Nahum Kovalski

Who watches the…watch?

I am not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Apple has a special aura around it, that drives people wild for its next release of hardware or software. This reaction by the public even revives product lines in the tech world, that were previously struggling to be noticed.

When Apple introduced the iPod, it was as if MP3 players had never existed. Suddenly, people felt almost a desperate need to have mobile music, but perhaps more importantly, for their music device to have the Apple logo on it.. Despite other devices that were available at the time of the first introduction of the iPod, and despite the fact that these other devices were much less expensive, the iPod swept the world. The same of course happened with the iPhone. Today, the iPhone is still an expensive device, but somehow people find the money to buy the latest version, and will even stand out in the cold to be the first to have the latest release. Other cellular phone companies know full well that they will be compared to the iPhone. Some companies effectively copy the style and functionality of the iPhone, but at a much cheaper price, in the hope of grabbing users away. Samsung is definitely putting up a serious fight to win the hearts of iPhone users.

Of late, the latest in new technology products has been released by Apple. The Apple watch had a huge following even before the first watch was available. Almost like the trailers to major blockbuster movies like the “Avengers”, the buildup to the release of the Apple watch was an event unto itself. Now that the watch has been released, sales have been tremendous. And now, other smart watch companies, like Pebble and Samsung, are trying very hard to challenge Apple’s new found success.

As it turns out, the Apple watch is not perfect [and I ask that I not be stoned for making such a claim]. I have read a number of reviews by senior technology commentators, who find certain elements of the Apple watch to be quite problematic. Often, the commentators themselves will find solace in the fact that this is only version 1 of the watch, and that by version 3, the Apple watch will most certainly be a device that no one can live without.

I want to focus on one comment made in a review article that in my mind demonstrates a very interesting difference between a consumer item and a professional tool. In an article that recently appeared on TechCrunch, the reviewer commented on one feature of the Apple watch that he found to be quite lacking. When one wants to check the time, they cannot simply look at the face of the Apple watch. In order to preserve precious battery power, the face of the Apple watch blanks out until it is needed. When the user wishes to use the watch in order to know the time, he or she must shake their wrist to activate the watch. From that point on, the watch face is readily displayed and of course, the watch can be used for any other needs..

The reviewer found this “feature” to be problematic. One can imagine an elevator scene where everyone is wearing an Apple watch, and then everyone is shaking their hand in order to see the time. One could almost imagine the elevator occupants breaking out into an entire dance number based on just keeping the Apple watch screen from going dim.

The need to shake one’s hand may be considered a very negative aspect when the Apple watch is treated as a consumer product. However, when any smart watch is being used as a device that allows a professional [such as a doctor, lawyer, businessman, etc.] to stay up-to-date with important notifications and be able to SMS responses immediately and easily to colleagues, and even to schedule new appointments using voice control, something as banal as needing to shake one’s wrist, seems to be a petty complaint. In the professional world, saving the user from having to fish out his or her phone from their jacket or pants pocket, would be considered a tremendous benefit. Imagine two scenes where the user is face-to-face with a senior partner, and needs to record an appointment for a presentation. If the user needs to fish out their phone, open up a scheduling app, start fiddling with small on-screen buttons and then ask for the date of the appointment, this looks very primitive to the boss standing before the user. But if the same user could just flick his wrist, raise the watch to his face and give the command to book the appointment, this would definitely look cool and cutting-edge. One even imagines that this is how James Bond makes appointments.

In the world of medicine, once again, a flick of the wrist is a small price to pay for being able to access a previously requested urgent blood test. Contrarily, it would be a great time saver to be able to choose by vocal commands a given patient and then order a CT, all without ever having to get your phone out of your pocket. I have had it happen to me quite often while sitting in a meeting or at a conference, that my phone would begin to ring and I would have to bend over to the point of feeling dizzy, in order to get my phone out of my pocket. If I could handle the same call from a smart watch, even if it required a flick of the wrist, this would be far less disruptive to the physician who is presently presenting a clinical case.

When developing technology, one absolutely has to consider the target audience. I am not saying that Apple purposely designed the “wrist flick” activation feature in order to make their watch more appropriate for professionals. I have no doubt that most professionals would also like to eliminate the wrist flick from the whole process. However, in this round of version 1 sales, many if not most people will accept the risk flick as an idiosyncrasy that eventually becomes second nature. Would the same people be as forgiving of a Microsoft smart watch or an android smart watch? I actually assume that this unique level of tolerance is saved primarily for Apple products. Nevertheless, I am sure that Apple has heard the cry of the nation and will find a way to deal with this issue in the next version of the watch.

The Apple watch, like other smart watches, is a technological marvel. But human nature is human nature. Sometimes, a trivial issue can make a device intolerable to use. You would hope that people could be more flexible and more understanding, especially once they have paid significant money for the product. In practice, people will often very loudly express their dissatisfaction with their latest and coolest gadget, focusing far too much on the negative and failing to appreciate the positive.

The Apple watch will unquestionably change things. On the whole, it is a marvelous device  and it will drive other companies to produce better and better products. In the end, everyone will benefit from this constant chase after the ultimate consumer and professional product.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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