A Philosopher's Blog

The End of Watches?

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 19, 2013
HP watch calculator

HP watch calculator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People today, we are told, no longer wear watches. People just use their smart phones. While the idea of an Apple watch (or, rather, a watch like device) has gotten considerable attention there have been smart watches for quite some time. As I kid, I recall the geeky calculator watch (I owned one). The iPod Nano was also converted by a third party strap into a smart watch of sorts. However, the Apple watch is supposed to be a game changer.

Apparently, I did not get the memo about watches being out-the only time I’m not wearing one is when I am sleeping. I wear a watch for three main reasons. The first is a psychological one: habit. The second is pragmatic: I find my specialized GPS watch useful for running. Before I had my GPS watch, I used a digital watch for timing my runs-runners are generally very much into time and distance.  The third is also pragmatic: I have a  relatively bulky smart phone and I do not carry it with me everywhere and it is way easier to just look at my wrist. Not surprisingly, despite the alleged death of watches, I see many other people wearing them. However, they are usually fellow runners and we should probably not be taken as indicative of what most people do.

I suspect that one reason that smartphones have supplanted watches is that smartphones do what watches do, only better. First, there is the functionality: a smart phone provides a clock as well as much, much more. Second, a smartphone allows a person to display even more rudeness than can be displayed with a mere watch. After all, a person can only glance at his watch so often before seeming a bit crazy. However, a person can be almost endlessly distracted by a smartphone and thus use it to ignore others and express contempt for them. Third, while a person can get a brief respite and the time  by looking at a watch, a smartphone provides an ongoing respite from such things as dull meetings and boring social situations.

While watches will certainly remain in use by some folks, perhaps the trends will continue so that they are used as specialized technology or decorative jewelry (especially displays of ostentatious wealth). I have seen an increasing number of people using smart phones for running and most folks always have their smart phones in front of their eyes at most times, so perhaps the watch will become a niche item. However, if Apple does produce a watch, it will surely aim to make the smart watch as mainstream as the smartphone.

The current model for the smartwatch is essentially an adjunct device that serves as a peripheral for a smartphone. The smartwatch allows the wearer to read her incoming text messages, see who is calling and so forth. Naturally, a smartwatch could be made more robust and there are already smartphones that can be worn on the wrist. The obvious question is, of course, whether or not people will buy such devices. On the one hand, people already seem content with using their phones directly, especially the thin and light ones. As such, it is not clear that adding another device to use a smartphone indirectly will be appealing. On the other hand, Apple might be able to convince people they need the watch or, more likely, that it will make them more hip. If the Apple watch does everything that my GPS watch can do and then some, I would certainly consider one-if the price is reasonable. If it is just an adjunct device for the iPhone, then my lack of an iPhone would certainly prevent me from acquiring one.

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2 Responses

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  1. unsolicitedtidbits said, on July 20, 2013 at 1:57 am

    What an interesting observation. I still wear a watch out of habit, for keeping track of time while lecturing, and for noting the time when reading and writing at coffee shops (in lieu of the phone). If I have the phone with me then I’ll be too distracted.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      I’m a compulsive watch wearer-probably due to my running reinforcing my Maine Yankeeness. 🙂

      Good point about choosing the watch over the phone-the phone is like Medusa…one look and you are doomed. 🙂

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