So the Series 4, the fifth generation of Apple Watch, was announced at the Apple event on September 12. The most telling thing is that it’s Series 4 – the latest version of watchOS officially discontinues support for the original Apple Watch, retroactively declared “Series 0.” Which means that if you went out and dropped money back in 2015, your watch is now as good as it’s going to get, and at present, that ain’t real good.
Apple refined the paradigm a couple of times. When the watch launched, it was hard not to get the sense that it was meant to be a remote control so you didn’t have to take the gigantic iPhone Plus out of your pocket or bag or cargo shorts or wherever. Some of the features were absolute Samsung gimmick trash – sending your heartbeat, dedicating the one big button to picking someone to text – and the base UI underwent a couple of major refinements in the ensuing years. Problem is, now the Series 0 hardware is just not up to scratch even in watchOS 4, where it’s slow and unreliable (trying to use Siri or voice dictation varies between trying and impossible). Which means that in theory, I’m in the market.
Except I’m really not. Because when you get right down to it, the market has declared the core functionality that anyone wants from a wearable boils down to “fitness tracker with notifications.” And Fitbit has that market locked up, especially after the Pebble acquisition. It’s now possible to buy a device that will track your steps, track your heart rate (not with an ECG, but as good as any prior Apple Watch did), receive notifications from more than just text/phone/calendar, even do NFC payments – all for half of what Apple wants for the new watch, and with the added benefit that the battery will last you five or six days between charges. Meaning you can do sleep monitoring, the thing I want most – and a thing the Apple Watch simply can’t be used for in a reasonable fashion when it has to be charged daily.
What exactly do you give up? Well, you can’t actually answer a call from your Fitbit, or reply to a text, or trigger your 2FA app, or automagically unlock your desktop computer. That’s…about it, actually. Problem is, answering calls and replying to messages from this watch now are functions that work in name only; from a practicality standpoint, I can’t do it. The 2FA thing is nice, but when I’m at my desk, it’s a piece of cake to pick the phone up off the wireless pad (which is 3rd party as Apple is a year in arrears with theirs) and unlock with FaceID, tap the notification and hit “approve.” (If I’m working on the phone itself, it’s even easier to just pull down on the notification.) And I’m sure the security folks will thank me not to be automatically unlocking my work laptop with mere proximity.
And even if this functions were more important…are they $300 more important than the Alta HR my wife bought me on Amazon’s Prime Day? Apparently not, as I’m wearing the Apple Watch to work today for the first time in…a month? Maybe? I haven’t taken the Apple Watch on a trip longer than overnight since I had it; it didn’t go to London or Ireland or Disneyland or New York or Hawaii. In fact, wearing my mechanical watch rather than the Apple Watch became something of an act of cosplay, a gesture toward a time when the only piece of information I’ll need on my arm is the time. The Fitbit is on there all the time, pushing me to more steps, getting me more active in ways that are already beginning to show results – and giving me actionable information about my sleep.
The original Apple Watch was bought after a single runaway heartbeat incident, at a time when I was seriously worried about what the job had done to my health and in fear that worse things might be coming. Right now, the Fitbit is helping me take charge of my health on my own terms. That’s a win. And that’s $400 I don’t have to spend, on top of the $500 I don’t have to spend on a new iPhone SE2 or the $500 I don’t have to spend on a new iPad mini (also discontinued).
It’s nice, to quote Voice of the Beehive, when what you have is enough.