The new 'iWatch'
Last month, CNET pointed out that the name for Apple's new watch—what people were then calling the "iWatch"—was far from certain: "The more important question is still to know how to finish this sentence: 'Hey, I got an i(....)!'" Of course we all knew that it was going to be called iSomething but, as CNet explained, "watches in themselves are a dated concept." Apple's tablet device wasn't called an "iTablet" but an "iPad"—perhaps the company's wristwatch would use a different word too? Something like "iWear" or "iBand" or "iMode," for instance. But yeah—whatever it was, it would definitely, 100 percent be the iSomething.
Yesterday, Apple released the "Apple Watch" in a blaze of middle-aged men playing guitar music. It's not the iAnything, but it is a magical, wrist-mounted computer with a heap of health and fitness sensors on it. Apps appear on a display made out of a single solid crystal of sapphire. A magnetic buckle uses materials developed for the Mars rover. It connects you to your friends via phone, text, or even a gentle touch on the wrist. It can measure your fitness, and even let you feel the pulse of a lover's heartbeat.
It also contains the bodily fluids of Irish rock stars. "We are the blood in your machines, O Zen master Tim Cook," Bono cried at the launch ceremony. Which sounds a bit fucking gross. Have you ever tried cleaning blood out of a MacBook? It almost made me wish I'd actually paid for one, rather than just robbing mine off some guy in the street.
Anyway, 20 months or so have passed since the first concrete mentions of "iWatch," when tech sites reported that Apple and Intel were working on a wristwatch with a 1.5-inch screen that would launch in mid 2013 (both the size and the delivery date were completely wrong). By February, the iWatch name had become so well established that, after yesterday's announcement, journalists couldn't seem to accept that it was actually called something else. "The iWatch is HERE but it's Called The Apple Watch," wailed one reporter in abject frustration. "Why isn't it called the Apple iWatch?" huffed the Telegraph.
The name wasn't the end of it. Throughout 2013, bullshit spewed forth from the ass-end of the Apple-obsessed internet rumor mill.
"Apple could adapt its iOS mobile software to limit what information is sent to a wrist device," speculated one Bloomberg article from last year (wrong). Others suggested the device would be technologically simple (wrong). It was going to use photos for ID authentication, asking you to identify pictures of your friends and colleagues in order to unlock the device (wrong). A former Apple designer talked about its "button-free design" (wrong).
It would feature a wrap-around display, patents suggested, with a screen that followed the curve of your wrist, presumably so that small children could see magical things displayed on the underside of your arm (wrong). Or maybe, as Reuters reported, the screen would be a 2.5-inch rectangle (wrong).
How would it charge itself? Solar power was one option (wrong). Or how about charging wirelessly? "The iWatch is also said to include wireless charging capabilities which will allow the device to charge from up to a meter away," we were told (this was wrong). "Wireless charging would be one way to reduce the burden of frequent charges, but it is unclear exactly how it would be implemented by Apple." Yesterday we found out how—with a big fucking wire.
It would be easy for me to start banging on now about how the tech gossip sites are wrong a lot of the time because, well, they are, obviously. But to be fair, by the time the infernal machine that will adorn my wrist next year was launched, a clutch of websites with "tech" or "Mac" in their names had come up with pretty good approximations of what we'd eventually see. They pinned down the health features and sensors, the screen dimensions, NFC capability, and so on. But that only came at the end of nearly two years of continuous bullshit. Never before has so much copy been written about a product that doesn't exist yet.
Here's a funny thing, though: I love the bullshit. I can't get enough of it. I've been using these sites like I use caffeine, getting my ten-minute hit of gossip each day, gobbling up every bit of information, whatever the quality, like a fat goat. I don't really care that it's wrong—it's still very interesting.
And in a first for this VICE column, I actually think the bullshit is a good thing.
What the Apple Watch actually looks like
It's so easy to think that science, technology, and design are things that happen elsewhere. The insides of our cars, TVs, and vacuum cleaners are as familiar to most people as the depths of the oceans or the farthest reaches of space—inaccessible, unfathomable. With each passing decade, our technology looks more like magic, and we fall more out of the touch with the ideas, decisions, and processes that make it happen.
The Apple rumor mill brings that magic back to us. It may be wild, it may be wrong, it may be 90 percent BS, but it doesn't harm anybody in the way that medical or political BS does. Nobody is going to suffer pain or death because he thought the iWatch might have a 1.8-inch display.
At the same time, it engages tens of thousands of people in deep discussion. It gets kids and students debating the relative merits of four-inch vs. five-inch screens. It inspires young designers to spend their evenings sketching out exciting visions of the future, and tomorrow's engineers to think about the cutting edge in user design, materials, sensors, and features. Students around the world produced their own images of what the final product might look like. They imagined circular displays in traditional-looking timepieces, miniature iOS clones wrapped awkwardly around clunky wristbands, or something in between. Even Jimmy Kimmel joined in, fooling the masses with a Casio calculator watch. "I like the big numbers," one user commented.
For all the nonsense, and whatever you think about its products, Apple and its enthusiasts in the press generate a higher level of conversation around science and technology than you see almost anywhere else in public life. And that can only be good for us.
And there's one last thing: At the heart of it all is a chip developed by British hardware architects, in a product crafted by a British designer. Cynical? Nah, not today, thanks.
Follow Martin on Twitter.