Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Apple Watch: not for me, thanks

I popped into the Apple Store in Regent Street a day or so back to buy a replacement Bluetooth keyboard (you know, for my actual computer). While there, I got a chance to look at the new shiny, the Apple Watch.

Every one I looked at was covered in fingerprints. I know that technology usually gets covered in greasy fingerprints, but not usually this bad when it is still in the shop—Apple seemingly has special magic pixie dust in the shop (or just an army of people with microfibre cloths going round cleaning) that prevents their devices from looking like they end up looking like in use. In spite of this, Apple’s display of the Watch is otherwise pretty impressive. They’ve certainly worked out how to market shiny things pretty damn well in the last few years.

And as a watch, Apple have got the physical object right: the wristbands for the non-Sport versions look good in the shop—supple leathers, well-constructed metal, elegant buckles. They’ve done their homework better than anybody else as you’d expect from a design-led company like Apple. And I don’t want to downplay the technological wizardy of a smartwatch: a tiny watch-sized computer you can strap to your wrist all day is a pretty impressive technological achievement in both material design and hardware implementation, even with the limitations of all of the current models.

Still, I left the store thinking “I still don’t have any burning desire for any smartwatch product”, not Apple’s, not Motorola’s, not Samsung’s, not anybody’s. If even Apple’s ability to make shiny things sell can’t stir desire or interest for such a product in someone who works with technology all day, that’s rather telling. It still strikes me as a profoundly strange and ridiculous product category that we’ll look back on as a complete gimmick in a few years. I am perhaps unimaginative but I cannot think of anything I currently do with any technology that would be better displayed in the form of a watch.

I played with the built-in apps. Mail? Meh. I hate email when it isn’t the size of a postage stamp; I hate it more when it is. Photos? Too small to properly enjoy. Sending animated emojis to friends? Christ, I’m not a teenager, and I expect the market for a £500 watch mostly isn’t either. It’s not bad for telling the time with, but if you are going to use it just for that, there are better choices on the market. I don’t get it. And I realise that in a few years time, when it is massively successful, I’ll be like the guy saying that the iPod was lame compared to the Nomad. Oh well.

In the interests of disclosure, I do wear a ‘watch’, only it’s a fitness tracker—the Fitbit Charge. It tracks my activity, it tells me the time with a quick tap of a button, it vibrates when people are calling my phone—and it lasts for ten days of use on one charge, which is nice. That does the job and for a third of the price of the entry-level Apple Watch Sport. Unlike the Apple Watch, it doesn’t nag me with tweets and Facebook and SMSes and all sorts of other digital clutter. I also hate wearing it, because I hate wearing watches generally: I always have and I always will. They are horrible, nasty, sweat-trapping gadgets and in an ideal world they’d disappear. The first thing I do when I get to my desk in the morning, or get back home in the evening, is take the fucking thing off and set it aside next to my keys, only to put it back on when I leave the house.

Visiting Bletchley Park

Yesterday, I visited Bletchley Park properly. I’d previously been there for Over the Air but didn’t get to go and look at the estate properly. It’s well done although the entrance fee is pretty steep (£16.75 each). We only had an afternoon there: you really need a full day to be able to take in the whole of Bletchley Park, not to mention the National Radio Centre and The National Museum of Computing, which we didn’t get to visit.

Turing tribute at Bletchley Park

The tribute to Turing was well done and didn’t downplay either his intellectual contributions to mathematics and computer science (his papers building computability theory on the work of Bertrand Russell and Alonzo Church are displayed and contextualised in such a way that someone who doesn’t have a Ph.D in category theory can grasp what he’s doing) and the tragic cruelty of the homophobic persecution Turing faced—along with so many others—after the war.

I heartily recommend visiting Bletchley Park. I’ll certainly be going back at some point to see what I didn’t get to see, along with visiting TNMOC.

I got a leaflet through the post this morning from the UKIP candidate in my area (so far: one Tory leaflet, one UKIP, zilch from anybody else) going on about how they’d like to massively cut Britain’s foreign aid budget. Because why would a country need the power of soft diplomacy in an era where standing armies representing nation states fighting one another have been replaced with dispersed terrorist groups that subdivide faster than any intelligence agency can keep track of them, fighting over the subcultural identification of disenfranchised teenagers off Twitter? Pure unadulterated stupidity.

Telegram is everything I like about iMessage (but it works on Android), is open source and (unlike WhatsApp) has a desktop version (the WhatsApp desktop version is a nasty hack that only works with Android).

Using WhatsApp a lot recently has made me how aware I rely on my computer: having to use my phone rather than my laptop feels like having one hand tied behind my back. The whole mobile-only thing really needs to die. Desktops and laptops rock too.