Why the Apple Watch Seems a Luxury, But Won't be For Long

Image credit: Apple

Apple has problems meeting demand for exciting new products that other companies can only fantasize about. That's because Apple dreams big dreams. But we have to be careful that we're dreaming the same dream. That takes time.


Apple, more than any other company, obeys two fundamental rules of modern technology. The first comes from Walt Disney.

1. If you can dream it, you can do it.

2. Nothing is ever as it seems.

A great example is the Apple Watch. Apple's vision has been far-reaching. The Apple Watch introduces us to new ways of thinking, touching, and working with a wearable computer. That creates both enthusiastic demand and, at first, some puzzlement.

Imagine if a USAF team found a crashed alien spacecraft and went about retrieving objects from the wreckage. Some surviving items would be incomprehensible. It might take months in the lab to figure out the basic functions of some objects. In some cases, there might be failure. "We don't know what it does, and we can't figure out why the aliens needed it."

I see the Apple watch like that. If it weren't a genuine breakthrough, then we'd have no trouble understanding it at all. That's why, I think, so many reviewers felt that it could be categorized as a luxury, not as a must-have. In time, as we all come to understand and master the Apple Watch, in essence to mind meld with what Apple engineers have been thinking for years, the Apple Watch will seem like second nature.

For now, it may well be that Arthur C. Clarke's third law applies.

Then how can we rationalize the idea that the Apple Watch has been declared in so many reviews as cool but inessential with the huge demand? I believe it's because Apple is very good at showing us a glimpse of what can be. Our imagination is sparked. We sense that there's something new and awesome to come, and we want to be part of it. However, at first, we're a little befuddled. Nothing is as it seems. That's why Apple has gone to such great lengths to educate us. One good source is the online videos.

It's easy to forget how we had to learn to really understand and exploit the first iPhone. Nowadays, it's second nature. And so I'll predict that, in six months, attitudes will change from: "take it or leave it" to "how did we ever live without it?"

That's always Apple's plan as we grow with the technology. But today? The technical strangeness and the frustrating wait for delivery just get in the way.

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of April 6: The dangers of AI agents that are too smart.

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of April 6


If one can digest the idea of a Unix computer inside of a smartwatch, then it isn't too hard to swallow the idea of a working computer the size of a grain of rice. It can actually fit in the edge of a nickel. Think of the possibilities. One could swallow one of these inside a capsule, have it released in the stomach, and have it either report back important bio data to your smartwatch ... or actually do some useful work. It's the closest thing yet to a nanite. All we need to to do is keep it from being digested in stomach acid. Here's the story from CNET: "This working computer is smaller than a grain of rice."

Philosopher Nick Bostrom is concerned about the risks of manmade artificial intelligence (AI). Last summer, he brought those ideas to the forefront in his book, Superintelligence . The upshot is that researchers in AI need to think about safety issues, and the community as a whole needs to have an ethics community to oversee research. Google has taken this on.

The danger, as we've seen played out in science fiction, is that powerful, artificially intelligent super beings could quickly become a threat to humans. It's something important to ponder. Here's a snippet from the article.

There’s a whole class of more imminent and smaller problems that some people say are more real. There’s algorithmic trading, or drones, or automation and its impact on labor markets, or whether systems could discriminate wittingly or unwittingly on the basis of race. I don’t deny that those issues exist—I just think there is this additional issue that the world might not address because it only really becomes serious once AI reaches a certain very high level.

Here's the full article (with a regrettable title) at the MIT Technology Review. : "AI Doomsayer Says His Ideas Are Catching On."

I was thinking this week that I hadn't heard much lately about CurrentC. (Get it? currency.) This is the alternative to Apple Pay developed by the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX). Members include Best Buy, CVS, Rite Aid and Walmart. Here's an update from AppleInsider on the curent plans and thinking of CurrentC. "Apple Pay to face mobile payments competitor CurrentC in mid-2015."

The debate about the speed and usability of the Intel Core M CPU in Apple's new MacBook continues. Here are some articles I collected this week that shed more light on the issue.

One of the nuances of the Core M, discussed in the second article, is that the Turbo boost of the Core M is sensitive to the temperature of the unit. Different case designs for cooling (fan or fanless) can affect the heat dissipation and therefore the available performance of the computer as a whole. One mystery solved.

From time to time, readers ask me what it was like to work for Apple. While I worked for Apple corporate in Cupertino and not as a salesperson in an Apple store, I can tell you that the work was energetic, stressful, long and hard. But it was also exhilarating. While I traveled a lot and worked some weekends, I also ate well on travel and was well compensated. And so this story gave me pause. "A former Apple employee has written a brutal account of why he quit the company."

When I read that story, I had mixed feelings. Yes, it's tough to work in the Apple stores. One has to have the right kind of personality. However, occasionally, there's a bad disconnect between the needs of the employee and the goals of Apple. What makes this news is that it reveals how bad things can go in a few unfortunate cases.

A secondary lesson here is that if one has a goal of working for Apple, one shouldn't confuse the well scrubbed public image of Apple and it's great products with how it's like to work for a very successful company. Very hard work, sacrifices and challenges are routine, and only professionalism and passion can overcome the temptation of disillusionment. It's a fantasy to think all will be peachy-keen.

Moving on.

From time to time, when critiquing a company, one has to be careful what one wishes for, especially if it becomes high profile. Jake Caputo in Chicago challenged HBO to develop an OTT service, disconnected from a cable/satellite subscription. Not only did HBO comply (as we know with HBO Now), but the company took the opportunity to pull a first-class prank on him. It was awesome.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.