No, you really don't need an Apple Watch

Apple did a remarkable job on such a constrained device, but it is still a constrained device

apple watches
Susie Ochs

I bought an Apple Watch eight weeks ago and have been using it every day since. I like it well enough, but I've also realized this is the first Apple product I've bought in a long time that I could as easily live without. So can you.

The Apple Watch is a nice-to-have, not a must-have, and although it brings some conveniences it is not game-changing like the Mac, iPod, iPhone, or iPad ... at least not yet.

I've written about my experiences using an Apple Watch on the road, where it offers some convenience. In my experience using 30 of the first-generation Apple Watch apps, some are actually useful. But, honestly, what I like best about the Apple Watch is that it is not annoying, unlike the useless Android Wear smartwatches.

What would make the Apple Watch a must-have? I'm honestly not sure.

The device's nature limits what it can do. Apple was smart to have the iPhone do the heavy lifting, but the constraints of screen size, one-handed operation, and limited input methods remain. Apple did a great job in designing the UI for its screen, and it effectively uses a small, manageable number of components -- touchscreen, voice input, digital crown, and side button -- to operate the device.

But it's still a fundamentally constrained environment, which greatly affects what apps can and should do. Presenting more than a few words of text is not what the Watch can or should do. Ditto for images, icons, and other meaning elements. You can get only so much on a screen, and scrolling more than a screen or two quickly becomes tiresome and creates a continuity gap in whatever you're doing. That's a function of the display, not a flaw in the UI or hardware.

Basically, how many simple but high useful apps can we potentially expect? That's the fundamental question for the Apple Watch; if its utility is limited, so is the need for it. 

The Apple Watch has made me better appreciate the iPhone, a class of device whose screen size has long caused complaints compared to a computer. But the iPhone's screen is a vast canvas compared to the Apple Watch, allowing more complex data presentation and user interaction. The iPad is of the scale of a small laptop in these areas, a constrained PC. Its continuum of capability makes sense, but the Apple Watch is at the boundary of minimum utility from its capabilities. 

Of course, the real issue here may be that the Apple Watch shouldn't be thought of more than a companion to a smartphone (and one day, I hope, a tablet and computer). There's nothing wrong with it as a peripheral, which is what the Apple Watch actually is.

Apple's extreme hyping may create the impression that the Apple Watch is the first of a new breed of computers, as the iPhone and iPad before it were, but I'm not sure that'll ever be the case. I'm OK with that.

If you like fancy watches, the Apple Watch is at the same price level of the timepiece-only models but comes with a computing companion. That makes it a no-brainer for those who use mobile tech routinely.

But if you wear a $25 Timex, the $350 to $400 price of an Apple Sport Watch (the cheapest model) should make you think twice about buying it versus some other gadget. Utility probably won't be the justification if you buy an Apple Watch -- you should admit it's a cool toy that you're willing to spend your money on.

If the Apple Watch gets more useful over time, that's gravy. If not, it's still a cool gadget that at a minimum will do what any good watch does: Tell the time. In addition, it will do what any good gadget does: Entertain you.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.