When the Apple Watch launched in 2015, it wasn’t exactly clear who, or what, it was for. It was a phone accessory meant to curtail some of the notification anxiety the phones themselves had created by paring your digital life down to only the most essential disturbances. For many consumers, though, there wasn’t a clear reason to keep wearing the watch after the initial sheen had worn off—unless they were fitness freaks, or overly concerned about their heart health. But a growing group of users have found them indispensable.
You might’ve noticed that the person who took your order at the bar, brought you the shoes you wanted to try on, or perhaps even patted you down at the airport security line, is sporting an Apple Watch, which starts at $329 for the newest Series 3 watch. And there’s a pretty simple explanation: Many service-industry jobs where employees have to be on their feet all day don’t allow workers to check their phones while they’re on the clock. But that rule doesn’t necessarily apply to a piece of unobtrusive jewelry that happens to let you text your friends and check the weather.
Quartz spoke with airline attendants, bartenders, waiters, baristas, shop owners, and (very politely) TSA employees who all said the same thing: The Apple Watch keeps them in touch when they can’t be on their phones at work. Apple has increasingly been pushing the watch as a health device, and seems to have moved away from marketing it as one that offers more basic utility, as Apple continues do with the iPhone. But given that roughly 23% of the US labor force works in wholesale or retail operations, perhaps it’s a market Apple should reconsider.
Andy, who works at the J. Crew store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, told Quartz that he had his Apple Watch before he started at the clothing retailer, but has found it exceedingly useful at work, given that the company discourages employees from being on their phones while on the shop floor. “It’s definitely easier to check your notifications,” he said.
In some cases, wearing a watch can just help break up the monotony of a workday shift, especially when there are few people in the store. Checking notifications on the sly connects you to the outside world, and also can keep you informed in case there’s an emergency at home. Angel, who works at Adidas’ flagship store in lower Manhattan, told Quartz that he isn’t allowed to use his phone on the floor, but there’s nothing to stop him from checking his watch. So as long as he doesn’t stray too far from where he stores his phone (around 300 feet, or longer if the phone is connected to wifi), he can stay connected to friends without breaking company policies. “The Apple Watch, it’s just convenient,” he added.
Others bought their watches for reasons other than staying online, but have since have found them inseparable at work, such as Francisco, who works at the bar at the Edition Hotel in Manhattan. “I just bought it a month ago for running,” he said, “but I wear it at work to see the time, to track the day, and steps and calories.” Many Apple Watch wearers have become obsessive about closing their daily activity rings—whether through exercise or more creative means—and Francisco keeps track of how many hours he’s stood and the calories he’s burnt while on the job. “It keeps me motivated,” he added.
Apple doesn’t break out how much revenue it generates from the Apple Watch, instead lumping sales in a bucket it calls “Other products” on its earnings reports, which also includes its AirPods wireless headphones, Beats audio products, and sales of other accessories. But it seems that the release of its third-edition of the watch was a turning point for many consumers, with the wearable finally delivering on the promises that many had expected from the original version, first released in 2014. The newest watches last longer than a day; the interface has been simplified; Siri actually works (most of the time); and the health-tracking tech has been refined. And the price of older, but still capable models has fallen: A new Series 3 watch starts at $329, and a Series 1 at $249. (Refurbished Series 2 watches, which Apple discontinued, can still be purchased for around $200, although it’ll feel a fair bit more sluggish than the 3.)
Perhaps users will start taking things even further if Apple follows through on reports that it’s planning to build a pair of augmented-reality glasses. In the future, your barista could be watching how-to videos on latte art while preparing your order, or retail clerk could just be watching the game while searching for those shoes. But for now, the Apple Watch is one of the easiest ways to keep up with loved ones, without really looking like you are.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Apple Watch launched in 2014, when it in fact launched in 2015.