense.

By Nora Bensahel in Defense One

3. “We need to step up our game to make sure that Putin’s rules do not govern the 21st century.”

By Madeleine Albright in Foreign Policy

4. Over a lifetime, and despite the high cost of tuition, a college education is still a great deal.

By Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

5. Reality television – MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” – triggered a plunge in the teen birthrate.

By Phil Schneider in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 4

1. The results of the NATO summit and the alliance’s stance on ISIS and Ukraine will define President Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

By Jonathan Alter in the Daily Beast

2. Intense boot camps for highly skilled careers may displace costly graduate degrees and get more people working.

By Kevin Carey in Washington Monthly

3. To make a splash in the mobile market despite poor sales of its Windows phone, Microsoft is selling apps to iPhone and Android users.

By Dan Frommer in Quartz

4. The street children of India are publishing a quarterly newspaper, finding a purpose and a passion in telling their stories.

By Mariah Wilson, Chander Bhan and Paul Ewen in Vocativ

5. Harm reduction – versus a law-enforcement focused “war on drugs” – could reduce overdose deaths.

By Josh Eidelson in Bloomberg Business Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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