It happened on my watch

An editor I particularly liked working for once told me she knew I was serious about what I did because of my watch. This was Helen Hackworthy on Radio Times and she is smart. She’s the only editor who ever spotted that I signed off emails with a capital W when things were fine and a lowercase w when they really, really, really were not.

What she’d also seen was that when I’d sit down at that BBC desk, I would take off my watch and place it next to the keyboard. She saw that as my being conscious of time, determined to get things done, all sorts of professional things that I’d love to have been correct and I hope weren’t entirely wrong.

But they were a bit wrong.

Quite a lot wrong.

I used to take it off because that watch had a metal strap and it kept scraping against the keyboard.

I remember this, I know this, I remember Helen and I talking about it, I remember her laughing when I explained but I cannot remember that watch. I’ve had many watches over the years and – exactly like you, admit this now – I haven’t worn one regularly since I got a mobile phone.

Somewhere in the set of watches I’ve had there was that one with the metal strap and I know there was a Casio thing in the early 80s because the same watch is a plot point in the 1983 movie Blue Thunder. That was a helicopter adventure, an aerial paranoid thriller and apparently it’s going to be remade now with drones instead of the chopper. This is either modernising the tale or making it cheaper.

But of all the watches in all the bars in all the towns, there are three that matter to me. And they’re all in this shot.


The one on the left there with the brown leather strap is the watch I was wearing when I first met Alan Plater and Shirley Rubinstein in the late 1980s. They became friends of mine but then, on that day, I was just meeting and interviewing Alan. I was all kinds of nervous: not just because he was already a writing hero to me but because this was my first big interview with anyone.

That man was so interesting in that interview that 25 years later or so, quotes from it were used in a set of DVD liner notes and about five years further on, I used quotes from it myself for my first book.

But for all that, there was this: the watch stopped working soon after I met Alan. I don’t know how to blame him but I do. Except that I kept the watch because of him and I quietly wore it again just one more time at his funeral in 2010.

See the watch in the middle of that shot? The one that looks like it says ‘now’ underneath the watch face hands? It does say now but it’s not underneath anything: there are no hands. That is it. The word now. I have to tell you, it is the most accurate watch I’ve ever had. Never have to wind it, either.

I do think it’s been losing a little time lately but I still wore it because I like it and because it was given to me by Angela.

But then it would be Angela who pointed out a few months ago that this watch’s time was up, so to speak, that its days were numbered. She said that as soon as the existence of the third one in that shot was announced. It’s an Apple Watch and I could do you a review here but instead let’s just take one fact about it.

Apart from the Now watch which I’ve worn a lot yet far from constantly, I have not had a regular watch since I got my phone in 1997. That’s over. I have a watch again and it has slipped into my life as if I’ve always had it on me.

My watches up to now, where I can remember them, have been reminders of things that have happened or of people who matter to me. Now my Apple Watch actually reminds me of things I have to make happen and it is how I keep in touch with those people. Quite literally keep in touch as you can send tap, tap, taps to fellow Apple Watch owners.

But it will also always remind me of buying Angela one at the same time. It will remind me of how hers came ages before mine. And now it will remind me of talking about this with you.

Don’t tell anyone that bit about my only taking my watch off because it scratches, okay? Who knows, maybe other editors projected qualities on to me like that.

Watch out

It’s 24 April 2015 and today is the official launch of a new press release from Apple. Crowds of Apple fans will be lining up outside stores to get the new press release while legions of PC fans will be writing blogs about how Windows has always had press releases and in fact little else. I don’t disagree.

I have this slight push-pull thing about technology: I swear to you that I am not interested in hardware or software, only in what I can get to do with it. I’m into the work I can do, what I can write, what I can make, not in what setting does which. Yet I’m steeped in this stuff and it makes my life run. And there are business and drama issues in all this for me. One of which is the, to me, fascinating way that from today you can but also can’t buy the new Apple Watch.

Mainly, you can’t. Don’t bother going to an Apple Store. Well, you’ll be able to see them and I imagine there will be a way for Apple to take your money there but it’s likely to be via saying go use that Mac over there.

The Apple Watch has only been made available to order online. I can’t remember when these orders started but it was a couple of weeks ago and in theory if you were quick enough, you would today have a watch in your hands. I was quick enough: I knew I wanted one, I knew what I wanted, I ordered and I ordered quickly. My watch is still a few weeks away.

I don’t think there’s a way to see this as the slickest Apple release ever. But on the other wrist, I have been using an Apple Watch because I’m doing a thing that needed it. And they are good. I am going to be using the hell out of mine, when it finally gets here.

Except, I think when you first put one on, you rather wonder why you did. Until you do something, the watch face is black and blank. It looks a lot smaller than you expected but it’s also a bit meh. Then you move your wrist and the watch face switches on. Or you press a button to go do something. Then that screen is gorgeous. I mean, meh to wow.

But you’re meant to glance at this thing and you will, that’s exactly what you’ll do, just not at first. At first you’ll be looking at this constantly, waving it around like a new toy, and in some unconscious way trying to justify why you spent all this money. (The cheapest is £300, the most expensive is heading toward £10,000. The difference is solely in the materials used: aluminium for the cheaper one, gold for the most expensive. Everything else is the same, works the same, does the same things.)

So the first times that you lift it to look at that watch face, you will barely have finished thinking cor before it switches off again. No question, it would be better if the watch were visibly on all the time but, no question, it would run out of battery power in an hour instead of lasting all day. (I haven’t had one on for long enough in a straight run to know how long it lasts in practice but this is what I understand.)

I want to get my own and to get past the initial new toy feeling. I still have that sometimes with my three-year-old iPhone but I want to get to the point where I’m using it because I’m using it, not because I want to see what it does. I’ve seen what it does. Exhaustively, in fact.

And as I had to go through every setting – you know how much I love settings – I did find one key thing. The Apple Watch is a grower. You don’t have to learn how to use it, you don’t have to ever use every feature, but you will keep finding new bits, new things that make you glad you’ve got one. I’d be standing there with a checklist of what I had to try out and I’d keep going ooooh, I’m having that. I’m using that.

Sending Angela a message by just tapping on my watch and knowing that her watch will tap her. (When she gets hers: I bought us one each but they’re both weeks away.) Walking down a street being told with the smallest of nudges that it’s time to turn left. Getting one of those incessant emails and just seeing with a glance that it’s not one I need to deal with. Setting timers – I cook a lot and have no skill so I’m reliant on timings in recipes. I listen to a lot of things when I’m cooking and if the kettle’s boiling it’s so loud I can’t hear much worth a damn but now a tap on my watch will pause the radio or the music or the podcast and a tap will start it again.

I once counted that I took out my iPhone 200 times on a particular day. Apparently the average is 120. I can’t guess what the figures will be now, but the watch will surely decimate that. Especially if non-Apple apps work as well as the Apple ones: that’s something I’ve not been able to test yet and I am itching to see how my beloved OmniFocus works on it.

I’m not sure how well that will work and I’m not sure why Apple has struggled so much to do launch this watch on its launch day. But the one thing I am not in any doubt about is that I’m glad I’ve bought one.

Why the Apple Watch means you should keep writing

wg_Apple Watch-og_apple_watch-580This is going to take a time to get to its point, sorry. But Apple released details of its new Watch this week and a certain segment of the world has fallen apart.

It’s a pretty small segment yet it’s a loud one. And it’s saying Apple is bad, very bad. The watch does this or it doesn’t do that, it costs this or it doesn’t cost that, every bit of it is being criticised in volume. Mind you, what it does is also being praised in volume.

I was just disappointed – not surprised, to be fair – but disappointed at some of the reactions. I’ve nothing to do with Apple, they didn’t ask my advice on anything, but still I was disappointed because in many ways and at many times I’ve been a professional reactor. I’ve been a critic, I am now again writing software reviews. So I can’t help looking at critics with one eye on what they’re doing and one eye on whether I’m doing it too.

Here’s a criticism of Apple: one version of the Apple Watch costs £8,000 ($10,000). To me that’s one fact with an implicit second one – that I will never be able to afford that version – and this is all. Nothing else. I can’t extrapolate from that anything but that it’s a lot of money that I neither can or want to spend on a watch.

But to some critics this is ostensibly the end of Apple’s ambition to be “for the rest of us”. That’s it, Apple is cashing in, Apple is just out to make money, it is the end of days.

There is that word ‘ostensibly”, though. It is a fact that articles slamming Apple get more readers than ones praising it. Most people wouldn’t bother reading either, but if you’re an Apple hater then you enjoy the criticism. If you’re an Apple fan, you rather enjoy riffing on how pathetic the criticism is.

So I look at these criticism and I can’t tell whether they are genuine or just after getting some more readers. If it’s the latter then what can you do, haters gotta type.

But that does niggle at me. Professionally, I’m twitching at the thought of writing something whose sole purpose and existence is to get people to read it. Personally, I’ve realised that these criticisms have an impact.

Follow. I was on the MacNN podcast this week when Malcolm Owen talked about various Android phones that have been announced. He was quite dismissive of them and I asked about one Android feature that I think sounds really good: the way that if you put your phone face down on a desk, it mutes. Goes into Airplane Mode. Whatever the Android term is for not interrupting you while you’re working. I like that and, okay, I accept that a feature touted as being on Android first usually means it’s on one Android phone somewhere in the world first.

It’s on Malcolm’s phone and he says nope, he only ever got it to work once.

The hype of an Android feature had convinced me this was useful and I unthinkingly, certainly naively, assumed that it worked. Silly me.

So doubtlessly there are people out in the world reading and hearing criticisms of the Apple Watch and consciously or unconsciously making a decision about it. If all you hear is that it costs £8,000, you’re not going to consider buying one even though the real price is £299. That’s 26 times lower, by the way.

Now, someone buying or not buying an Apple Watch isn’t significant. They might love it if only they’d bought it; they might buy it and hate it. It’s just that seeing everything through the lens of perhaps self-serving criticism and being quick to diss before hearing anything substantial is so familiar to a writer. We have to be hard as writers and we are, it’s just that the thickness of our skin only protects us, it does not protect the work.

A piece of mine got a lot of criticism last year, criticism that – hand on heart – was in part so asinine that I had to bury a laugh. (“It should be a supernatural novel, I like supernatural novels.”) I went in to that session ready for a promised skin-tearing time and didn’t get it. Yet I haven’t written one word more of that book since. The criticism didn’t affect me, the critics didn’t affect me, but something affected that novel.

Nobody is ever going to get more readers because they’re criticising me but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other issues at play. The need to be heard, an inability to not say anything because you’ve got nothing to say. The expression of your own issues instead of anything to do with the book, the presumptions that one’s own preoccupations are correct and vital and important.

In that group, there was someone who’s set a novel in some particular area of London I’d never heard of. We weren’t in London, I’m not from the city and it’s not like the area was Westminster. I got the most deeply pitying look for asking where it was. The look was: you should know this, you aren’t a real writer, are you?

I’m just minded of this by a Facebook status I read this week about the Apple Watch. This is someone on Facebook, there’s no issue of getting more readers or not. It’s their real opinion. And their opinion is that the Apple Watch is of no interest because it doesn’t have X or Y, I can’t remember what. It wasn’t that the Apple Watch was of no interest to that Facebook writer, that would’ve been fine and normal, it was a dismissing dissing of the watch.

Whatever it is in us that makes us judge things before we see them ourselves, whatever it is that makes us slot ideas into categories and then judge those categories, let’s give it a rest.

Apple will keep on making that Watch unless the real thing, the actual physical product in people’s hands, proves to be a failure. It won’t stop because someone thinks it should run UNIX or needs to be set in a particularly obscure part of London.

Whatever you’re writing, write the damn thing and bollocks to anyone else. Get it done.