The Things That Define Us (Words and Work)

iWatch Series 2: Now I Can Swim

On the iWatch homepage, Apple’s opening photograph shows five different iWatches, side-by-side.  Only two clearly show the time (careful study reveals the time is found in the fine print on each), and all five are submerged in water.  Well, the watches aren’t totally underwater.  In fact, they seem to be emerging from the water, buoyant even, perhaps breathing between swim strokes…

At the keynote introduction, Apple introduced the “Series 2” with a video of a lean swimmer effortlessly doing laps while fearlessly donning the iWatch in the pool.  The clear imagery was followed by a lengthy explanation of the technical innovation required to waterproof the revolutionary device.  It even has built in speakers that expel the water once you find yourself on dry land.  

So, clearly, Apple wants us to know that these watches know how to swim. And this is great news, because I’m not a very good in the water.  I run for my primary form of exercise, and enjoy the occasional local 10K.  But a swimmer, I am not.  I once attempted a triathlon, and let’s just say that when I switched to backstroke during the swim, it wasn’t for speed.  So, I’m thrilled that Apple’s new device will improve my lackluster laps.  

As I begin to worry that perhaps it will only aid those in an Olympic pool, while doing progressively faster sprints (as the images suggest), I hastily clicked “learn more.”  By the second line, Apple reassured me that they had my dreams of conquering a future triathlon covered:

You can also do swim workouts in open water, track laps at the pool, or splash with your kids. 

I will be able do swim workouts in open water!  To think, as of now, without the watch, I can barely cover 500 meters without drowning.  But with the Series 2, I will do full workouts, and still have the time and energy to play with my daughter!

And then I become nervous, because maybe this is not what Apple truly means when they print “can.”  Perhaps they intended to write, “may.”  Conceivably, they assume I (and everyone else reading their website) are already swimmers.  My heart begins to sink.  

But I am still a runner!  So, I keep reading and find encouragement: “Built-in GPS.  Go.  Even without your iPhone.”

“Yes,” I say aloud, “this is intended for me!”  Only then do I realize that I don’t run with my phone…  “Should I be running with my phone,” I think?  I don’t remember the ad campaign that told me to run with my phone…  But the point is, I can now, finally “Go!”  I remind myself to come back to this later to learn how I had been “stopped” all this time.

Meanwhile, I am distracted by the text “Get Credit for Every Workout,” and I feel cheated.  All of my workouts have been for naught!  In the past, after running for three miles, and then eating three doughnuts, I reprimanded myself for the doughnuts.  But in fact, I now learn that I had been worried about the wrong activity – I had just not properly tracked my work!  

Not only that, but the Advanced Activity Tracker promises that every move I make will be properly logged, and shared with a whole network of people.  I am so relieved that my time walking to and from the kitchen will be precisely recorded.  And if I sit too long eating my kale salad, the iWatch will helpfully scold nudge me to stand up, walk back to my computer, and open the Apple website again, all-the-while notifying my friends of my terrific progress towards becoming a world-class athlete... er... consumer.

Cynicism and sarcasm aside, I do not doubt of the potential of the iWatch (or any of its fitness watch contemporaries), but I question our expectations in its capabilities and goals.  Besides questionable grammar choices between “can” and “may,” Apple simply tells us what the new Series 2 is.   It is a tracking tool.  It is not a coach.  It is not a therapist.  If we seek encouragement (or pressure) from peers, it can provide them fodder – but it will not choose our friends.  It does not teach us to swim better, run faster, eat healthier or to stop all activity and meditate (see “breathe” app).    Most of us swim, run, bike, or play with our kids as an escape our day work, but the iWatch can will accurately take those activities and plug them into a spreadsheet.  It is a digital logging device, and sometimes a watch.

Additional Reading: 

Weight Loss on Your Wrist? (NPR)

Apple Shifts Focus to Fitness (Wall Street Journal)