How Fast Does the Apple Watch Need to Change?

The Apple Watch has been shipping in quantity since May. It's now December. Even so, here are those who are dissatisfied with either the state of the Apple Watch or how fast it's changing for the better. Is this realistic? How fast does a wristwatch, even a high-tech one, need to change? More important, what's technically possible?


We're in an era in which things are changing fast. Every year, Apple offers us a new iPhone that has a bunch of new, cool features and is ridiculously powerful, in Apple's words.

Along with that, the Internet and the digital device we own have made it possible to provide new services at a breathtaking rate. Should this standard be applied to the Apple Watch? My answer is "No."

9 September 2015: Phil Schiller touts the progress in iPhone 6s GPU speed.

Small Device Evolution

The larger and more powerful a digital device is, the more opportunity there is for growth and change. On the other hand, the rather small Apple Watch is a new product category from Apple and has been shipping for only nine months. The initial design of the Apple watch had to balance the available CPU/GPU power, available battery power and the onboard software capabilities. The result was a mild tethering to the Apple Watch, strenuous efforts to conserve battery power, and an often slow response. The race to next next version of watchOS, as with iOS, has to be tempered by advances in the hardware.

Also, while big changes occur in our technology over a period of decades, not a lot can happen over a period of months. We get a new iMac every year with about a 10 percent speed boost, but compare a 5K iMac today to the white plastic iMac of 2006 with the weak Core Duo Processor.

The same progress over the coming years will apply to the Apple Watch. Eventually, perhaps 2019, the Apple Watch will be half as thick and the battery will last for a week. We'll do FaceTime chats on the Apple Watch 5, Dick Tracy style.

For a small part of the population, especially those who are very technical, this evolution can't come fast enough. There is understandable frustration. Recently, Ben Bajarin at Tech.pinions looked at the reasons for dissatisfaction with the Apple Watch. He wrote:

Lastly, following the consistent theme we discover with the Wristly research, there is a heavy negative bias from those who work in the tech industry. In this panel, like many others we have run, the most critical and less satisfied Apple Watch owners are the ones who work in tech, evaluate tech for a living, or are fairly technical. 45% of the respondents of this dissatisfaction panel work in tech and in a tech related function (like a developer).

As expected, the major reasons for unhappiness with the device were that it is too expensive, too limited, too slow, the battery didn't last long enough, and they didn't like having to lift it or tap it to see the time.

And yet, taken a face value, for what it can do, a much larger percentage of casual customers are very satisfied with its functionality. That's something that always happens, and it's something Apple depends on. It buys the Apple engineers time.

Pretty good for 2015. But just wait a few years.

Small Device Design

Another factor that comes into play is that while the modern smartphone, changing rapidly (launched essentially by Apple in 2007), has only been with us for eight years, the wristwatch concept has been with us for several hundred years. It has reached a pinnacle of design. While the technology inside has changed dramatically, the outward appearance has remained fairly stable. We wear a disk or block of metal our wrist, fastened wth a band, and we look at the face to determine the time. The Apple Watch even has a crown, but its'a very capable "digital crown." Features like that help us relate to new devices.

In my experience, small, finely crafted devices change substantially in their underlying technology, but they retain the same affordances. Paraphrased, it's the method by which the human performs the action to achieve a natural result. This remains true of door knobs, steak knives, magnifying glasses, eye glasses (Google Glass!), small tools, handheld calculators and so on. I think the same thing will happen with the future Apple Watch. If taken forward in time, we'd be astounded by the innards, but we'll still strap it on, read the time (and calendar and fitness data) and still fiddle with the crown.

Standards of Progress

All the above makes it difficult to assess Apple's progress. The best silicon, battery and human interface engineers on the planet are working hard to create a viable future for the Apple Watch. Over the long haul, we'll see amazing changes. As for me, I appreciate what the Apple Watch is doing for me now, expect it to improve, and I'll ride the wave. But along that ride, I do have a sense of satisfaction in the stability of my favorite wristwatch. I don't think I need or want to see it change dramatically in the short term. There is something to be said for reveling in the moment.

We all have enough change to keep track of. A finely crafted wristwatch that does, in fact, an awful lot of cool things today, is enough. At least ::cough:: until next year.