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Is Apple Watch a Way to Get You To Spend Less Time on Mobile Gear?

This is a common scenario. You are seated at dinner with family or friends. At times, or maybe simultaneously, each of you will look at your smartphone and check for notifications or messages; maybe even send one. It’s not just young people, but people of all ages who are so dependent on their gadgets that they have less time to talk to people in person. Even the people across the table.

I remember when I’d have dinner with my son (he’s since moved to Spain so that doesn’t happen very often nowadays). For long periods of time, he was immersed in texting on his feature phone. After upgrading to an iPhone, he simply did it more, or at least more flexibly.

Although my wife prefers her iPad, she still manages to spend a decent amount of time checking her iPhone when we leave our home, and I am not innocent of such behavior. I may not use an iPad all that much, but I will take out my iPhone perhaps more often than necessary. At the dinner table, I’ll frequently leave it next to my reading glasses.

Now to be fair, it may be that other mobile platforms are less demanding of your attention. Microsoft has long claimed that Windows Phone, which becomes Windows 10, same as the desktop counterpart, this summer, allows you to get information faster. So in theory your Lumia smartphone, with live tiles, would put notices and critical messages in your face more quickly, so you can go about your business and spend more time with your compatriots.

Now it’s not as if Lumia smartphones are flying off the shelves, or even waltzing. Market share remains pathetic, and clearly customers aren’t embracing these gadgets.

As mobile operating systems expand capabilities, you wonder whether they will also require more of your attention more of the time. With hundreds of millions of smartphones out there, what can a company do to get you to pay attention to the important things in life? Well, assuming looking at their smartphones for extended periods of time isn’t the most important thing you can do with your time.

One possible solution is the smartwatch, and maybe that’s one of Apple’s key goals in developing Apple Watch. You can get a reasonable picture of Apple’s end game when you read a new Wired profile of the creative process that resulted in the Apple Watch.

Now in the past, any product that was designed to compete with something from Apple was labeled a potential “killer.” So Microsoft’s Zune music player was meant to be an iPod killer, though that didn’t work out quite so well.

Each generation of Samsung flagship smartphones has been labeled an iPhone killer. True Samsung sells more mobile handsets than Apple, but not as many of the high-end products. So the iPhone continues to beat a Samsung Galaxy when it comes to actual sales to real people.

Apple has also been known to cannibalize its own products. So most iPod users upgraded to iPhones. The iPad no doubt cannibalized sales from the Mac to some degree at the start, although Mac sales continued to grow at a good clip. But iPad sales are now declining, and it may well be that the recent Macs that are sometimes cheaper and more powerful, have earned sales that might have otherwise gone to iPad. The iPhone 6 Plus may be impacting sales of the iPad mini, which may indicate why the latest model is hardly different from last year’s.

Some alleged industry analysts may be freaking over the state of affairs, but Apple doesn’t care so long as the iPad’s replacement also bears the Apple logo. And that takes us to Apple Watch.

As the Wired article makes clear, Apple Watch provides information, such as the time, and key notifications, at a glance. A very large part of the development process was to reduce the amount of time you needed to use it to get the information you want. So you don’t have to reach for your iPhone and pluck it out of your pocket or purse — or leave it next to you. Suddenly things that might grab your attention are presented to you more quickly, more easily grasped. If you still need to consult your iPhone, so be it. But it appears that Apple Watch might reduce the need to constantly have to keep a smartphone at hand.

At least that’s the theory, and it seems to be borne out by the fact that one of the subject’s of the Wired article, Kevin Lynch, an Apple executive who formerly worked for Adobe, didn’t take more than a casual glance at his Apple Watch during the interview. That might indeed have been deliberate, a marketing trick, but it clearly conveyed the impression that he didn’t need to depend on extended face time with his iPhone to keep in touch. His Apple Watch, and an occasional quick glance, was all he needed.

So is the Apple Watch, then, a potential iPhone killer? If Apple sold a few hundred million of them, perhaps. But that would require a version that’s independent of iPhone, and that probably won’t happen for a while, maybe a few years.

For now Apple Watch is an iPhone accessory. It may reduce the time you spend with your iPhone, but it won’t eliminate it. Well, that’s the theory. Until I have extended face time with an Apple Watch, I wouldn’t make any assumptions, and later be proven wrong.