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  • Fear and Loathing about the Apple Watch

    March 17th, 2015

    Typical of the way some members of the media handle upcoming products from Apple, there has been a spate of stories saying Apple Watch is doomed to fail. To a large extent, none of the people writing these stories have even seen one in person. At best, they watched the online feed of Apple’s “Spring Forward” media event, or maybe saw some pictures in an article.

    Yet they just know it has to fail.

    A fairly typical example is an article from ZDNet (a division of CNET), entitled “Has Apple lost its religion of simplicity?” Now I won’t dignify the piece with a link or identify the author. But I will give you a disclaimer. I once wrote for CNET, several owners back, and even won a journalism award for them. Unfortunately, I also worked with some editors who had a questionable respect for accuracy; one of them ended up as a purveyor of silly claims at The New York Times.

    So the ZDNet article asserts that Apple made the Apple Watch too hard to use. Unfortunately, it makes claims about “complicated and convoluted” functions that are self-contradictory when he describes what they are. Stay with me.

    So tapping, swiping and Force Touch, and using the two buttons at the side of the watch amount somehow to “a ton of things for a user to figure out.” Now how five functions are defined as a ton escapes me, or maybe I have a different concept of what words mean, but let me continue.

    You see, the author in question claims that “many of the functions are unlike any other Apple or tech product.” So you can’t figure them out, he assumes. Many? Well, let’s see. Force Touch merely means you press it harder. This is the technology Apple also introduced on the new MacBook’s trackpad, and it also turned up on the refreshed 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. So it’s not “unlike other Apple or tech product.”

    That’s hard to figure out?

    What about those obtuse buttons on the Apple Watch?

    Well, take a look at a regular watch for a second. The digital crown bears a striking similarity to the physical crown of a mechanical watch, where it’s perfectly normal to pull that button to put it in time-setting mode, and turn it to change the time. Push it in and get on with your business. Special function watches, such as chronographs, will sport additional buttons.

    So the “ton of things” is really one new thing, the Force Touch feature that is spreading to new Mac note-books. Period! So perhaps the ZDNet blogger needs a little education on the use of words to understand that one function is not a “ton of things.” But maybe I’m asking for too much.

    The next complaint is putting so much stuff on a tiny screen. But if you are designing a wristwatch, the display has to be relatively small. There is a 38mm Apple Watch and a 42mm Apple Watch, so perhaps someone who finds the smaller version too small might be willing to pay extra for the larger model.

    But it’s clear what bias is involved when the blogger asserts that the interfaces on Android Wear smartwatches are polished, implying that the Apple Watch’s interface isn’t. But it’s not at all clear what experience he has with any smartwatch, let alone the products from Motorola and LG that he seems to adore. Besides, they have small displays too.

    The long and short of it is that, until product reviewers and customers spend a reasonable amount of time with an Apple Watch, it’s hard to know how fluid the interfaces will be, or how simple the new Force Touch function will be to use. This really is something that can be only hinted at by watching online demonstrations. You now the demonstrators will do everything quickly and smoothly. They are skilled at navigating the interface. You aren’t, and the ZDNet columnist isn’t either.

    He’s just blowing smoke!

    Now before you proclaim this as another Apple Fanboy column, please pay closer attention. I am taking my responses from the online descriptions of how Apple Watch works. I don’t see a “ton of things” that present new and hard-to-use interface elements. I see one to which you might want to become accustomed, and that’s it. I know how to tap and swipe. Most any user of a modern smartphone understands these functions intuitively, and I fail to see where the concept of pressing a display will be hard to grasp.

    And anyone who has worked with a traditional mechanical watch understands the function of the crown or one of the push buttons on a chronograph or stopwatch. Do I need to go on?

    But I have never handled an Apple Watch, and I wouldn’t presume to guess how well these seemingly intuitive features are implemented. That remains to be seen. Still, you can bet that there will be more ignorant articles about Apple Watch and other forthcoming Apple products. At least you hope some of those writers will actually attempt to use the products first before making foolish pronouncements.



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