Where other companies see products, Apple sees features. Think of all the gadgets the iPhone has subsumed: music players, navigation systems, point-and-shoot cameras. That last example has particular salience when considering how the Apple Watch is affecting wearable tech. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. The same is true for activity trackers: the gadget you’ll wear is the one you’ll use.
More than half of all people who buy trackers stop using them, and a third do so after just six months. That’s a lot of devices logging nothing more than the opening and closing of desk drawers. Why the falloff? We buy trackers with the hope that data will spur us to be healthier. Instead, we briefly get interested in the rush of numbers, then give up. The Watch gets past this by being first and foremost a connectivity tool—a convenient extension of the iPhone that delivers text messages, e-mail, phone calls, calendar alerts, payments, and app features in an elegant package with mass appeal. It’s an everyday device that people will stick with for years.
With a heart-rate monitor and a sophisticated accelerometer, it also happens to be a more capable tracker than most of us have ever considered buying, though few users will tap this potential immediately. That’s because the real value of the Watch isn’t in its hardware—it has the same sensors other trackers do—but the fact that, with tens of millions expected to be sold by the end of the year, it’s the device that developers are obsessing about. Sure, the Activity and Health apps that come preloaded on the watch offer some smart ways to analyze your activity data, but in the not-so-distant future a third-party engineer is going to create the Instagram of fitness apps. And when that happens, the Apple Watch will become an activity tracker in the same way the iPhone is a camera.