People who know me know that I'm obsessed with time. I changed my email address from jcoleman to jc just so I could stop spelling my last name to people younger than baby boomers, saving me about 14 hours per year of spelling my name (spelling my name 12 x per day times 30 seconds of distraction adds up quickly). That's one of the tricks I use for small business email naming to help give a company's employees back hundreds of hours per year instantly.
Several events in my life, some shocking, some beautiful, opened my eyes to the sheer scarcity of time that all of us face but that few recognize. When you realize that your life can be calculated in minutes, and every one of those minutes can never be recaptured, you start thinking about what's worthy of those precious moments in life.
I just boxed up my Apple Watch, slapped the return label on it, and I have never been happier to send a device back to its maker. Let me explain why.
I recently wrote about my Apple Watch conundrum. I totally didn't care about the device during its launch because of the sheer effort I have made to control all things tech and not let them erode my attention and time each day. But I decided to order one to get familiar with it. I'm constantly asked by business owners and executives about the potential benefits of cutting edge technologies, so I always experiment on myself first.
When I received the watch, I was immediately disappointed. Steve Jobs would have gone bananas over this design. It's boring. Clunky. Absolutely not sexy in any way whatsoever. I bought the space gray with black band, thinking that black is safest in casual or dress clothes. Put simply, it's not a flattering timepiece at all. I own about 20 watches spanning four decades, and each watch has a particular style to it. The form factor of the Apple Watch is closest to the clunky LED timex my grandfather wore in the late 70s.
Despite this, I started wearing it to test the features. I paired it with my phone. Like the latest Apple TV build that's criticized so much, there's so much that's unintuitive about the watch. The user interface is a mess, unlike the iPhone which is ruled by some basic tenets of simplicity. The first thing I noticed was a very Mac-like implementation of handoff between my iPhone and Apple Watch. I'm in front of my MacBook often, and with Apple's handoff I receive text messages on my display- extremely useful for me because everything in my life is protected by two-factor authentication; I need text messages to log into web sites, etc. where I have protected or controlled information.
I noticed text messages, email and even Line messages (big in Japan) coming through to my Apple Watch just fine when my iPhone was within range. I use Meraki in my home and office, so my WiFi range and connection is incredible. I could leave my iPhone on my home office desk and walk out into the cul-de-sac or anywhere around the house and get texts and other communications fine on the watch.
But the design was still bugging me. I found out the next morning that Apple had taken inventory of Apple Watches in their stores for the first time since launching the device. I decided to reserve a silver with white band to see if it looked any better. My thinking was that if one's going to wear a technical device, maybe silver will look more appropriate given it's high-tech nature. When I arrived at the store I was totally disappointed. Not just in that the silver and white watch looked ridiculous, like something only a teenage kid with zero fashion sense would want to wear, but the overall shopping experience at Apple was completely the opposite of what I had come to expect after all these years.
The girl I was handed off to at the end of the customer baton relay starting at the front door had zero empathy. I was looking at watches, a highly personal thing, and she was clearly disinterested in me, my interests, opinions or anything else for that matter. I had both my black Apple Watch and my Omega Seamaster with me, so I could compare the other watches and try to find a match that would work for me. I asked to see the stainless steel Apple Watch that retails for $1000. I decided well in advance I would never buy it. The technology in mobile is evolving so fast that any purchase today will be obsolete in a matter of months. But I wanted to see the stainless steel band, and experience the design that Jony Ive and team had invested so much energy and effort into these past few years.
When I picked up the stainless steel watch, the first thing I noticed was that it didn't feel substantial. It felt weak. Trivial. Cheap even. I have two Japanese watches, a Seiko and a Casio, both with stainless steel bands dramatically more fluid, much stronger and more beautifully polished. When I tried to close the latch I noticed that it wasn't an intuitive close. This completely shocked me. When I bought my Omega Seamaster in 1999 the first thing I noticed was that closing the band latch, including the built-in extension designed to extend the band around a wetsuit, was intuitive and simple. I didn't read an instruction manual, I just did it. The first time. It was like muscle memory, without any prior practice.
The Apple Watch was not like that experience. I had to think about it. I didn't like it. It felt awkward, and it felt cheap. But I knew that Apple was charging a $600 premium for just the band and the sapphire crystal glass on the watch. The girl at the Apple Store validated that indeed those two features were the only features that justified the $600 premium. When I asked about keeping the band and moving it to the next Apple Watch when Apple changes their technology in 6-12 months, she replied, "Apple hasn't said anything about that, we know nothing." I was silent. She looked at me with impatience. I noticed that most of the kids on the floor had the same look working with their customers. Their jobs just changed from helping people with computers to helping people with jewelry. It's a dramatically different job now.
As much of a fan boy I am of Apple products, I had never in my life been more convicted at that time that I had zero interest in any of the watches from a design perspective. So I thanked the girl, who grunted an acknowledgement of sorts, and left the store to get on with my day. I decided to try the black Apple Watch for a few more days.
Then yesterday something happened. I spent a few hours at the pool with my son, followed by a few hours at my office followed by a few hours at my home office. During the day I received the same amount of text messages I normally receive, about 99% of which do not need an immediate response. In fact, most of the texts I receive are in lieu of email and could be responded to later that day or even tomorrow. No one I know has the expectation of a response, if they did, they would call me instead.
The haptic touch system kept tapping my wrist. I would be writing an email and... TAP TAP TAP... I stopped and looked at my watch. Realizing it wasn't important I tried getting back to the email I was writing that was, and had to stop and reclock my thinking. What was I writing and where was my train of thought? Then again TAP TAP TAP... another message interrupted me.
This continued throughout the day. By 8PM I was sitting with my wife, reflecting over the day, and I realized I could not for the life of me recall what I had accomplished. This is unusual, because I usually journal every day, and I always tend to get done what I set out to do. But my conscious mind was fried. I couldn't remember anything. The watch had interrupted me every few minutes throughout the entire day.
I took it off and put it on the counter. I had an immediate sense of relief. The irony is that I had bought the watch thinking that the reminders with Omnifocus would be helpful in keeping me on track. Instead I found that the watch was the greatest distraction with the most potential for absolute destruction of personal productivity of anything I had ever encountered. I added up the number of times I was distracted and multiplied it by the number of minutes I had to refocus on any given matter at hand. By my most conservative estimate I lost four hours of my day. Over a year, that's 1460 distracted, wasted hours. That's almost an entire work year.
This is simply a push vs. pull issue. I turn off all notifications on my phone on all apps. No banners, beeps or chirps. My phone calls and text messages are the only things that chirp, and I learn to ignore them except for when I want to check them. The watch is a completely different animal. It's on your wrist. While I could learn to ignore it, or tune it down, what would be the point? At that point I have my phone, and a very expensive toy on my wrist that I wouldn't use.
Tonight I was listening to an episode of the Random Show with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize I'm not alone in hating tech. It's getting downright ridiculous. Kevin and Tim reflected on how sheerly stupid it is to have a device on your body tell you things, like "Stand up" or "Your heart rate is elevated" when you're working out.
Many folks believe Apple will continue to refine the device and will ultimately create something every special. I question whether or not we really need to go there. Right now, in my humble opinion, Apple has created a device that is distracting, incomplete, ugly and downright destructive to productivity. But the door to wearable tech has been opened in the marketplace, and so the players will play. I really like my iPhone 6 Plus, and I seriously love my MacBook Pro Retina 13". Both devices are best in class, and no other tech compares. The watch was a real disappointment to me, but I'm probably not the target audience, or the watch hasn't advanced sufficiently yet.
My Apple Watch is going back to Apple tomorrow. I can't see anyone truly enjoying the device other than some of my geek friends, and the brand loyalists who will pay premium prices for any device Apple produces, even if the device will ultimately be disposed of.