The Week in Tech: Apple’s Watch Steals the Show


Each week, technology reporters and columnists from The New York Times review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.

Hello, readers! I’m Farhad Manjoo, your technology columnist — and more important for our purposes today, I’m a guy who has been to every Apple iPhone-unveiling event since the first one, all the way back in 2007. (If I were single, this would make a killer Tinder profile, right?)

As you might guess, then, I’m sometimes a little jaded on iPhone day, which took place again this week. Apple showed off three new permutations of its smartphone at its newish spaceship headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. In its precise choreography — and after seeing it for the billionth time — Apple’s rollout for its most important device can feel as formulaic as an episode of “Law & Order.” Every year, the message is essentially the same: Amazingly, we’ve somehow made an even better iPhone!

But I come to you today to praise rather than complain. Because this year, I did find myself getting a little out of my seat and my picture of the future expanded to include possibilities I hadn’t considered viable before. For the first time in years, I was truly surprised.

There’s just one catch: I felt this way about Apple’s new watch, not its smartphone. The phones were fine. Apple’s going to sell a lot of them and make a lot of money, as it does every year. But it’s the watch that might change the future most arrestingly.

The big deal: The new Apple Watch packs a slew of sensors to make it a truly novel kind of wearable device — something like a “Star Trek” tricorder on your body. The new watch can administer a medically accurate electrocardiogram, a test of a person’s heart rhythm that can help detect dangerous health conditions. It also detects and alerts rescue personnel to dangerous falls, a leading cause of injury, especially for older people.

One detail was particularly compelling. Apple received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for its device, meaning that when you take your watch’s data to your doctor, there will be some basis for accepting its pronouncements.

By themselves, these features won’t change the world. But they may play a significant role in some people’s lives, even saving some from an early death.

They also suggest a new era in tech. For the last few years, “wearables” have been more of a gimmick than of any lasting utility. Apple itself has spent much time refining the watch to figure out its true purpose for people. At first, it thought of the device as a fashion accessory (the “Edition” version of the watch, which came in real precious metals and sold for $10,000 or more, was discontinued this week). But in the last few years, Apple has hit on a mission — health and fitness — and with these latest features, the company is setting itself on a path to create a device of lasting promise in people’s daily lives.

It is significant that Apple is consulting with regulators as it does so. The prevailing ethos across much of the industry is to charge forward with new tech — to beg forgiveness from the world when things go wrong, instead of asking permission first. How refreshing it is, then, that Apple went through proper channels here. When it comes to health, moving fast and breaking things isn’t an option.

There was some other news in tech this week:

■ The spotlight on Google grew harsher. Breitbart, the right-wing outlet, posted a leaked video of a Google staff meeting that took place shortly after the 2016 presidential election. The contents aren’t surprising: Google executives and employees were visibly shaken and horrified by Donald J. Trump’s victory. Breitbart and many on the right took those political views as support for the notion that Google biases its search results against the right, a claim that President Trump has made repeatedly. The video added to political pressure on Google, which had escaped the scrutiny that fell on Facebook and Twitter after the election.

■ Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and his wife, MacKenzie, pledged $2 billion to fund initiatives for the homeless and for preschools. It’s the first major foray into philanthropy for Mr. Bezos, who recently became the world’s wealthiest man. It’s hard to criticize someone who’s giving money away, but it’s worth noting that $2 billion isn’t that much. Other billionaires have given away much more of their wealth — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has pledged $45 billion, which at the time was nearly all he was worth — and as Amazon’s stock price keeps rising, Mr. Bezos, who is worth $164 billion, is likely to keep getting richer still.

And that’s it, folks! See you next week.

Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. You can follow him on Twitter here: @fmanjoo.

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