Apple Cheapens Complications

Among watch aficionados, complications are special.  They are sacred.  They are holy.

OK.  Not all watch complications are sacred.  Quite a few of them, such as the day/date or the self-winding movement, are more or less taken for granted today, as they’ve been included in a large percentage of mechanical watches for a half a century or so.

tourbillon watch complication
A watch complication

Still, watch collectors realize that anything a watch does over and above telling time is known as a “complication.”   The addition of a feature such as a perpetual calendar or a moon phase display or a flying tourbillon may not complicate the life of the wearer, but you can bet that it certainly complicated the life of the designers and the people who assembled the watch.

Complications are what make mechanical watches special.  Anyone can make a watch that tells the time with reasonable accuracy, and for proof of that, one only need look at the fact that you can buy Chinese-made, time-only mechanical watches online for about $20.

Buying one with a perpetual calendar, on the other hand, is going to cost you a bit more.  And even though the Chinese are now making watches with a tourbillon, you’re still going to pay thousands of dollars to own one.

Complications interest watch collectors the way a limited edition Lamborghini interests people over and above the interest they might show in an off-the-shelf Fiat.

That’s why it’s rather disturbing to see that Apple is now using the term “complication” in conjunction with their Apple Watch.

apple watch complication
Not a watch complication

The Apple Watch is Apple’s version of the smartwatch.  It was introduced a couple of years ago and was created to function as an external interface to the iPhone.  It can also function as a fitness tracker, and it can allow you to check your email.  A new, recently-introduced Apple Watch 3 will also allow you to make and receive phone calls.d

That’s great, if you’re a fan of smartwatches.  That’s neither here nor there.

But Apple is now using the word “complication” to describe things that appear on the watch face other than the time.  In short, Apple is using “complication” more or less as a synonym for “app.”

Want to see the weather on your watch face?  That’s a complication.
Want to see a pedometer display on your watch?  That’s a complication.
Want to see a train schedule on your Apple Watch?  That’s a complication.

These aren’t complications; at least, I don’t think so.  I’d argue that the software that makes it possible to display any of those things on your watch might reasonably be called a complication, but not the apps themselves.

Watchmakers devote their lives to figuring out how to include minute repeaters and world time displays into a mechanical watch.  That’s hard work and requires some pretty difficult and sometimes groundbreaking engineering.   The work is, by definition, complicated.

The Apple Watch isn’t really doing that.  If apps for smartphones are called “apps,” then there’s no reason why an app for a smartwatch should be called anything else.

They’re not complications.  That’s an insult to people who actually make real watch complications as well as the people who collect them.


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