Get Your Phone Out of Your Face


Wired has a “Secret History” of the development of the Apple Watch. It features the usual Apple-type people saying the usual Apple-type things they always say about the latest product — although the details about the awkward, iPhone-based watch prototypes are fascinating, even funny.

But it’s this bit which explains the Watch’s best feature, and (we’ll get to this after the excerpt) why Apple may have trouble marketing that feature:

Along the way, the Apple team landed upon the Watch’s raison d’être. It came down to this: Your phone is ruining your life. Like the rest of us, Ive, Lynch, Dye, and everyone at Apple are subject to the tyranny of the buzz—the constant checking, the long list of nagging notifications. “We’re so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now,” Lynch says. “People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much.” They’ve glared down their noses at those who bury themselves in their phones at the dinner table and then absentmindedly thrust hands into their own pockets at every ding or buzz. “People want that level of engagement,” Lynch says. “But how do we provide it in a way that’s a little more human, a little more in the moment when you’re with somebody?”

Our phones have become invasive. But what if you could engineer a reverse state of being? What if you could make a device that you wouldn’t—couldn’t—use for hours at a time? What if you could create a device that could filter out all the bullshit and instead only serve you truly important information? You could change modern life. And so after three-plus decades of building devices that grab and hold our attention—the longer the better—Apple has decided that the way forward is to fight back.

Now I love — love — the idea of a device, any device, that will get my phone out of my face, and I know I’m not alone in this. Look around at lunch today, and you’ll see tables full of people checking, or sometimes trying so hard not to be checking, their phones. You’ll see the same thing in malls, on sidewalks, in movie theaters. Pretty much everywhere we’re supposed to be paying attention to our surroundings or the people around us, we’re compulsively pulling out our phones.

I’ve tried everything to limit my phone face-time. There are some easy rules to follow, like never at the dinner table and never, ever when my kids are talking to me. In the car, too, but that’s a hard one, especially since the phone is also the music player. One of the first things I did was to put my phone on silent and leave it there — if it’s not buzzing or ringing, it can’t be bothering you, right? Except if you’re anything like me, all that silence does it make you wonder what messages or reminders you’re missing because the damn phone isn’t buzzing or ringing.

So the idea of leaving the phone in my pocket and have a watch for the really important notifications… that’s very appealing.

Does it work? If you don’t mind a spoiler, here’s how the Secret History ends:

A moment later, [Apple VP Kevin Lynch] stands up. He has to leave; he owes Dye and Ive an update on something important. In all the time we’ve been talking, he’s never once looked at his phone.

That right there has me intrigued with this thing in a way I wasn’t before — but how do you sell that? “It’s a device about nothing” just isn’t much of a marketing position. “Leaves you the hell alone!” isn’t something you can easily demo. “Spend $750 and not do things!” isn’t what most feature-loving consumers want to be told. “Don’t look at it!” isn’t a good fit for the purveyor of such good-looking consumer goods.

If I were Apple’s marketing chief [you’d be a lot richer –ed.], I’d sell the fashion and the personalizations and the apps — and let people discover on their own the Watch’s secret, best feature. Word of mouth is how you sell it.

“Hey, is that one of those new Apple Watches?”

“It sure is.”

“What’s it do?”

“It lets me do the stuff I wanted to be doing.”

That’s a crappy TV ad, but it’s one helluva feature.