Few people are aware of the fact that the first Apple Watch was created with a simple premise in mind: to fix a problem that Apple itself created. With the launch of the iPhone, Apple ushered in a new era in mobile technology, one that, for better or worse, has tied us to our smartphones ever since. A couple of weeks ago, I came across an interesting article by Wired entitled Apple Watch: The Secret History of the iPhone Killer. Any Apple fan worth their salt would be interested in reading it as the piece does an excellent job of explaining what Apple wanted to achieve with its first wearable.
It seems that the Apple Watch’s ultimate goal was to be an iPhone killer of sorts. Seven years after the launch of Apple’s first wearable, it seems we might have fallen short of this grand ambition… or have we?
Tea Apple Watch Ultra is certainly the most sophisticated wearable device the Cupertino company has created to date. It is also the most expensive – the Ultra costs just as much as the entry-level iPhone 14 (ie $799).
This brought me back to the original goal Apple had in mind when designing its wearable. The price of wearables can now match that of smartphones, but does that also apply to functionality? Maybe the future is here and we have simply not realized it? Thus, I decided to put the Ultra to a very peculiar test – can it replace my trusty iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Sorting out the basics
Now would be the time for a couple of small disclaimers. The Apple Watch Ultra simply cannot function without an iPhone. Hence, Apple’s original goal is technically dead on arrival.
Nevertheless, I will still try to use the Ultra, for a full week, without having access to any smartphone. Secondly, I am mainly using the Ultra in particular because of its superior battery life. Given that it will be my primary device, having it die on me in the middle of the day would be very unfortunate.
Lastly, it goes without saying that a wearable alone cannot replace a smartphone. That is why I will also use a couple of additional devices – the AirPods Pro and an iPad Pro. The former will allow me to facilitate a number of tasks that would otherwise be impossible (ie make calls, listen to music/podcasts), while the latter will be my dedicated consumption / productivity device.
It might seem strange including an iPad in the equation, but I believe most users usually have a secondary device (ie laptop) in addition to their smartphone anyway. Thus, if we normally buy all three of these (laptop/tablet, earbuds and smartphone), I wanted to know if we could drop the latter and replace it with a wearable.
Adapting to the new reality
I will start right off of the bat – this experiment took some getting used to. I believe it is possible, with the aforementioned setup, to be able to live without a smartphone. However, it should be noted that much of my patterns had to change because of this new status quo.
Above all, a smartphone embodies the ultimate convenience. A device that is almost always at your immediate disposal, that can execute a wide range of tasks without any difficulty whatsoever. However, this makes any smartphone a jack of all trades of sorts, and, necessarily, a master of none.
A smartphone can do a lot of things, but there is always (and I mean always) some sort of limitation. By removing the smartphone out of the main setup I was able to do away with the pesky compromises and use a number of devices to their fullest capacity. This, to an extent, offsets the loss of convenience.
My day-to-day life, without a smartphone
In order to illustrate my last point, I will first break down how I normally tend to use my smartphone. Needless to say, my clothes could be very different from those of other users.
My typical smartphone usage is mostly split across three categories of activities: social media and communication, media consumption, and productivity. Notably, there is one main use case of smartphones that I seldom explore: the camera. I simply do not take many photos (actually, almost none at all).
Odds are, if mobile photography is your thing, you will not be very happy with the aforementioned setup, as you would have to rely on the camera of the iPad Pro. This is, for a number of reasons, far from ideal. Moving past this particular detriment, let us see how I had to circumvent the lack of a smartphone in day-to-day life.
Social media and communication
This was perhaps the biggest relief when it came to shoving my smartphone away. Chatting is not particularly fun, neither on an Apple Watch, nor on an iPad. Hence, I started using more voice memos and FaceTime, in particular. Of course, because the Ultra has built-in cellular, I was able to easily make normal calls as well, wherever I was.
Thus, with a little bit of trial and error, I was able to keep in touch with everyone even without my smartphone. This was by far the biggest challenge and what I was most worried about. It is nice to remember that there was a time when chatting was not such a ubiquitous phenomenon.
Also, it was really nice not opening Instagram the moment you get a notification. Long gone was the penchant for mindless scrolling that is associated with social media. This was perhaps one of the greatest benefits of forcibly putting an end to my smartphone addition.
For most users, effortless media consumption is one of the biggest perks of their smartphones. I am no different. Naturally, I enjoy watching videos, listening to podcasts and music and, from time to tame, gaming.
The second task was particularly easy with the Apple Watch Ultra and AirPods. I did not miss my iPhone for a second. When it comes to videos and games, it is only natural to say that I had to resort to my iPad.
At first, this was rather cumbersome. However, I quickly realized that the added discomfort was actually a blessing in disguise. By having to always get up and pick up my iPad I essentially guaranteed that I would only have fun when I had the necessary time. You know what they say – play hard, work hard. Speaking of which…
It goes without saying that iPads are champions of productivity. This, coupled with the fact that my iPhone was tucked away safe and sound in a place where it could not distract me, meant that I was more efficient than ever before. I was able to study and read, jot things down and keep track of my time almost effortlessly. The only thing I missed was the convenience of easily scheduling a reminder by simply pulling out my smartphone but, after all, nothing is perfect.
How my patterns changed
The biggest problem with smartphones is that they, because of their “jack of all trades” status, blur the lines between the different activities we need to do every day. This makes them convenient, but also transforms them into insidious time killers. By making it so that I needed to make a conscious effort to execute any task that could not be handled on my Apple Watch, I was able to change my patterns dramatically.
I was still connected to everyone and everything that mattered. I was still able to communicate and keep track of everything that was happening. The Apple Watch served as a one-way stream of information, however, because it inherently limited my capacity to react. This meant that there was a clear separation between what I was taking in and what I was putting out, which in turn allowed for more control. From a reactive user, I became proactive.
I only consumed media when I wanted to and I only engaged in mindless chat when I could (ie when I had taken the time to open up my iPad). My screen time fell dramatically and it was spent doing what I actually needed to do.
In a sense, Apple’s vision of finding a way to circumvent one of the biggest problems of the 21st century – that is, just how invasive our phones have become – is very much possible. However, it is clear that this is no longer the purpose that the Apple Watch aims to serve.
In my view, this is a shame because of the vast potential such a direction could hold. Imagine Apple (or any manufacturer for that matter) trying to create a wearable that replaces your iPhone, instead of enhancing it?
There is, frankly, no shortage of possibilities. For the time, however, wearables are simply not meant to serve such a purpose. Maybe one day the Apple Watch will allow you to disconnect as seamlessly as it does the opposite now.