The Apple Watch will play with your attention — increasing it in some cases and reducing it in others.
Attention. Apple has been getting a lot of it lately for the Apple Watch, some of which it has purchased (like a photo spread in Vogue and numerous TV commercials) and most of which has been received via media speculation (like this article).
The watch goes on sale April 10 and starts shipping April 24, so we’re still in that transitional window where only a few hundred people outside Apple have experienced the watch firsthand. And, as with most new Apple products, like the iPhone and iPad before it, we’re imagining not just how it will work, but how we and others will use it.
What’s fascinating to me is that all this attention is devoted to a device whose purpose is defined by attention — in fact, the Apple Watch is explicitly designed to reduce the attention you pay to your devices, which I think could lead to our attentions being directed away from devices.
One of the watch’s signature features is going to be the ability to receive notifications, passed along from your iPhone. Reminders, social media alerts, and related short bursts of information will appear for you to act on (or ignore) without reaching for your iPhone.
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(The Apple Watch requires an iPhone as its primary link to the rest of the world. Although the watch by itself can do quite a bit, it doesn’t include cellular networking or GPS to make it entirely stand-alone.)
You might think this is trading one screen for another, but in this case the watch’s smaller screen becomes an advantage: you won’t get distracted by other things. How many of us have meant to do one small thing on the iPhone and then ended up checking email and catching up on Facebook or Twitter? Raise your eyes from the screen if that describes you.
Of course you’ll be able to choose which notifications are passed along, and I’m sure for some people even that is too much distraction. But a quick flick of the wrist seems less intrusive to me than engaging the phone.
There’s also the matter of getting someone else’s attention. I’m looking forward to Digital Touch, Apple’s feature for tapping the screen or drawing a doodle that is then sent to another person with an Apple Watch. It’s not lengthy like a phone call, and it’s even shorter than a text message (although you can do both of those things, too, from the Watch). There’s even an option for transmitting your current heartbeat to another person.
I don’t know yet if these features will be widely adopted or just tried out at first and then ignored; my suspicion is that they’ll be used often.
Either way, I do expect lots of use from what Apple is calling a Taptic Engine, a little component that provides haptic feedback against your wrist. The tap from another Apple Watch owner feels just like someone gently tapping your skin.
More useful, to me, is knowing that I’ll be notified of phone calls or other messages that I sometimes miss when the iPhone is in a pocket or bag. How nice will it be to feel a little tap on the wrist instead of cranking my phone’s ringer up so loud that it scares away animals and small children? And if I choose not to take a call, I can send it to voice mail by simply placing my hand over the watch face. Dining companions may not even know a call came in.
(Oh, and let’s not forget a different type of attention. The Apple Watch is priced between $349 and $17,000 — yes, that’s seventeen thousand dollars, the most expensive of the solid-gold Apple Watch Edition models. Yes, that’s a lot of money for a first-generation device that might be obsolete in a couple of years, but the people who can afford it will buy it. Apple is making a savvy play for a luxury market that is willing to give it even more money.)
As with most things, getting a lot of attention is great at first, but then attention fades. I predict the attention the Apple Watch garners is going to be intense at first, and then we’ll settle into our everyday lives just as we have with cellphones. My hope is that this attention — and specifically how the Apple Watch deals with my attention — turns into something more valuable to me: attentiveness.