I thought I could wean myself off my smartphone by using another piece of technology. Turns out I was fighting a losing battle.
I look left and right. There’s one guy stacking shelves to my right but otherwise the coast is clear. I raise my left wrist quickly to my face and say, “Show me a recipe for butternut squash risotto.” Not loud enough. I try again, mortified that someone might hear me.
After the second try I give up, hope I’ve remembered all the ingredients and slouch over to the checkout, cursing Siri under my breath.
This is life at the supermarket with a cellular Apple Watch when you leave your iPhone at home. Spark has become the first mobile operator in New Zealand to bring the fully untethered Apple smartwatch to market. Using eSIM technology it pairs the cellular Watch to your phone number, meaning you can use it for calls, texts and data even if it’s not connected to your iPhone via Bluetooth.
The main use case here is for runners – pair it with some wireless headphones and you can stream music and podcasts without having to use a black sheet of Velcro to strap your phone to your arm, while the Watch does all your fitness tracking.
It’s an expensive but desirable accessory that compliments the iPhone splendidly. So naturally when Apple lent me one, I thought I’d make life much harder for myself.
I decided to put myself through a week without my phone and see if I could survive. While Apple doesn’t market the Apple Watch as a full phone replacement, it is technologically possible.
I was interested in how it affected me: whether I could cope without full apps and if I’d enjoy fewer notifications. Would the wearable help wean me off my phone?
Most wearable tech like Fitbit trackers and even cheaper regular Apple Watches require a stable Bluetooth connection with your phone in order to function fully. You’re then meant to pick up your phone to deal with incoming alerts.
With the added wizardry of the cellular watch, I was free to leave my iPhone at home and deal with the notification onslaught via my wrist.
You might have already pegged me as a pathetic millennial who will have struggled to hack life without constant access to Google Maps, Instagram, Twitter and whatever other apps I need to make sure I make it through the day without getting lost or, heaven forbid, getting lost in my own thoughts.
As my supermarket example showed, you might be onto something.
With an incredibly limited Siri search function and no real web browser, getting the simplest of web searches from the Apple Watch is very difficult and showed me how often I don’t bother to memorise simple information like ingredients because it’s so easy to get out my phone and check.
I took to memorising my driving route to new places given that Apple Maps on your wrist is incredibly frustrating to use – a small screen coupled with an unintuitive menu system meant I didn’t bother trying to use it more than twice.
And it’s Apple Maps or nothing – Apple asserts its own apps on the Watch, restricting you to Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple Maps for streaming and directions without your iPhone. I use Spotify, Pocket Casts and Google Maps so was immediately hamstrung. I spent a lot of my bus rides into town people watching and reading my book in forced disconnection.
A lot of the anxiety of leaving my phone at home was alleviated by the always-connected Watch – if it didn’t buzz, I wasn’t missing anything. It ended up acting as a comfort blanket of sorts, one that allowed me to confidently leave my phone behind and still be contactable, while also severing me from the allure of mindlessly scrolling through social media.
The main issue I came across was with texting. You can compose texts using Apple’s Messages app by either voice dictation or painstakingly drawing one letter of a word at a time with your finger, which is absurd and the worst. I soon did not want to text anyone.
With no WhatsApp app, I could not WhatsApp anyone unless they messaged me first – you can then tap reply and struggle away with the limited typing options.
After poking around at my wrist for some tense minutes in the library trying not to agitate fellow silent workers I simply stepped outside and made a phone call. It was freeing to remember I can express so much more over the phone in a shorter amount of time and ended up better connected to the people I called in my phone-free week than twenty back and forth text messages and a GIF would have achieved with any of them.
The cost of disconnecting
Apple also loaned me AirPods Pro headphones, so I could subtly make these calls without barking at my wrist. It means that my whole experiment, were it my own expense, would have cost me at least $1,440: Apple Watch (from $979 with cellular) plus AirPods Pro ($449) plus one month of Spark’s additional Watch plan ($12.99).
I recognise that I only tried not using my phone after I was lent a technological alternative that costs just as much. This isn’t a practical way to disconnect for most normal people.
When I got my iPhone out my drawer after a week, I am somewhat embarrassed to recall the relief.
Using a Watch instead of an iPhone is not the answer to tech addiction and to be fair to Apple, it never claimed it was. I thought I could ditch social media and keep myself connected without missing my phone. The problem is that a week away from my phone made me miss its seamless conveniences even more.
The smartphone is in no danger of being replaced any time soon by another piece of technology. I’m simply now more aware that the only thing that can possibly wean me off my phone is my own sheer willpower. Send tweet.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.