Q: Why get an Apple Watch?
A: Because “you can keep your iPhone in your pocket!”
That’s been the consistent message we’ve heard since Apple’s Watch launch. The underlying premise is that putting information on a users’ wrist, means they’ll leave their phone alone and become more engaged with real life!
Apple reinforces this idea with their new watch UI vocabulary. Their Human Interface Guidelines define a small layout called ‘glances’ – ‘timely and contextually relevant moments from the wearer’s favorite apps’.
It’s a reasonable theory. Surely a quick flick of the wrist has to be less offensive than dragging out a big smartphone, right?
Probably – but with a caveat.
##Winding the Clock Back…
Let’s jump back in time to 1992. Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and George H.W. Bush take part in a series of televised presidential debates.
During the second debate, an audience member questioned whether the candidates were directly touched by the harsh economic downturn.
As Bush Snr. stood to reply, he momentarily cocked his wrist and glanced at his watch.
Though this entire action took less than 2 seconds, it became one of the major talking points of that debate.
At the time Bush was already battling the perception of being out of touch with the people, and this reflex action made him appear impatient and disinterested in addressing the question.
I wonder if people would have been more forgiving if, for instance, his pager had gone off mid-question?
I think it’s likely. We’re accustomed to pagers and phones demanding our attention. On the other hand, watches have always quietly waited for our attention and that was Bush’s great crime – to appear to be prioritising his time over his people.
Most of us will never need to prepare for televised political debates, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be unaffected.
What happens when your boss is pitching the next big company project, and looks up just as you get a ‘wrist text’ from a client.
You’re looking at your watch and your boss is thinking ‘So… you’d rather be somewhere else, huh?’.
Even if that is technically true, it’s probably not the message you wanted to send.
The same could easily apply to a hot first date. Perhaps you thought things were going really well, but your date has checked his/her watch three times in the last 5 minutes.
Did you say something wrong?
You don’t think so, but now you’re flustered.
The fact is, I think most of us would take natural offence to someone checking their wrist while we were interacting with them.
Of course, if smartwatches and wearables are to become common, we’ll have to work out new social signals – as we’ve had to do with all new technologies.
But in 2015, just as it was in 1992: Beware the ill-timed watch glance!