In a recent post I vented some of my irritation with the Apple Watch whiners. These are the folks that grandly proclaim that the Apple Watch “doesn’t do anything useful” and that they “don’t need a watch” etc., etc.
Bashing the Apple Watch has become a favorite past time of technology bloggers, and it's gotten to the point where it's become something of an epidemic. And now Nilay Patel has a post up at The Verge that complains about the Apple Watch being too slow.
Before I start responding to his post, let me say that there’s not a device or computer available today that couldn’t benefit from more speed in one way or another. That’s just part of owning any piece of technology, we always want our devices to be faster, and the Apple Watch is no different in that sense.
Here’s the gist of Nilay’s post on The Verge:
Here’s the problem with the Apple Watch: it’s slow.
It was slow when it was first announced, it was slow when it came out, and it stayed slow when Watch OS 2.0 arrived. When I reviewed it last year, the slowness was so immediately annoying that I got on the phone with Apple to double check their performance expectations before making “it’s kind of slow” the opening of the review.
But then I look at the Apple Watch and it’s so obviously underpowered. We can sit around and argue about whether speeds and feeds matter, but the grand ambition of the Apple Watch is to be a full-fledged computer on your wrist, and right now it’s a very slow computer. If Apple believes the Watch is indeed destined to become that computer, it needs to radically increase the raw power of the Watch’s processor, while maintaining its just-almost-acceptable battery life. And it needs to do that while all of the other computers around us keep getting faster themselves. It’s a hard road, but Apple is obviously uniquely suited to invest in ambitions that grand, with billions in the bank, a top-notch chip design unit, and the ability to focus on the long-term.
The other choice is to pare the Watch down, to reduce its ambitions, and make it less of a computer and more of a clever extension of your phone. Most of the people I see with smartwatches use them as a convenient way to get notifications and perhaps some health tracking, not for anything else. (And health tracking is pretty specialized; Fitbit seems to be doing just fine serving a devoted customer base.)
Are smartwatches computers, or not? And if they’re computers, how fast do they have to be to be useful computers? The most interesting thing about the Apple Watch is how sharply it throws those questions into relief.
The Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone
I think Nilay is confused about just what the Apple Watch is in relation to the iPhone when he says that "the grand ambition of the Apple Watch is to be a full-fledged computer on your wrist." The first generation Apple Watch was not designed or meant to be a standalone computing device. It is mated to the iPhone, and provides certain wrist-based functionality that complements the iPhone.
Now we can argue back and forth about whether Apple should have made the Apple Watch a more independent device, but the fact of the matter is that they didn’t do that with the first generation Apple Watch. The company might make the Apple Watch more independent in future versions, but for now it is inextricably linked to the iPhone.
So viewing the Apple Watch as a disappointing computer doesn’t make any real sense if we consider what Apple designed it to do, and how it was meant to work as a convenient complement to the iPhone. Nilay's expectations just aren't in line with what the Apple Watch can do as an accessory to the iPhone.
The Apple Watch is a first generation product
Another problem with Nilay’s commentary is that he doesn’t seem to take into account that the Apple Watch is a first generation product. Such products always improve in subsequent generations in many different ways, including speed.
There’s a reason why some folks don’t buy first generation products. They know that they will probably be disappointed with their purchase and thus decide to wait for the second generation.
In Nilay’s case it would have probably been better for him to opt for a second generation Apple Watch instead of bothering with the first. Had he been more patient and waited for the next generation Apple Watch, he probably could have avoided at least some of his disillusionment.
The Apple Watch doesn’t need a radically faster processor
One of Nilay’s comments about Apple needing to “radically increase the raw power of the Watch’s processor” doesn’t strike me as being true. As I noted above, all devices can benefit from more speed, but I think Nilay is exaggerating in his comment about the Apple Watch’s processor. He makes it sound like there’s a five minute delay every time you do something on the Apple Watch.
Right now I’m wearing a 38mm Space Gray Sport model Apple Watch, and I’ve found that the processor is more than adequate for the things I do on the watch. Yes, I expect that the second generation Apple Watch will be faster, but it’s not like my current Apple Watch can’t perform its functions adequately.
I use my Apple Watch for texting, the time, phone calls, games, fitness and activity tracking, and a few other things. And it does all of these things quite well, even given that it has first generation hardware. All things considered, Apple did a good job in making sure that the first generation Apple Watch had enough power to do its job.
The Apple Watch has become a media punching bag
Nilay’s post is, unfortunately, pretty much par for the course in the tech media. The first generation Apple Watch has become a sitting duck as round after round is fired at it by the guns of tech journalists eager to pulverize an easy target.
But you know what? No matter what the nattering nabobs of negativism like Nilay say, the Apple Watch is still a great product, and it will go down in tech history as one of Apple’s best first generation products.
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