With Taps on the Wrist, Apple Watch Points to the Future

With Taps on the Wrist, Apple Watch Points to the Future

THERE was never any doubt that I would buy an Apple Watch on the day it was released. I’m a White House correspondent for The New York Times, but I’m also that early-adopter guy.

Buying the watch has led to the inevitable questions from friends and family: “What do you think? Should I get one of those?”

My search for an answer reminds me of a similar period nearly a decade ago, in the months after I stood in line for several hours at an Apple Store in Arlington, Va., to be among the first to spend $599 on the original iPhone. The Apple employees cheered as I emerged with the phone.

The next day, I was on a Southwest flight to New Hampshire to cover Fred Thompson, the late actor and senator, who was then running for president. As I sat in my aisle seat, playing with the phone, a crowd formed. First the flight attendants. Then passengers. They all wanted to see the crazy new device in action.

But back then, it was hard to recommend to my fellow reporters on the campaign trail that they ditch their BlackBerrys. The iPhone’s on-screen keyboard made typing a clunky business. The phone couldn’t connect with most workplace email systems. Cell service (limited to AT&T) was slow and flaky at best. Battery life was short. There was no App Store. The iPhone didn’t even have a “cut and paste” feature.

There was just a sense — largely unrealized at the time — that somehow this device was the future, while using my thumb to scroll through a black-and-white list of emails on my BlackBerry was the past. Surfing the web, reading email, listening to music, checking the weather and stocks — all on one device. It was revolutionary.

When colleagues asked, I was honest about the limitations even as I gushed about the technological potential. Most of my friends listened politely, tried to type on the screen with their thumbs, and then stuck with the BlackBerry.

The watch feels as if it is at a similar place.

For the same $599, which gets you a model with a 42-millimeter stainless-steel case, the Apple Watch is a slave to a user’s iPhone, relying on the larger device for processing and communications. It has no GPS or cellular capability. It can run apps, but slowly. And without any keyboard, it requires voice dictation, which is still far from perfect. In most cases, opening an app on the iPhone is still a far better experience.

Like the original iPhone, the watch also feels like a physical compromise. The case is bigger and bulkier than the ideal device you would want to strap to your wrist. And while battery life is amazing for a device this small — routinely almost 24 hours on a single charge — it still requires that I remember to pop the watch onto a charger every night.

And yet, after almost eight months, the Apple Watch feels like the future to me.

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