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Wally and his calculator watch

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When I was 12 my mate came to school wearing a digital watch with a calculator built in to it. Shiny and silver like a manacle, it was oversized – especially on his prepubescent wrist – and had tiny fiddly keys. He though he was cock-of-the-walk and wore his shirt-sleeves and the sleeves on his blazer rolled up to show it off… well it was the 80s.

We, his impoverished peers, admired it with some degree of jealousy and we could see that, yes, there were some advantages to having a watch that also had a calculator within such easy reach. Of course, we all just told him he was a ‘wally’ (again, it was the 80s) and, more crucially, no one else in our little gang ever got such a device.

And here we are, too many years to count down the line, and I am reminded of ‘Wally and his watch’ by the one lone person I have so far seen in the real world wearing an Apple Watch: it is, I am afraid, the modern era’s equivalent of those antediluvian calculator watches. Yes, you can see there might be some practical benefits to having text alerts on your wrist, but really it’s a bit of a fad looking for a problem to solve.

Now, Apple is very tight lipped about how many of its calculator watches it has sold – a back of fag packet calculation I saw in Mac Forum magazine estimated 3 million, Juniper Research, in a more considered study, believes it to be around 2 million – but its not very many; this is not an iPod or a iPhone merrily changing the game out there for the Technorati.

The watch does have some potential as a payment tool: you just need to waft your wrist rather than take your phone out, but again this is about invisibility and seamlessness of experience. I am totally ok with checking my phone for text messages, why do I need yet another vibrating part of my body hassling me?

With Apple Pay and now Samsung Pay putting NFC payments on iOS and Android on the map, its going to start to happen, it may as well be on a watch. But is that enough of a reason to buy one? I already have a lovely watch and I am not likely to change it.

However, there is undeniably something in wearables. Watches, I think, are a red herring. The one person I have seen with one, spent most of his time looking at the text alerts on it then fishing his iPhone out of his pocket to tap out a reply. And he looked like a ’wally’.

Rather, I think that the nexus of wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) is where the sweet spot is. Wireless tech has the power to make things simple – or more likely invisible – and this is its key strength. You want your clothes and bag and so on to be smart to log what you do and where, you don’t need to look at them. Its about data and being smart. In the background.

Tellingly, however, even those that look deeply into this can find little or no examples of what this is going to actually be. Perhaps adding a calculator could well be the USP that sees Apple Watches fly off the shelves? After all, there is a depressing nostalgia for the 80s going on right now in fashion, music and politics. I wonder if Wally from school has an Apple Watch yet? I don’t have any plans to ape him, just like no one did back in the day.

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