Apple Watch is even more important than iPhone

Apple Watch
Apple Watch (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

When I first heard rumors of Apple Watch, I thought convenience would be its killer feature. Personal computers couldn't do everything mainframe computers could, but they saved you a trip to the offie. Phones couldn't do everything PCs could do on the desk, but they saved you having to go back to your desk or laptop. And watches, certainly, couldn't do everything phones could, but they could do brief, frequent, important tasks well enough that they'd save you having to reach for your phone.

In some ways that's panned out. Notifications on Apple Watch are easily glanceable, unlocking your Mac or Home is near effortless, and Apple Pay on Apple Watch — in areas blanketed with tap-to-pay, like where I live — means carrying cash or cards is almost a thing of the past.

But notifications weren't and aren't granular or prioritized enough, Apple's identity system isn't complete enough, and mobile payments aren't ubiquitous enough. And it's still a watch that, absent you turning your wrist or tapping the screen, can't even constantly show you the time like a watch. Convenience, alone, wasn't enough.

Neither was fashion. A clever band and even link swapping system that over a hundred years of traditional watchmaking couldn't come up with, designs from Jony Ive and Marc Newson, materials from gold to ceramic, and partnerships with Hermes missed the mainstream.

Fitness, though… that became key to Apple Watch's success. Bodies are fed as much by motion as they are by food, and filling your rings is a great motivator to keep on moving. Likewise, minds digest through stillness, and the breathing app helps make sure you always take the time to save your cache to disk.

It's the ability to track indoor and outdoor workouts, though, from walks to runs, swimming to skiing to rolling, with data on time and pace and, critically, heart rate that make Apple Watch compelling. Add partnerships with Nike and integration with exercise machines through GymKit, and it starts to go beyond fitness fad and becomes infrastructure.

And that's especially true as its gone from water resistant to swim proof, from being tethered to an iPhone to being LTE-capable-ish all its own, and from being Apple's only wearable to pairing with AirPods to give us a glimpse of a truly wireless future.

But, through it all, something else was happening…

Apple Watch saves lives.

Of course, computers save lives and phones absolutely save lives. They do it every day. But because Apple Watch is attached to you, it's more likely to always be with you, even when your phone is thrown out of reach. And because it's now swim-proof and LTE-enabled, you can use it not only when you don't want to reach for your phone… but when you can't. When you're in an accident or when you're in the water. And whether it's through the newer 911 emergency feature, or more traditional messages or calling.

And because it has features like the heart-rate monitor, it doesn't have to wait until an emergency to help you — it can let you know when there's about to be an emergency. And I think it's just the beginning.

Jeff Williams, Apple's Chief Operating Officer, runs Apple Watch at Apple. But what he really runs is Health. So when you look at what Apple's doing, including recent features like connecting health records, and when you look at rumors, like blood sugar monitoring, it's not hard to imagine that, as good as Apple Watch is for fitness today, in the future that'll just be one small part of how great it is for health. As good as it is with AirPods for Apple Music as a service now, it could be even more critical with a range of wearables for Apple Medical next.

Tap to pay is the best transactional experience out there, and Apple Watch helps ensure it's private and secure. Tap to check into a clinic or doctor's appointment or hospital, connecting all your medical care and insurance, and all your medical history, medication, and allergies, would be world-changing.

And, while phones are currently the most important devices we own, it's why I think Apple Watch could ultimately be even more important.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • The Apple Watch is a great device, although whilst I think the focus on fitness is great, it feels like outside of that it's been a little left out. Aside from the fitness improvements and the cellular addition, the main changes have really just been making the Watch faster, it's at a point now where I want to see something a bit more significant. Firstly an always-on display. I want an always-on display on the iPhone with the OLED display, but on the Watch it makes even more sense as it would remove the "lift wrist" gesture, which quite frankly doesn't always work and that goes against Apple's mantra of "it just works". Secondly, custom watch faces. I know Apple isn't big on customisation, but if you think of the "watch face" as a wallpaper, then it should be changeable. Sure you can set photos now, but Android Wear has shown what awesome watch faces exist, and Apple is really missing out here. I'm looking forward to the future of the Apple Watch, but I hope the next iteration isn't just "faster and fitness improvements", as great as that is for people who mainly use their Apple Watch for fitness.
  • The issue I see with an always on display is distracting little lit display flailing around in restauranrts, movie theaters, concert halls, et cetera. I agree that the wrist raise feature is not ready for prime time. I tried it again recently and found it still needs work.
  • Dark places I can understand (hence why the theater mode exists), but the screen shouldn't be that bright in other places, especially if the display adjusts itself based on the ambient light. Some of my friends/family have Samsung phones with always-on displays, and they never really catch my eye, they're quite subtle. And that's on a much larger screen than the Apple Watch too
  • Try Facer. It's pretty good
  • For Apple Watch that's just the photo mode, but nice to have a set of wallpapers adapted for the screen size :)
  • Apple Watch KILLER feature? Saving lives. Lol. The irony is funny.
  • Hey Rene! You left out a C in Office. Unless saying “save a trip to the offie” is how Canadians say it ;)
  • Great article, Rene. Thanks.
  • I am waiting for the day when the back sensor of the watch can bio-authenticate my identity so that Apple can build a universal ID network that notifies me and seeks my bio-authenticated approval every time somebody claiming to be me tries to conduct a transaction somewhere in the world. When that ID theft-free day comes, I'll get an Apple Watch. Apple is the only company I trust to do this without gathering and indefinitely storing any information beyond the bare minimum necessary.
  • I'd agree here. I have little need to make that last jump in supposed convenience. I'll happily just grab the phone. The workout stuff, I suppose is better than nothing, but unless you understand and change diet, the average person is largely wasting time (filling the rings). But, personal safety is a compelling reason to finally consider the Watch. The ability to make an emergency call when the phone would fail you, or detect potential health issues might be important enough to consider it, even if you could care less about the rest. I'm not there yet, but I'm willing to admit that finally is a reason to get one. On the other hand, what are the chances of having a condition it's going to detect and save you? Or, what are the chances of falling in water and having to call 911? I guess insurance policies are for those crazy, but rare situations, and a few hundred $ is a relatively cheap insurance policy. Something to consider, for sure.