The Most Exciting Apple Product Is the One Nobody's Talking About

Apple Watch
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Apple is pushing the Apple Watch and its flashy new updates about as hard as it possibly can, but still: no one seems to care. Judged against other watches, its sales are respectable, but judged against other cornerstone Apple products, the Apple Watch is a flop

It’s not hard to see why. The $300 Watch plays no obvious or essential role in our lives, and it never will. Douchey, redundant, expensive, unnecessary -- call it what you will, but don’t call it insignificant.

The Apple Watch today is like a grade school John Lennon fiddling around in music class with the keys of a piano. The tune may not be pretty now, but there is staggering potential to mature into something great. Sluggish sales and public disinterest aside, the Apple Watch is the critical half-step that leads to the Next Big Thing: a breakthrough technology that will completely change the way we interact with our devices.

The Apple Watch is the next... PalmPilot?

Remember the PalmPilot? If you were born before 1990, you probably recall them as the futuristic device your friend’s “cool” dad used. They were a giant leap forward for handheld computing, but like the Apple Watch, these “personal digital assistants” never found their stride.

At $399 a pop in 1997, the PalmPilot was a clunky, glowing pocket calendar and portable rolodex that had to be recharged every few hours. Even as updated models evolved to incorporate connectivity with the early web, PalmPilots never quite lost their status as a needless luxury item used only by the tech-savvy corporate set.

So they failed. But do you know what that awkward PalmPilot blossomed into? Only the most important consumer technology of all time: the smartphone. And the Apple Watch is in the exact same boat -- it's not going to be the thing that revolutionizes our personal technology, but it sure looks like the thing that leads to the next exciting leap forward.

palm pilot

It's not hard to see where the Apple Watch is taking us, and it's actually really cool

The Apple Watch’s raison d'être is to reduce the time you spend tapping or staring at your phone screen. It empowers you to stay connected to the most important, useful features of your iPhone, without having to suffer the inconvenience of actually taking it out of your pocket. Thing is, that’s such a minor advantage at this point, it’s tough to convince people to drop $300 for it.

Yet it’s this same concept of convenience that has rapidly spurred tech innovators to create ecosystems of connected devices that will streamline nearly every aspect of our lives. How about a coffee machine that starts brewing a fresh pot the moment it recognizes you’ve woken up? Or a thermostat that automatically adjusts to an optimal temperature when it senses you’re on your way home? Or Sonos speakers that start streaming Enya when your stress levels are escalated?

These products are inevitable, hell, they might even exist already. The less effort we must put into operating our future interconnected internet of things, the better. They should be triggered without having to touch a screen or navigate a menu. What the Apple Watch does now to help run our iPhone, a future iteration will do to help run our daily lives -- becoming a worthwhile and necessary gadget unto itself.

apple watch 2

In the meantime, it's slowly normalizing the wearable

Just as the PalmPilot familiarized us with a battery-powered, hand-held device that helps you organize your life, the Apple Watch -- along with the Fitbit -- is doing its part to normalize the still-mildly-disconcerting process of strapping a smart gadget onto your body. It’s a hurdle that unlocks the door to mass-adoption of something similar and more advanced down the road -- that thing that allows you to seamlessly interact with all the other technology in your ecosystem.

By the way, it might not even look like a watch. There’s an activity-tracking, vital sign-reading, augmented reality-changing contact lens that may be coming down the pike. It’s hard to imagine the masses jumping straight from a smartphone to a terrifying eye-implant that looks like something out of Minority Report. Baby steps.

Progress can be... awkward

Who knows when the Apple Watch will join rank with the other retired, obsolete tech failures we get a kick out of remembering -- a full decade passed between the first PalmPilot and the dawn of the smartphone. But while the Watch may be the least cool thing at the Apple Store, it's arguably the most fascinating, and the most crucial: it's that thing that turns into the other thing that you will, eventually, be lining up to buy.

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. His dad never had a PalmPilot.