The Apple Watch is a watch in as much as a DVD player or a microwave is a watch. (A DVD player is a machine that people used to play movies at home before Netflix.) That is to say, there is a clock on it—and, okay, fine, you wear it on your wrist—but its raison d'être isn't to tell time.
What, then, is its main purpose? Another way of thinking about this question is: Why would anybody buy this thing? The people who say they won't usually say something like, "But I already have an iPhone." (Plus: It's expensive!)
Already having an iPhone is sort of the point, though. For starters, an Apple Watch doesn't work without one. (They link up via bluetooth.) And thinking about the watch's relationship to its mother-phone is actually a pretty useful way to think about what the Apple Watch might be good for.
A couple months ago, my friend Andrew Phelps, who is a product manager at The New York Times, described to me the usefulness of the Watch in a way I've been unable to stop thinking about since: It is ultimately a device that helps you decide whether to look at your phone.
Which may sound ridiculous. But I don't think it is, actually. Thinking about the Apple Watch as a thing that streamlines interactions with your phone is the key to understanding how useful it could be. As phone screens trend larger, a small watch screen could serve as a preview of what's making your phone buzz in your pocketbook. People already have a habit of checking their phones mindlessly—so much so that the phenomenon of thinking your phone is vibrating when it's not is a thing we have a name for (phantom vibration syndrome). The idea of turning that compulsion into a habit that requires only a glance is appealing, questions of etiquette aside. It's also already natural, skeuomorphically speaking. Or, to put it the way Jack Riley did in a recent Nieman Lab article, “the wristwatch has the advantage of a hundred years of mass market adoption.”