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A Life Alert For Every Generation

A Life Alert For Every Generation

May 29, 2015

The emergency.

We all dread getting that telephone call. But you know what I fear even more than that? Missing it.

A few years ago, while cleaning around the dear old homestead, my dear old mom took a tumble. She came down on the back of her head pretty hard, cutting it open on the corner of the bathtub. As she came to sprawled out on the floor, her first instinct, for some reason, was to call me. Maybe she was flying on autopilot and, through the haze of it all, didn’t think to dial 9-1-1, but luckily I was around to take her call and was able — by making another one — to get help to her quicker than I could provide it myself. (How she, of all people, actually had her handset on her at the time is anyone’s guess. It was a happy accident that kept a sad accident from becoming something much, much worse.)

Fortunately, Mom only needed a few stitches and some basic mild concussion care. She was back on her feet and back to her old self — sans stepladder and feather duster (I removed these from the premises) — just a day or two later. But the experience was a blow to the nerves (mine more than hers), and it’s made me gun-shy every time her number comes up on my iPhone. In fact, any time any family member calls me at odd hours of the day or night, I feel that uncomfortable flutter in the pit of my guts as I brace for the worst thing and answer on the first ring.

And that perceived necessity to answer some critical call that might come at any time has changed my mobile habits considerably. I take my iPhone with me everywhere I go. I take it into the shower, into the pool, into the woods, onto the lake. Anywhere any normal person might want a little bit of offline, disconnected privacy, I make sure my iPhone is online with the ringer on high. I try not to stay too long in places where the cellular coverage is spotty or scant, and I’ve even gotten into the habit of charging my phone before bedtime so I can unplug it from its socket at lights out. (If you’ve ever lived in Florida and had a midnight thunderstorm fry your gadgets through a surge protector, you’ll understand.)

At any rate, the point is this: I am tied to my iPhone as an emergency lifeline, for myself and those others closest to me. I don’t so much as go to the kitchen to microwave a bag of popcorn for three minutes without making sure I’ve got my handset within arm’s reach, and for all its upside, that sort of tether can be frustrating and limiting. It’s always on my mind, and on the rare occasions I find myself out of immediate access to my iPhone, it’s a cause of not-insignificant amounts of anxiety. When I don’t have my iPhone with me, I can feel it. And it feels bad.

I’m guessing there are lots of people in the same boat. Technology — even life-altering, better-off-for-it technology — can have detrimental effects on the quality of life it lengthens so well.

For me, Apple Watch goes a long way towards limiting that downside. As long as I’m wearing the thing, I can wander about my spartan apartment with a new sense of spur-of-the-moment Hot Pocketing and Halo 4, and I can leave my iPhone on its charger while I do family stuff in the early evenings. I can take a quick shower without risking damage to yet another handset, and I can relax in the tub without cause for concern. If I lived in a proper house and had a proper router, I might even laze on the porch swing without feeling the need to weigh down my pockets.

Apple Watch affords this kind of freedom in the household for me, an allegedly healthy thirtysomething worrywart, in a way all my other mobile tech doesn’t. It keeps me abreast of enough of my scattered social life that I don’t miss my mobiles when I’m watching Mindy (or Metalocalypse) with the missus, and it doubles as an insurance policy against unforeseen emergencies and disasters of pretty much any and every household kind. It’s like Life Alert for a younger generation.

But examine the opening anecdote about my mom’s fall, and it’s easy to see that Apple Watch is like Life Alert for the older generation, too. True, that device and attached service has a lot going for it in the simplicity department, but Apple can make huge inroads in opening up that very specific (and monopolized) market by offering a host of third-party apps and services that copy the Life Alert model. In fact, if Life Alert is smart, they’ll embrace Apple Watch, too, positioning their subscription-driven service app as one for the whole family, and not just the most elderly in it.

And that’s truly important. Like I said, my mom had no business having her phone on her, especially while doting about the house doing those endless chores mothers all seem to enjoy so much. I’ve called her iPhone 3GS probably a thousand times over the last three years, and she’s answered it maybe a dozen times. Usually, I get her voicemail, ignore it, and wait for her to get around to checking her missed calls half a day (or two) later.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and the old gal still climbs the stepping stool or kitchen chair to get at those orchids and vines and miscellaneous houseplants for their weekly water. She can see the dust hiding above the doors and window frames, and she doesn’t like it. That painting high up under the vaulted ceiling always needs adjusting.

So while lightning doesn’t strike twice, she might. And even with lessons learned, she still rarely has her phone on her person, and I doubt she’ll be lucky enough to ever get to one should some similar event befall her — or she befall it. I’ve tried telling her about these new things called pants pockets, but she remains skeptical.

She does, however, wear a wristwatch.

So though her 3GS is going strong, I’m thinking it’s time to upgrade her handset to a newer model she’ll still hardly use, just so I can get her an Apple Watch to pair with it. She’s the perfect candidate for the device, and she represents a market segment that has a distinct need for a wearable smartphone tie-in that needn’t do anything more than push immediate notifications and handle incoming and outgoing calls. She can keep her iPhone by her bedside on its charger (where it usually is anyways) while getting the same limited but critical utility out of the thing as if she’d had it in her hands. She won’t lose her Apple Watch in the cupboard or dad’s box-stacked office, and she won’t bury it under the handkerchiefs and loose change in her giant black hole of a giant black purse.

Once Apple gets Apple Watch’s deeper health monitoring capabilities fleshed out, the wearable will be a huge hit among the elderly of the world. But even before that, it might turn out to be a literal lifesaver.