Etiquette in the days of wearable tech – 72 hours with the Apple Watch

About a year or two ago, I was in a meeting with a colleague and a potential client. My colleague was sporting a Pebble watch and at that moment I decided that I wanted one. By the end of the meeting, I had changed my mind. You see throughout the meeting the Pebble was on silent mode, yet it vibrated throughout. Each time, I wondered if my colleague was more curious as to what the notification was or the conversation at hand.

When Apple launched the Apple Watch, they announced their Taptic Engine. Most people haven’t really understood the social significance of this. When the watch was released, certain journalists were given the watch by Apple to review for two weeks. One journalist made a point which was very interesting. He said that he received multiple notifications throughout a meeting and felt that it was rude to keep looking at his watch, since looking at one’s watch signals to the other party that you have somewhere better to be.

IMG_0228But hang on here. Didn’t that journalist completely miss the point? I mean he might as well have put his phone on the table in front and see the notifications as they came in. What was the point of the notifications being on his wrist? Surely the point is that nobody knows that you have a notification. Sit in the meeting, whether it’s a business meeting or dinner with your spouse, and when that event takes a break or ends, then and only then check your phone. Give a person the attention they deserve.

I think that we are so distracted by technology that we feel that we absolutely have to respond to that Facebook post in the middle of conversation with a person standing right in front of you. The same is true of WhatsApp groups etc. And you know what, if you are talking to somebody and your phone dings or vibrates, well you might as well deal with it there and then because the other person knows that you have something way more important to deal with than them. The damage was done the moment the phone dinged.

And this is what interested me about the Apple Watch. I can receive a notification and nobody around me needs to know. The watch doesn’t light up. Only I know that there is something that I might want to deal with later, and whether that later means in 3 minutes when I have finished talking to a colleague, or in an hour after a meeting, either way, the other person knows that I’m talking to them. The same way that they don’t know that I have an important meeting at 2 o’clock and am in a bit of a rush, they also don’t know that somebody posted pictures from my daughter’s kindergarten on whatsapp.

The “Taptic Engine” as Apple calls it, works in one of two ways: It either gives you a “Prominant Haptic” which feels like a vibration (which again only you feel – you can’t hear it) or a simple tap on your wrist. Unlike sound or vibrating alerts, I haven’t yet missed a tap. This is, in my opinion, the killer feature on the Apple Watch. Of course, if you can’t control yourself to wait before looking at your watch, then the feature is useless.

Rather than write yet another review, I thought I would share some some initial unexpected findings after having owned my new Apple toy for nearly three days.

I had expected not to wear the watch whilst working. I usually take my watch off when I start to work since I found it uncomfortable to wear whilst using a keyboard and mouse. However, the Apple Watch is extremely comfortable (I have the 42mm Sport with the plastic band) and I haven’t taken it off during the day.

I also expected that I wouldn’t deal with notifications on my watch whilst working. However, I find that notifications usually fall into three categories: 1) read and ignore; 2) read and short reply and 3) read and reply. Since most fall into the first two categories for me, I actually find it less of a distraction to deal with them on my wrist rather than reaching for my phone to respond on iMessage, messenger or WhatsApp.

Obviously when cleaning the house or being with the kids, not having to take out my phone for each alert has decreased the chances of me dropping it. When I receive a phone call, I can see who it is on my wrist as I put on my bluetooth headset and answer the phone.

nokia-e71-01Another nicety was something that I have found extremely frustrating for many years. I loved the fact that my Nokia E71 would display my appointments when looking at my phone. However even in the latest iteration of iOS, you have to slide down to see your appointments. Now each time I look at my watch to see what time it is, I can see the next appointment or two (depending on the watch face) and I hope that when the new version of the software comes out in September more options will be available with more complications. Of course with a tap you can see all your appointments and calendars but for me to see the next appointment without touching the watch is really nice.

I have never found reminders to be terribly good on iPhone. They work but I often miss them. Therefore I found that setting an alarm more effective since they keep making a noise until you dismiss them (after all if I don’t turn off the oven in ten minutes the food will be burnt!) Reminders work really well on the watch. I don’t miss any of them since I’m notified with a tap.

I think the Apple Watch is different for each person. For some, the ability to look at your watch and see how late the bus is going to be is very useful, for others it’s going to be the convenience of Apple Pay. For me it’s the fantastic and subtle notifications and the ability to act on them in a natural way.

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Is the Apple Watch Edition muktzeh?

My grandmother once explained to me that a gold watch wasn’t muktzeh because if it stopped, you would still continue to wear it on Shabbat since it was jewelry. I’m not sure that was what Tim Cook had in mind when they revealed the Apple Watch Edition.

Many thoughtful articles have been written on Apple Watch and a fare share of not-so-thoughtful ones. At any rate, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Apple are going to be selling this device by the boatload and the real question everyone is asking is how it’s going to change our everyday lives.

Some time ago, I asked a charedi colleague of mine why texting was forbidden in certain streams of ultra-orthodoxy. In fact, you can buy cellphone packages where you can’t receive or send a text message (very annoying when I rely so much on canned replies with SMS when somebody calls me). He explained that the fear was that when somebody could be doing something better with their time, instead they would be texting. Bitul Torah. I have to admit that I have this problem too sometimes, but with me it’s when watching TV rather than learning in the Bet Midrash, and my wife kindly tells me when I should pay attention to the screen (ie the big one) when something important happens in the TV programme that we are watching (I guess that’s why I have an iPhone…)

One thing that I did notice of course, is the habit that I have that when finishing the Amida in shul during the week, I whip out my iPhone to check if I’ve missed anything whilst waiting for the shaliach tzibbur to start the Repetition. On days I feel particularly holy, I will sit closer to the front of shul to prevent me from doing so – no, it’s not my closeness to the aron kodesh that helps, but rather the lack of phone reception.

But it got me thinking. Imagine now, whilst waiting for the Rabbi to finish davening (heck somebody in shul has to have a bit of kavana) we all start looking at our smart watches? I admit the ability for the gabbai to subtly force touch the shaliach tzibbur via his Apple Watch rather than a loud “bakhavod” is nice, but looking at our watches has a different social cue – Nu! / I’m bored / Can I get out of here? At least when looking at a smart phone person can think the best of somebody and can assume that they are reading the parshat hashavua. But a watch? Not sure how easy it’s going to be to pull “Yes I’m davening from my siddur app on my Apple Watch.”

Although I have to say that I still have a dream of putting out a really smart siddur. Of course the problem is that there aren’t enough Jews in the world that would daven from an app that would make it a financial viability, although perhaps I should do an Indiegogo campaign like a local Rabbi is doing for his book – heck he’s raised over $6K so far, but I digress…

It makes me wonder what are the actually truly useful aspects of a smart siddur? Perhaps a Watch app could be interesting and more importantly, more useful. For example simply reminding you to add Yaaleh Veyavo when you get to the Amida. That doesn’t need a full siddur app, but a nice reminder on your watch… Particularly useful for those of us who don’t quite make it to shul and daven at home. Imagine the watch recognising that we took three steps forward and start to schockle away and there was a discrete tap on the wrist to remind you to say the required addition.

There are of course more obvious use-cases such as looking at your watch to see how much time you have left to say keriat shema which actually is more convenient than using iKaluach on your iPhone.

Apple very kindly incorporated the Jewish calendar into iOS 8 but I would really love to see not only the correct Jewish date appearing on my Apple Watch face (which I assume will be built-in) but also the Hebrew date actually changing at shkia rather than at midnight (although apparently many people don’t realise that the Jewish date changes at nightfall so perhaps Apple doesn’t know about this).

Perhaps this will be the killer feature of the Apple Watch so we would finally have a good way of remembering to send the kids to school wearing white shirts on Rosh Chodesh.