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Why Boomers Won't Crave the Apple Watch

They’re biding time before shelling out big bucks for this new gadget

By Julio Ojeda-Zapata

You’d think the generations that grew up with traditional wristwatches would be eager to try so-called smartwatches, such as the much-ballyhooed Apple Watch that went on sale in April. And, to some extent, you’d be right.

Brian Wooley, for one, gets why the Apple Watch, the latest consumer-electronics gizmo from a certain Cupertino, Calif., technology company, is generating so much excitement.

“It’s Apple, so of course the tech geeks are going to go ape over it,” said Wooley, 42, who lives in Lynchburg, Va. “For me, though, there’s no appeal.”

Folks like Wooley represent a long-term challenge for Apple as the company aims to add its smartwatch, unveiled with fanfare in 2014 and now available for purchase, to its stable of smash hits.

(MORE: Should You Buy the New Apple Products?)

Many consumers over age 50 understand watches — after all, they've used timepieces all their lives, or at least did so until smartphones showing the time came along. But smartwatches may be a tough sell for this cohort, especially those who care more about thriftiness and practicality than jumping on the newest high-tech bandwagon.

Curious But Skeptical

Some who have quizzed the 50-and-older crowd about the Apple Watch have found lukewarm interest at best.

Andrew Parker, who runs the tech-help company iTOK, caters to an older clientele that has scant enthusiasm for newfangled wrist computers.

(MORE: Why You Should Get Microsoft’s New Fitness Band)

“They are curious about it,” Parker said. “But for them, it’s one more device. If they have a phone and a computer, why do they need this?”

Indeed, when iTOK last year polled its clientele on the tech they wanted for Christmas, not one person mentioned a smartwatch. Most said they wanted no new tech since they were content with their phones, tablets and computers.

Some voiced concerns about a smartwatch’s compact display, which could be difficult for them to read. Others balked at the steep cost, Parker added. The Apple Watch starts at $350 and tops out in the tens of thousands.

The Exception: Health Tracking

Some people 50+ have a keen interest in the health-monitoring features of the Apple Watch and other wrist devices, however, Parker noted.

Indeed, the Apple Watch looks to have an impact in the health-tech arena from the very start. Hearing-aid maker Starkey, for instance, is adapting its line of iPhone-friendly models to interact with the Apple Watch. This means users will soon be able to open a Starkey hearing-aid app on the watch to adjust the ear devices, as they can do on their phones.


(MORE: What’s That You Said About New Hearing Aids?)

The Apple Watch’s activity app shows daily movement and exercise, will track your fitness stats, “learn” your levels and provide personalized goals. The idea is that better tracking can motivate behavior changes and ultimately better long-term health.

But Can It Take A Licking?

But Robert Herbst, a boomer living in Larchmont, N.Y. doesn’t quite believe the Apple Watch will be able to take much of a punishment when it comes to rigorous physical activity outside of a gym. The attorney used to climb mountains in Nepal and points out that the middle of a glacier isn’t a good place to have a battery or tech malfunction.

His preference? Traditional watches, which he has worn since the fourth grade. As an adult, Herbst has owned but two — a Seiko diver’s watch from 1976 to 1990, and a Rolex Submariner from 1990 to the present. They are “shockproof and waterproof,” he says.

As summer gets going, he anticipates hearing stories of people forgetting to take off their pricey smartwatches before jumping in the water. Though the Apple Watch can tolerate a bit of splashing, according to its maker, it is not designed to be submerged in a pool or bathtub.

Sentimental Reasons For ‘Dumb’ Watches

Jay Belle, a 61-year-old web content writer in San Diego, Calif., doesn’t want to spend money on something he thinks is destined to break. He’ll stick with his collection of traditional watches — one for nearly every occasion. “For example, if I am going out to dinner with my wife, I will wear my Rolex or my father’s watch,” he said. “My father’s watch has sentimental value, so I think that is more valuable than any other watch on the market.”

Sidney Kirby, a 54-year-old retiree in Little Rock, Ark., finds the cost of the new smartwatch prohibitive. What’s more, he finds the destined-to-be-obsolete tech to be overkill.

“We have cars that can park themselves and robot vacuum cleaners and that’s all great, but I love the simplicity of some things. And having a basic, simple watch works great for me,” he said.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a technology journalist and occasional author. His latest book is The Mobile Writer at him at and follow him on Twitter @ojezap.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a St. Paul-based journalist focused largely on tech coverage. He is on staff at the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper, and he contributes regularly to the TidBITS, a tech-news site. Keep up with him at Read More
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