When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he described it as a widescreen iPod with touch controls (to wild applause), a revolutionary mobile phone (to wild applause, whooping and rending of garments) and a breakthrough internet communications device. That last one got a kind of "WOOOOOOOOooowait, what was that one again?" reaction and a round of slightly baffled but enthusiastic, I’m-sure-he’ll-explain-in-a-minute-comma-we-love-you-Steve applause.
Because, really, who has ever asked Santa for a "breakthrough internet communications device"? Ironically, despite it being the one that’s hardest to grasp, of course the intervening years have proven that "a breakthrough internet communications device" actually is the one we’re most excited about. It only sounds dull. But sounding dull or difficult to understand is a problem.
Try to market "a breakthrough internet communications device" to someone and they’ll mentally have switched off before you can say Snapchat. As a species, we have a terrible attention span, and we consume information like we consume food; if something is boring and bland – even if it’s good for us – we don’t buy it when we get our groceries, but we gobble up sugar with abandon even if it’s not what we really need.
That’s at least in part why the iPhone is called the "iPhone" despite the phone bit actually being one of its least important features. Apple had to slot it into our brains in a way that they could accept and process it. It probably knew that we’d make fewer and fewer phone calls on it but it had to get us to buy into (and then buy) the damned thing first, and fitting it into our collective consciousness as "a phone that does other things" is smart because phones have been around for basically 200 years; our collective consciousness has a phone-shaped hole ready to accept it.
Watches, on the other hand, have been around since the 1600s, so there’s an even bigger hole there for the Apple Watch to slot right into, and now that the rumours are circulating about a March launch, it’s time to think about how Apple is going to convince people to actually buy one.
It’s far better to call it an "Apple Watch" than a "wrist-mounted wearable computer", yet that’s what it is. Oh sure, Apple was at great pains at its introduction to talk about how it was honouring the centuries-long traditions of horology (that’s timekeeping, you lot sniggering at the back), but just as the phone is the iPhone’s least important feature, so too is the watch the Watch’s. Apple, though, called it a watch because that’s basically what it looks like, so we don’t have to be convinced of the basic idea of having some information on our wrists.
In other words, a smartwatch only sounds inevitable because we’re so familiar with watches; had Apple radically reimagined a wearable to be a strip of fluorescent yellow you stuck along the bridge of your nose, it would have had a much harder job to get us to listen long enough to explain what was actually great about it. And all that is okay.
In fact, the only problem with naming the Apple Watch after a product we all know is that we think we know it, and that bozos more interested in scoring points than in how technology could actually help them say things like, “I haven’t worn a watch in years! I look at the time on my phone!” Yes, well done. The same thing happened with the iPhone; people said they already had a phone that had much better battery life and call quality, and that cost hundreds less. And look what happened.
Of course, Apple is not the first company to make a smartwatch, just as it wasn’t the first company to make a smartphone, a tablet or a portable music player. But in the same way as the iPhone, iPad and iPod came to if not ultimately dominate their markets then at least to define and lead them in their early days, so too might the Apple Watch truly kick-start the smartwatch market. This should please Apple fans and Apple haters alike, since if Apple can prove that the smartwatch market is legitimate and useful – that it’s not just a new fad – then smartwatches will flourish, whether they’re made by Samsung, LG, Asus, Sony, Withings, Apple or whoever.
Make no mistake: even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Android fanboy, even if you think the Apple Watch looks stupid or if you think your Pebble kicks its ass because its battery lasts a week, Apple has this power. It has the power to legitimise and buoy entire product sectors.
The people who buy Apple Watches in March will be the people who know they’re not buying "a watch", but buying something quite new and packed with potential. However impressive the number that Apple will inevitably tell us it sold in the first weekend, it will be a tiny fraction of the population affluent enough to afford one, but that’s okay, too.
Because just like with the iPhone, these are the people whose experiences and recommendations will ripple out, and as developers find new and unforeseen things to do with the Watch, and as the Watch 2 and then 3 and then 4 come out, we’ll begin to see what this new thing actually is. This thing that looks like a watch and is called a watch and quacks like a watch – it’s not a watch, except in the most trivial senses.
What is it? We’ll have to buy one in March to find out.
Catch up on everything we know so far about Apple Watch in our ever-evolving Apple Watch hub