The easiest way to sell something is to tell people it will help them not die or get hurt. This is definitely true when it comes to the Apple Watch, a product whose—arguably excellent—marketing message is, “Wear this and you might survive a heart attack.”
So when Apple announced Family Setup, a service that lets parents track kids via cellular-connected Apple Watches, I was interested, even enthused.
Then I remembered that an Apple Watch on a kids’ wrist is a ticking time bomb.
I’ve given my kids two used Apple Watches over the years. My son got his first, a Series 1, when he was about 11 and still in junior high. He wore it for a few days, enjoyed it, and then proceeded to somehow fall down and snap the entire crystal face off in one piece. My daughter performed a similar bit of damage, but in her case, the watch looked like someone had hit it with a BB.
The bottom line? Apple Watches aren’t for kids. While there are plenty of cases and other protective equipment you can add to your investment, strapping a cellular Apple Watch to your grade-schooler almost guarantees a trip to the Apple Store. I’m not cynical enough to believe this is a ploy by Apple to sell more watches, but it’s a very real concern.
That said, parents with older kids are definitely interested in the ability to track their offspring. I asked some other parents what they thought of the idea, and the results were mixed. No one agreed with my opinion that the watches were too delicate. In fact, they were already tracking their kids with equally delicate electronics—their phones.
“I love having a device I know is connected for my kids,” said Liz Hitchcock, co-founder and CFO of IoT security firm Minim. “It’s a second set of eyes and a way for me to make sure that they can communicate with me at any time. Generally, connected devices with location-tracking and communications functions give older kids a bit of autonomy, allowing them to explore their community while giving parents the peace of mind that they can quickly find their kids.”
Wendy Jordan, a parent and Glaswegian, said that she got her son his first phone at age 11 and that she loves keeping tabs on him and will even pay extra for data.
“Would I buy him a watch? No, probably not unless it was the only way to check where he is,” she said. “It’s purely for safety. I’m delighted when—like today—he goes and hangs out with his friends after school. But I just want to know where he is. If location doesn’t work, I panic. I probably know too much.”
Barry Stahl, a programmer in Arizona, wrote that he uses Apple products to teach his son that the entire world is watching him. He’d pick up a watch if his kid wanted it.
“I wouldn’t do just to track him,” Stahl wrote. “If he had it, I would use it to track him with his knowledge that I would do so and with his full knowledge that using it means I, Apple, the government, and probably anyone else who wants to, can and will track him and everything he does while he has it.”
Christine Dotts of Arizona uses Find My Friends but not much else. And that’s fine.
“So I care about the tracking of my kids, but I already achieve that via iPhone. An Apple Watch would be redundant,” she said.
One contrarian, Trish McCall, was excited by the idea.
“YES!” she said. “Not that my 6-year old is going anywhere these days. I like that there are no games or apps likely to become a distraction on it.”
Matthew Hughes, a reporter for the Register, misunderstood the assignment.
“I mean, both of my dogs have a PitPatPet activity tracker, so... probably? Not that I have any kids, mind you,” he said, inadvertently noting something most parents already know: Kids are absolute animals and must be trailed at all times.