15Aug 2015

Clock,_pocket_watch_(2)“Everything old is new again,” says the song–and the best new feature of the Apple Watch is very old.

Before taking the leap and buying my watch, I sought a lot of advice. I talked with people whom I thought might buy the Apple Watch. I talked with people who had bought the Apple Watch. I read a lot of reviews.

One friend, whose advice I respect, said he would only buy the watch if it helped him “do life better.” I had never considered that perspective, but it made a lot of sense.

The first round of reviews on the watch were back-and-forth. Some reviewers liked it, some didn’t. I couldn’t see hard-and-fast evidence that it was dramatically improving anyone’s life. Ho hum.

Two recent reviews convinced me to try it for myself–Mathew Miller’s article on ZDNet describing the watch as the best Apple product he has ever purchased, and Consumer Reports’ classification of the Apple Watch as the best smart watch on the market.

The day I got my watch I hated it. I thought I had made a big mistake. The battery kept running down, and I was convinced that all the doom-sayer reviews were correct–the Apple Watch was a lemon. Then I read Dan Graziano’s “Four tips for improving battery life on the Apple Watch”, followed three of them, and I haven’t had a problem since.

Today, I love the watch for a number of reasons–but they all boil down to one common denominator. Until I got the watch, I didn’t realize how tired I was of pulling out my phone.

Wristwatches have been around since watches were invented in the 16th century–but they were marketed to and used almost exclusively by women until the early 20th century.

For hundreds of years, men continued to reach into their pockets and pull out a device when they wanted to know the time. Then they had to put it back. Meanwhile, women just flipped their wrists over to look at their watches.

Wristwatches finally came into common usage following the First World War, when they had been issued to many servicemen to aid in the timing of artillery barrages. Evidently returning soldiers didn’t feel like going back to reaching into their vest pockets just because they needed a time-check.

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, it has seemed that certain (mostly younger) people have been in a headlong rush back to the past. Watches have started to disappear from wrists in favor of the much older practice of reaching into one’s pocket to tell the time.

The Apple Watch restores a 500 year old innovation by returning the time to our wrists. Then it extends that innovation by adding the various alerts and information on which we have come to depend throughout the day:

  • Text Messages
  • Instant Messaging
  • Email
  • Calendar Events
  • Weather
  • Sports Scores

The list goes on–but each of these items is something which, before the watch, would have required us to pull out our phones. Now, just like checking the time, we can handle all of these minor tasks by simply looking at our wrist.

Innovation doesn’t have to be earth shattering. It doesn’t even have to be new. It just has to be better than what we were doing before.

It turns out that the Apple Watch does help me “do life better”–not with something that is new and flashy, but with something that is old and convenient. Today, when I need important information, I just look at my wrist. My phone stays in my pocket where it belongs–until I need to make a call.

Edit 8-15-15: The original version of this post did not contain the links to the Wikipedia article on the history of wristwatches.

Brian S. Pauls is the president of PerAspera Consulting, LLC, providing comprehensive business technology solutions from the Web, to mobile devices, to the desktop. While he can’t say he has never been late to an appointment, it has never been the fault of his Apple Watch.