Culture

My difficult time trying on the Apple Watch

Technically Incorrect: A trip to an Apple store on a weekday morning shows that it's hard to judge how a watch looks on you when the watch is faceless and the atmosphere is one of slight indifference.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


img3518.jpg
I wanted to send it. Instead, it just stared at me. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Can Apple sell you a luxury fashion item at 11 o'clock in the morning?

This was the existential question that had battered my brain since I discovered Cupertino was fully going into the fashion business.

So I made an appointment at a California Apple store and wondered whether its always motivated crew could make me feel beautiful at what is normally, for me, a time of somnolent prayer.

I naturally posed as a normal customer. Principally because I am. I don't slavishly buy tech products. I have an iPhone 6 and a MacBook. I'm still, for example, happy with my Nexus 7 tablet. Not many technological marriages last that long.

Arriving in my finest gym shorts and stained Dr. Doom sweatshirt, I was greeted by a very nice lady who swiftly decided that I was a leather man. As in strap, you understand. I had already explained that the sport versions would make me feel like I was wearing an iPhone 5C and that wasn't quite my rhythm.

She took me over to a colleague -- an expert, I assumed -- and asked him to unveil the leather. This was the young man who would undoubtedly inspire my passion for watches (I don't wear one) and make my wrist feel like a flower has bloomed from the fertilizer of my little hairs.

First he opened the cover on a box, inside which were various watches. He then helped me wrap the magnetized leather around my wrist. The size of the case (42mm) suited my wrist well. However, when I tried to push the button on the side and turn the little wheel (or, as neo-classical watchmaker Jony Ive calls it, the digital crown), nothing happened.

"Oh, it doesn't work," said Tony (I will not reveal his real name, for hopefully obvious reasons). Tony was languid to the margins of disinterest. This was 11:15 a.m. on a Monday, but he was acting like it was 7:30 and the garbage truck had woken him up.

I was therefore left to imagine what my wrist would look like with Mickey Mouse perched upon it in a rather fetching casing.

"But I'd like to get it to work," I said, in what I hoped was a pleasingly quiet but pleadingly firm voice.

"We've got a couple of those," he said. He handed me one. I rolled the crown and watched the app icons get bigger and smaller. I pressed the side button to see where my contacts would be (there was one name in there as an example).

Tony invited me to send an emoji. Which was enjoyable, until the point at which the emoji wouldn't send. Tony was perplexed, but not so perplexed that he really wanted to solve the problem. He poked it a little bit and then gave up, muttering: "It should work. But it's only a demo."

He then tried me on another band, one with the beautifully named Milanese loop. Just like the leather one, it sat very comfortably on my wrist. Just like the leather one, I stared at a black screen and imagined.

Tony did insist, with almost enthusiastic insincerity, that it looked perfect on my wrist. He couldn't, though, manage the sheer hopeful brightness of your average department store or fashion house operative.

Like a "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" actor suddenly auditioning for his third detergent ad, he'd tired of the script long ago.

"But Tony, please make me feel beautiful," my inner voice muttered. I think Tony heard me. He volunteered another version with a rather thick stainless steel strap.

He sold it hard: "This retails for $1,000. But to be honest, I think it looks cheap." It didn't look good. Tony wasn't even going to try to pretend.

Still wanting to finally be at one with jewelry, I asked Tony: "So can I buy one of the leather ones?"

He looked at me as if I'd asked him to a sacrificial ritual in Golden Gate Park. Then he laughed and said: "We're sold out. June looks like the earliest, but it should be sooner for some of them."

I pulled an ugly face. I thanked him for being oddly unsalesperson-like and seeming not to give two ticks about it all. I said I'd think about it.

This was just one person's experience on one Monday morning. I don't claim that all Apple (non)salespeople are like Tony, not even on a Monday morning. But this was my first contact with the Apple Watch and it was like a first date with someone who looks absolutely nothing like the picture in their dating profile.

There was no sense of style, no atmosphere of luxury. It was just a row of watches in an Apple store and an attitude of "we're going to sell bucketloads of these, aren't we?"

Still, I can see how the watch will succeed. It enjoys that peculiar mixture of style and amusement for which Apple is justly known. It feels good and, importantly, something different.

Rolling the crown and tapping the apps is going to give humans endless hours of relatively pointless joy. Tossing watch-face emojis at each other will become to texting what haikus were to letters. Waving your watch to pay for something (and ultimately, of course, open your front door) will become second nature. And just wait till people start talking to their hands while they giggle.

On this experience, however, perfecting the art of selling something that is -- in Apple's own words -- the most personal product it's ever sold, needs a little practice.

It's not just about making people feel glad they bought something from Apple. It's about making them feel good about themselves and, that desperately difficult area, the way they look.

img3522.jpg
You have to use your imagination when the watch you try on doesn't actually work. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET