Column: My Apple Watch just dumped me. Should we get back together?

A customer uses an iPhone 6 smartphone to take a photo of a model of the Apple Watch.
When Apple watches pair with our phones, they’re forming a relationship with us. But not all relationships are meant to last.
(Philippe Merle / AFP via Getty Images)

My Apple Watch unpaired with me last week, and our relationship may never be the same.

There had been no cross words between us. I had not forgotten to charge it on its birthday or snuck away and tried on another watch. I had simply opened the watch’s fitness app on my phone to see how the day was going and found ... nothing.

Well, nothing in terms of the “move,” “exercise” and “stand” rings that normally tell me if I have offset the sedentary demands of my job with a healthy amount of exercise, steps and general activity.

Being a goal-driven, validation-seeking eldest daughter of an Irish Catholic family, I admit taking probably too much comfort from these rings. But as compulsive habits go, I have had far worse, believe me.


So you can imagine my consternation when, instead of those red, green and blue rings, I saw a weird notice flash on my screen and was so discombobulated at the erasure of my entire and fairly active day that I hit “no.” And the next thing I knew, my watch and I were being unpaired.

In all our years together, I make one rash move and it’s over. What kind of a faithful companion is that?

Like so many breakups, this one could not have come at a worse time. I was lying on the couch with one of those specifically L.A. migraines that occur when the days have been so cool and lovely that the wind witch gets irritated, decides to suck all the moisture from the air and then, after banging all the patio umbrellas around, raises the temperature 40 degrees.

I had been a mere 12 miles away from achieving the April challenge my Apple Watch set for me: Walk 155.4 miles in 30 days. I was checking to see if I needed to heave myself up and log in a few more miles before watching President Biden’s first address to Congress when I discovered I had been unpaired.

Well, technically my phone had been unpaired, but at this point, it’s the same thing, right?

Over the last three months, 17 writers provided diaries to the Times of their days in isolation, followed by weeks of protest. This is their story.

June 21, 2020

I have no idea what went wrong. Despite spending every waking minute together, my watch and I have made it through the COVID-19 pandemic without a glitch, and that’s way more than I can say about my husband, my kids or my burned-out Wi-Fi, which has thrown tantrums on a near-daily basis.

OK, I had been yelling at the watch a bit more than usual, but honestly, is there no place one is safe from Slack? I was in the shower the other day when my watch, which I was wearing because a) devotion and b) waterproof, informed me of requests from two editors and, via text, my oldest daughter, who needed, immediately, a copy of my driver’s license and proof of employment.

I was in the shower, man!

(And I know I can turn those notifications off, but one of the reasons I got an Apple watch is so I wouldn’t have to be checking my phone constantly.)


If I’m being honest about our relationship, my littlest Apple has made very bad choices for an allegedly smart watch. I’m not looking for the level of algorithmic intimacy of “Her” or even HAL. But two nights earlier, my watch had informed me that it was “time to stand” just as I was watching the part in the “Hemingway” documentary when Ken Burns is laying out Papa’s despicably controlling treatment of his fourth and final wife, who is also named Mary, and that was not exactly cool. Especially as my watch has none of Hemingway’s excuses — it has not, as far as I know, covered two wars or suffered any major concussions, and it is definitely not about to write “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Gary Lockwood, left, and Keir Dullea in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Poole (Gary Lockwood, left) and Bowman (Keir Dullea) seek privacy from the ultimate controlling smart device, HAL 9000, in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

(For the sake of clarity, if my husband told me I had to get up in the middle of the “Hemingway” doc because I had been sitting for almost an hour, or if he regularly reminded me at, say, 8 p.m. that I still had time to take a brisk walk and burn enough calories to close my move ring, I would definitely be unpaired from my husband. As it is, his comments more often fall into the category of “You’re going for a walk? Now?”)

In addition to yelling, I have put a fair amount of pressure on my watch lately. As the pandemic has forced me to define “travel” as “visiting another room,” my demands that my watch find my phone have intensified to an annoying level. Or at least my children find it annoying. Now, when I respond to similar requests from them with my time-honored threat that “if I find your phone/wallet/keys/shoes lying somewhere in plain sight, they officially belong to me,” my kids look me straight in the eye and say, “Ping, ping, ping.”

Given our ups and downs, I approached the task of re-pairing with some trepidation. I was understandably hurt by its sudden and inexplicable defection, and gazing at its overly familiar face, first blank and then flashing little figures requesting physical contact with my phone, I wondered if this was a sign that the relationship had run its course.

“Hemingway,” a three-part documentary premiering Monday on PBS from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, is a deft biography but not an argument for relevance.

April 5, 2021

The Dick Tracy novelty of being able to answer my phone by talking into my watch wore off years ago, and anyone who says they can text on an Apple Watch is lying. As for the fitness rings and challenges that started this whole mess, I sometimes fear the Apple Watch’s support and encouragement have curdled into something controlling, even torturous. Did you know, for example, that you can walk 12 miles at a mostly brisk pace and still not meet its definition of 30 minutes of exercise? On more than one occasion, I have ended a very long day of sightseeing with 20 minutes of squats and situps just to close my exercise ring.

As for being told to stand and “move around” every hour, how does my Apple Watch not know I am a writer? Especially when it has seen all those Slack messages?

The calendar reminders have, admittedly, saved me on multiple occasions, but I often miss the classic simplicity of a nondigital timepiece, the spidery grace of eyelash-thin hands sweeping past elegant Roman numerals. My last watch never told me anything but the time, and for most of my adult life, that was quite enough. Was it worth resuming this complicated relationship with this tiny mercurial computer just so I could have the pleasure of seeing personal photos, or, for a change of pace, watching the day pass into night around the Eiffel Tower every time I glanced at my watch face?

Apparently, yes. Perhaps it was the realization that my Apple Watch has kept me walking 10,000 steps and exercising for at least 30 minutes pretty much every day of even this last terrible, horrible, “don’t make me get out of bed” year. Or maybe it was that none of my old watches have working batteries. For whatever reason, I decided I was not ready to say goodbye.

I dutifully mediated between phone and watch, hovering over their re-pairing like some overly invested marriage counselor. In the end, I was able to reload almost all my saved data, including all my exercise records — except those important minutes accrued and calories burned on the day of the unpairing.

In tech, ethics can get compromised when ideas that began with “Wouldn’t it be cool …” start to hinge on “Couldn’t we get rich …”

May 2, 2021

Instead of a shiny icon won by meeting the April challenge, I will have a day of incomplete rings to remind me of the vagaries of even long-term relationships.

And, of course, this column.

Which I would love to finish, but first, I have to get up and walk around for a few minutes, because that’s what my watch just told me to do.