Why I'm bullish on Apple Watch even though I'm not buying one

Disclaimer: I haven't used any smartwatches, so maybe I just don't get it. I haven't bought one because I don't see the point, and the Apple Watch isn't available yet. If today's Apple Watch reviews are any indication, that may be the case for at least another year. 

I like the idea of a smartwatch. I occasionally wear a cheap digital watch, mostly when traveling or exercising, and I used a heart rate monitor regularly when exercising until it broke a few years ago. I'd like a device that focuses in a few areas that are important and interesting to me: health and fitness monitoring, biometric identification, and communication. I picked these areas because I think they're specifically well suited to excel on a wristworn device. However, those three areas may not be of interest to others. Apple keeps emphasizing how this is the most personal device they've every made, and a personal device is going to mean different things to different people. That's why I'm still bullish on Apple Watch, at least relative to other wearable devices platforms.

The bulk of wearable device sales essentially come from two categories: smartwatches and fitness trackers. Whether they are worn on the wrist or somewhere else, fitness trackers only record movement and rely on software running somewhere else to put their measurements into context and provide results to the user. Smartwatches are slightly more general purpose, but typically focus on providing smartphone notifications on a user's wrist.

None of this is interesting to me. Using accelerometers to approximate step counts is inaccurate and won't help me train more efficiently. It may motivate me to get out of my desk chair or off the couch more, but there are plenty of smartphone apps that do that. I'm also not buying a smartwatch just to get my phone's notifications on my wrist. I think that could be an interesting feature, but not a product. Google Now is the engine that provides many Android Wear notifications. I actually turned Google Now notifications off when I was an Android user because of the consistent irrelevance of its notifications. So, I don't really see the point of today's wearables. If I was going to buy something it would be a GPS watch with heart rate monitor because it performs a function valuable to me that my smartphone can't.

The Apple Watch promises to be more of a general purpose computing device, designed to be worn on the wrist. However, it looks like it is a bit too general purpose. Nilay Patel at The Verge:

There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

The Apple Watch does a lot of things, some better than others. I see potential for a device that I always wear and knows who I am. It already works well with Apple Pay, but what if it could also automatically unlock and lock my Mac and car and house? What if it includes sensors that give me more insight into why my run felt great or I didn't sleep well? And what if it enabled a new form of subtle touch-based communications? Some of those things are already possible, but others will take a few years. 

By creating a general-purpose computer on the wrist, Apple and its army of 3rd party developers will explore these options. It almost feels as if they will be innovating on a beta product in public, unsure of what will ultimately catch on. I suppose that could be said about any new computing platform - it was hard to imagine Uber and Snapchat before the smartphone went mainstream. However, there was a very clear and focused reason to own a smartphone when the iPhone launched. Maybe smartwatches won't catch on. But if they do I think it will be because Apple has made a device that looks nice enough to wear daily and is enabling experimentation. I don't feel as optimistic about Android Wear or Pebble in that regard.