Apple and the progress of personal technology

I break blog-silence to talk about the Apple Watch.

I like to think that clothing was the first piece of personal technology. 100,000 years ago, I suspect when it came to covering ourselves with the skins of other animals, we weren’t too picky. Perhaps the clan strongman got to choose first, but really, there weren’t too many choices. We were happy to be warm, if not particularly attractive.

Then as other technologies got better (e.g. Building insulation, weapons) we relied less and less on clothing for protection and demanded different utility from it. Personal expression. Status indication. If we shopped on function alone we’d all wear merino wool and Gore-Tex all the time. But we don’t. We happily pay the same or more for goods that look nice and sacrifice functionality we don’t really need.

Up until recently, I think the world of personal tech was like clothing 100,000 ago. Products were evaluated on a strict cost / functional basis – hence our early obsession over clock speed, 386 vs 486, etc. And for the most part, that is still true.

But tech and technologies supporting tech are getting better and we are now able to look at utility beyond their original function, just as improving technology allowed us to seriously evaluate clothes on criteria apart from function.

Consider the new MacBook. It is superlight and comes in three colours. It is a scant 2 lbs. It starts at $1549, the same price as  MacBook Pro. The Pro has a bigger screen, faster processor, more storage, and longer battery. The only thing you have to swallow with the Pro is an extra 1.48 lbs. Or consider even the Microsoft Surface Pro, which also compares favourably spec-wise to the MacBook. I suppose depending on how mobile you are 1.48 lbs might be a big deal. But you have to weigh that against replacing your computer a year or two sooner.

I don’t think Apple has ignored these considerations. I do think they have looked at it, realized that people don’t care whether their computer has a Core-M or Core-i5 processor and frankly would not notice the difference. They do care about weight, and they do care what it looks like in front of them in the coffee shop or in class, and what it says about them.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism over the single USB-C port. But since battery life has gotten so good, most people use the laptops unplugged –  just as paving has relieved us the need to wear boots everywhere. I compare it to the non-removable battery and lack of expansion slots in the iPhone. It was supposed to be a deal-breaker for a lot of people, until it wasn’t. Now even the Galaxy S6 has done away with those features.

That said, I am confused about the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition … edition. I’m sure some of the Rich Kids of Instagram will buy one because they can, but unless it has some kind of upgradable core or exchange program I can’t see it doing all that well. Rich people don’t get rich by throwing their money away, and I’m skeptical that a $10,000 Apple Watch (worthless in a few years) can compete with a $10,000 mechanical watch. $10,000 watches, if properly chosen, can retain their value, or even appreciate. I don’t see that being the case with a smartwatch. And while Apple has obviously put more work into their smartwatch design than anyone else, it’s still a fat rounded rectangle. Aesthetically there is no competition between luxury mechanical watches and a rectangular smartwatch. Even if it is gold.

So am I going to get one? Probably not. I respect Apple for making two sizes of the Apple Watch but I don’t really see myself spending on one. The “taptic” communication thing is cute but then I’d have to buy two Apple Watches.

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