Since the Watch was announced, I have been mulling this question around in my head: Do I need a smartwatch, or do I just want a smartwatch? To answer that question beyond a shadow of a doubt, I need to think about my history with watches, the utility of a smartwatch, and the future of the personal area network. Let us first examine my personal watch history.
The first watch I remember wearing was the Kronoform. I was seven, and we were living in Seoul, Korea at the time. It was a watch that transformed into a robot action figure, detachable from the wrist strap, and it even had an alarm. I wore it for the novelty of always having a toy with me, and it was interesting to be able to tell people what time it was when asked. I wore it for several months, then as young naive boys do, I left it on my school desk and went home for the evening, expecting it to be there in the morning when I returned. It was gone, taken by another child, the janitorial staff, my teacher, or ghosts/elves/trolls/etc. After losing that watch, I lost interest in watches, noting that others who wore them could be asked the time, there were clocks everywhere, and no one expected a seven year old to be on time anyway.
Cut to five years later, and the Morris family is flying into Hong Kong. The hotel we are to stay in is an hour bus ride from the airport, and the family piles on to the bus. By chance or design I am sitting alone, and as it happens, there is a magazine shoved into the seat pocket in front of me. I don’t remember what magazine it was, because I barely looked at the cover. The back cover ad was for a Citizen Diver’s Watch, the C023, the original Citizen diving watch. This is a beautiful watch, and for the first time in my life, I felt a serious desire for an object - a desire I couldn’t explain.
There was no reason for me to want this watch; I certainly didn’t need it, I never dove deeper than a six foot pool, and a twelve year old boy certainly looks crazy with a huge, heavy, stainless steel watch on his skinny wrist.
But it was so cool! It could give you your depth up to 200 meters, show your depth to the sea floor, show how many minutes of oxygen you had left (estimated) and so much more. I stared at the back cover ad for that watch and imagined myself wearing it, diving for sea floor treasure, and showing it to friends - friends who were all immediately green with envy. I begged and pleaded with my father, I made my case, and I finally broke down into a tantrum. I must have struck a nerve with my sincere explanation of my desire, because my father all too graciously went to the shopping district late that night and bought it for me. We still talk about it to this day, how bananas it was for me to even want the thing, and how bananas it was for him to get it for me. My perspective may have been a little skewed back then. I was twelve.
I am fully aware of the irony in this next bit, but I really didn’t wear that watch for very long or very often. It was large, the depth sensor cut into my wrist, and it was so complicated I really didn’t know how to work it. The manual I received with the watch was in Mandarin, so I could barely operate it, and so all it did for me was tell time. My desire was built upon the additional utility of the watch, utility that I couldn’t use, and my reasons for no longer wearing a watch when I lost the Kronoform began to naturally return. Eventually its battery depleted and it went into a drawer. I kept it out of guilt, guilty for the tantrum I put my father through, guilty for letting this expensive object fail to meet its potential. I kept that watch until I was twenty eight when I sold it on eBay for a quarter of its worth.
In 2001, I received an iPod for Christmas, and one of the several functions of the original iPod (besides text notes, a calendar, contacts, and oh that’s right I forgot music) was showing the time. I began pulling my iPod out of my pocket to check the time. A few years later, I ended up with a cell phone for work, and the deal was sealed. It was a crappy little flip phone, but it told the time and took phone calls, so watches just left my sphere of needs. That conversation was not uncommon among my peers with that same question asked again and again, “Well, why bother… I don’t like the way it feels on my wrist… I have my phone on me anyway…” etc.
My flip phone was eventually replaced by a Treo 650, then a Treo 700, then an iPhone, then an iPhone, then another iPhone. I hadn’t worn a watch in over twenty years, not throughout high school, college, college town jobs, home town jobs, new city adventure, and not throughout my serious career years. What was going to break this habit, this habit of reaching into my front pocket to check the time? It turns out it was something that offered additional functionality above and beyond telling the time. Historically, I was not a watch wearer, but additional functions would catch my eye and push me over the want/need line.