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What Apple knows about smartwatches that Google doesn't

Mike Elgan | Sept. 15, 2014

As predicted in this space last week, Apple has launched another revolution.

The Apple Watch validates, mainstreams and leads the smartwatch category, even though it doesn't exist yet. (Shipments aren't expected until early next year.)

As with the two previous Apple revolutions (the iPhone and iPad), the nature of and the reasons for the revolution are completely lost on the so-called experts who dominate the conversation.

So let's talk about what's truly important and revolutionary about the Apple Watch. But first, let's talk about what's wrong with the debate around the Apple Watch, and also what's wrong with the watch itself.

What's wrong with the conversation

First and foremost, I don't want to argue about religion. The online debate around the Apple Watch centers around the predictable "sides" people have taken for or against Apple.

Like religion and politics, the people with money, power and influence have persuaded a majority that there's a good side and a bad side, and that we're all supposed to take sides, praising the righteous and opposing the evil-doers.

To those on the Apple Is Good side, the Apple Watch is perfect and — another example of the company's total mastery of all things and another beacon of hope that may save mankind from the garbage produced by all companies that are not Apple or part of its ecosystem.

To the Apple Is Bad side, the Apple Watch is an ugly, confused copy of innovations that have come before; it's also an overpriced and oversized yet ordinary device that will unfairly dominate the market due only to the power of Apple's marketing and the obedience of Apple fanboys.

This argument — this taking and defending of sides — is old and boring. But most important, the defend-my-side-at-all-costs impulse blinds people to understanding new ideas.

I have no interest in it and invite you to reject it as well.

What's wrong with the Apple Watch

Information is still limited, but based on what we know, the Apple Watch is way too thick.

It's also, in my opinion, conspicuously ugly. It seems to me that the more freedom Jony Ive's amazing power inside Apple affords him, the more free he feels to pursue his core design sensibility, which reminds me of the prevailing rounded "future look" from the late '60s and early '70s (as exemplified by Roger Sterling's office in Mad Men.)

The Apple Watch hardware is, at its core, a blunt, fat, ugly rounded rectangle.

Having said that, the fit and finish are flawless, according to my friends who fondled the thing at Apple's announcement. And the strap clasp system is truly good.

The main interface for the Apple Watch is a scattershot collection of icons of various sizes that pop and grow and shrink as you move the herd around. Nobody seems to like this interface much, and it's hard to tell how users are going to recognize apps from a microscopic icon.


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